Workhorse, people carrier, family car — these are just some of the words that best describe the MPV/AUV. It's not a showy car, it just shows up and performs its duties to the letter. It's a simple, robust vehicle that's purpose-built to cover ground while ferrying both people and cargo.
Sitting on top of the MPV sales charts for 11 years is the Toyota Innova thanks to its spacious interior, simple ergonomics and bulletproof reliability. For 2016, the Innova gets major upgrades in every aspect as Toyota plans to keep the model as the quintessential Filipino MPV. We've tested the mid-range gas and diesel model and this time, it's the turn of the range-topping 2.8 V.
For starters, the 2016 Innova has ditched its AUV looks for a more sophisticated finish. It adopts a sleeker design which makes the MPV look more like a proper van or SUV. I particularly like the sweeping LED headlights and the 2-bar chrome grill which highlights the car's front fascia. Along the side, the third row window gets an unusual slight kink but fits the new profile of the Innova nonetheless. The distinct beltline, which runs across the entire length of the MPV, was also a nice touch. The combination taillights are unique, to say the least, as I found these sporty-looking units out of place for the family-oriented Innova.
If the spiced-up exterior drew mixed views, the interior impressed me. It now has a great looking dashboard akin to more upscale vans — a far cry from the previous model's drab and utilitarian finish. Faux gloss wood trim pieces, metal accents and other soft-touch materials also spruce up the new Innova's interior.
The Optitron gauges were also a welcome addition on the Innova. Aside from being easy on the eyes, it's now easier to monitor at what speed the MPV is going. It now even comes with a LCD multi-information display that displays average fuel consumption, eco-score display and outside temperature.
Sitting on the driver's seat, one can now see the front of the car, thanks to the more upright hood and grill. The hood even has makeshift guide-lines which allows drivers to see where the front edges of the MPV are. The steering rack is height and reach adjustable while the seat offers plenty of configurations for both tall and short wheelmen.
Being the range-topping variant, the second row has captain seats which were very comfortable, especially when going on long drives. Access to the third row seats was made easier thanks to the one touch tilting 60:40 split captain seats (bench for lesser variants). All rows of seats are upholstered in a unique brown fabric which I really liked, much to the detest of others. Speaking of seats, the third row seats are now spring-loaded, which makes stowing them easier. Instead of hooking up the seats on the grab handles, they are now hooked on the D-pillar itself.
As far as features are concerned, the Innova gets a multifunction steering wheel wrapped in leather, with the top portion getting a slippery gloss finish. Infotainment comes in the form of a touchscreen-based system that supports AM/FM radio, CD/DVD, Aux, iPod, USB, Bluetooth and navigation. Automatic climate control is also present in the Innova, along with ambient lighting, which makes for a cozier feel.
Replacing the old 2KD-FTV engine is the bigger 2.8-liter 1GD-FTV. It's the same engine found in 4x4 models of the Hilux and Fortuner, although it has been slightly detuned for the Innova. Still, the engine produces more than enough pulling power with 171 PS at 3600 rpm and 360 Nm of torque at 1200 – 3400 rpm.
If the previous turbo-diesel had just enough pulling power, this new engine produces even more loads of torque. I had to remind myself that a light prod of the throttle was all that was needed to get the MPV moving.
With so much pulling power down below, it was quite easy to make the 2016 Innova reach cruising speeds, provided the roads are clear. The powertrain even has Eco, Normal and Power modes which adjusted the engine mapping depending on the performance needs. On most occasions, I set the Innova to Eco mode and only switched to Normal mode when I had to take on highways and expressways.
As for handling, it's still a large MPV but the 2016 Innova actually felt better to drive. Sure, it's not as nimble as a car-based MPV, but the Innova felt solid which gave me the confidence to tackle even the tightest of bends. It still uses a hydraulic power steering system so it's not as light as electronic power steering systems but the extra feel this set up offers is always welcome.
It's not all about the engine for the new Innova. Toyota tuned the ride quality and it delivers a lofty ride. If you thought the first-generation Innova was comfy, this one takes it up a notch. In fact, my passengers were able to sleep soundly while we were on our way back from Tagaytay, smoothly soaking up road imperfections with ease.
When it came to fuel consumption, the Innova was able to average around 11 km/l in city driving. Take it out on the highway and the MPV can easily average 15 km/l at a steady 90 km/h. When stuck in traffic, the turbo-diesel Innova will return a respectable 8 - 9 km/l.
So far, so good, but the Innova is not perfect. Like the previous-generation, it has very powerful brakes which are great for emergency stops. But their tendency to be grabby makes it quite difficult to smoothly slow down or stop the vehicle altogether in city driving.
I also noticed that the 6-speed automatic transmission had a tendency to hunt for gears when fully loaded with passengers and cargo. This is pretty noticeable when traversing highways. One particular fix to avoid this predicament was to throw the transmission into manual mode and shift the gears yourself. I also observe that setting the powertrain to Power Mode also mended the 'gear-hunting'.
At PhP 1,445,000, the range-topping 2.8 V Innova puts up quite a proposition. It's relatively cheaper than most minivans but gets a plethora of standard equipment like HID lighting, smart entry with keyless start, second row captain seats, touchscreen infotainment with navigation, ambient lighting and automatic climate control.
But for the common man looking for a sturdy and simple workhorse, the top-end 2.8 V Innova may be a bit too much. The mid-range models (E, G) offer more bang for buck but does not come with HID headlights, captain seats, DVD playback and engine start/stop button. Still, these are features that one can live without.
A posh, truck-based MPV may sound like an oxymoron but for those who need the rugged underpinnings, the Innova 2.8 V may be worth a second look.