Six years ago Toyota proved to the market that they can come up with not one, but two class leading multi-purpose vehicles (or Asian utility vehicles as we call them) when they launched the Toyota Avanza.
Smaller than the Innova yet can seat 7 people, Toyota really had an ace up their sleeve with the compact MPV, selling well to both the private market as well as the taxi market. Now Toyota gives us the all new, 2nd generation Avanza, hoping to continue the success of the original. Can it stack up to the original?
For starters, it looks much, much better; but then again, in my opinion, the original was never really good looking. This new one builds on the same overall shape, but was reworked for a more modern look, bringing it in line -in terms of design- with more expensive models in the Toyota line up. The side profile has altered quite a bit, especially towards the back with a forward raked rear windscreen and taillamps that wrap around the rear end a little bit. Oddly enough, it seems to resemble a Volvo from the rear.
What was rather surprising was the interior, as Toyota seems to have labored quite a bit to present a more premium looking cabin in the budget MPV/AUV category. The color scheme for this top of the line 1.5 G model adopts a predominantly beige interior with dark gray on the dash and some faux silver/aluminum trim pieces. In my opinion the application counts for quite a bit, and in this case, even though the Avanza's interior uses run of the mill materials like plastics and other bits, the rather clever and tasteful application those materials (like the texturing on the silver plastic trim) does earn it a few more points than what is expected in the budget MPV class.
The seats seem softer than the 1st gen model, but I still don't find them all that comfortable and leaves me wanting for more support. Rear seat legroom is supposedly improved, but still, the 3rd row is really best reserved for children. What's notable is the marked (but still slight) improvement in luggage space with the 3rd row up. As usual, the 3rd row can also fold and tumble to accommodate more cargo.
There is a quite an improvement in the features department, as the 2012 Avanza gets a new 2DIN head unit, steering wheel audio controls, USB and Aux ports. There is a dual aircon system to make sure there is plenty of cool air for everyone. Being a 1.5 G, power windows, central locking, alarm and power mirrors are standard. Nothing really out of the ordinary here, except for the fact that when I brought my car charger along, I noticed that they omitted the 12 volt socket. This is the first time I've driven a car that did not have a 12V socket, and I found it to be a rather odd deletion, especially if you have a lot of gadgets like GPS navigation, iPad and phone chargers.
Driving the Avanza 1.5 G around for the first time, the drive is almost identical to before. Power is okay coming from the 1.5 liter DOHC VVT-i engine, though again, I find it strange that the engine is rated as being less powerful and has less torque at 102 PS and 136 Nm versus the original's 109 PS and 141 Nm. It's not really that noticeable, but this couldn't be that good for fuel economy, as the new model does have a little bit more weight. The fuel economy I was getting was 6.2 km/l in the city (1-2 passengers, moderate to heavy traffic). Not bad all considered, but the Avanza is an MPV that really needs a good, small displacement D4-D diesel engine like its big brother, the Innova.
The Avanza does have plenty of improvements over the original when it comes to exterior and interior design, space, comfort and functionality. There is no doubt that the Avanza will sell (especially its lower variants for fleet customers) regardless of any test drive and review, but, given that it's priced at PhP 868,000, I would rather opt to go a notch higher and get an entry to mid-level variant of the Innova. In diesel, of course.