Toyota has no shortage of seven-seat options in the country. In fact, of the 21 models they offer here, 7 have third-row seats, and we're not even counting the vans. There's one for just about every price bracket too so there's a three-row Toyota for just about everyone.
However, the Avanza and the Rush has left me scratching my head. They're based on each other, have the same oily bits, and priced pretty close to each other too, depending on the variant chosen. We're starting to see more of the Rush these days, quickly becoming one of the marque's top sellers. It also seems to have hogged the spotlight from the Avanza too.
But even though that looks to be the case, that doesn't mean Toyota hasn't turned their attention to the latter. After all, it was one of the first small, seven-seat vehicles you can buy. So for 2019, they gave it a pretty hefty facelift.
First things first, what's new? It has new headlights, which takes a page from the luxurious Vellfire van, and a much larger grill. They even gave the bumpers a bit more visual pop by giving it defined and chiseled corners. When you look at it from the front, the passerby might even think it's an all-new model. Also new are the wheels, which have a two-tone, five spoke design, along with a new rear bumper and L-shaped taillights.
As for the rest of the body, that's pretty much carried over from last year's model. No changes to the sheetmetal or window area. It's still the same upright, high-riding MPV for the past seven years. And yes, the current iteration of the Avanza has been around for that long already. Whether you like the new face or not, it's still unmistakeable as an Avanza, for me at least.
But whereas the exterior changes are fairly dramatic and noticeable, it's a tough game of spot the difference on the inside. It's got the same steering wheel, dashboard design, and door panels, so those who have last year's model will have the feeling of deja vu. To the more eagle-eyed observer however, they'll notice the gloss-black center stack, digital air-conditioning control panel, and the new pattern on the seats. Also, there are more charging ports in the 2019 Avanza, something last year's model sorely lacked.
On to the subject of space, the Avanza does the best it can to fit seven in its (nearly) 4.2 meter frame. Putting that many people in the Avanza is, indeed, possible, although you'll have to place your passengers strategically so it will be less of a squeeze. Putting three occupants in the second row is possible, provided everyone sitting there is slim. Anything beyond that will be on the tight side. As for the third row, it's really best reserved for children and short adults. To sum up, seven can be tight, six is just right.
Cargo capacity on the other hand is typical of small seven seaters. There's not much room left if all seats are in use but it's enough for a small cooler or a bit of groceries. Tumble the third row forward and there's a decent amount. Plus, the combination of its flat floor and high roof make it ideal for carrying big, tall, bulky items.
Big changes on the outside, small tweaks on the inside, and no upgrades to the engine. It's still using the same 1.5-liter, four-cylinder with Dual VVT-i mill which we first saw in 2015. Power is rated at 103 PS and 136 Nm of torque and it's still mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Revolutionary, it ain't, but at least it's tried and tested.
With its conservative figures, the Avanza isn't going to set anyone's pulses racing. With just a little over 100 horsepower and a four-speed automatic to work with, the Avanza sounds labored when you're trying to get a move on. It's fine in city streets but passing on country roads requires more careful planning. Sure, it isn't fast but it might feel heaps better if it had a five-speed automatic at the very least. The long gearing feels like it's sapping even more power from its small engine. If you want the Avanza to feel like it's getting somewhere quicker, the manual would be a better option.
Performance then is just right for most but a bit lacking for the enthusiastic driver. Then again, going fast was never the Avanza's main priority. Something of greater importance for someone looking for a small MPV would be its fuel economy. We would have loved to tell you its exact fuel economy figure but it doesn't come with an average economy readout. However, we did manage to use up around three quarters of its 45-liter fuel tank in about 250 kilometers. That's about 8.3 kilometers per liter in various traffic conditions from steady cruises (which happened occasionally) to standstill traffic (which happened a lot). It's decent but that figure could have been if the engine had more gears at its disposal.
Don't expect much out of handling either because the Avanza isn't meant to carve corners. That's not to say that it feels dangerous to drive when you're taking on turns but you're given the impression that it's just dealing with a turn rather than going through it. On the daily drive however, you'll appreciate the light (almost weightless) steering which makes maneuverability a whole lot easier.
Ride, on the other hand, is downright harsh. Dips, bumps, and potholes make their presence felt every time you drive over them. It isn't the most comfortable MPV out there, especially when you're driving solo, but there is something good about its suspension. Because it has a solid rear axle, it feels robust and shrugs off abuse. You can take the Avanza on rough roads and not feel too bad about hitting a bump with a little more speed than usual. Sure, you'll bounce all over the seat, but the car carries on as if nothing happened. Once you've come to grips with its stiff suspension, the Avanza is actually a good daily “war car”.
As you might have noticed, I haven't been too kind to the Avanza. Perhaps it's a matter of personal opinion and I'm not the target market for this car. But there are thousands who absolutely swear by it despite its shortcomings. Maybe its the versatility, the capacity to seat seven and the ability to take on abuse is what made its owners like it.
If you had to choose between the Rush and the Avanza, it's all up to your bank account. For about the same money, you only get five seats in the Rush while the Avanza already comes with that extra row of seats. You'll have to cough up an extra Php 100,000 for a seven-seat Rush.
At Php 1,000,000, this particular variant, the 1.5 G automatic, isn't exactly the bargain of the century, especially given the fact that some of its competitors have more standard kit at about the same price. But if I were to pick out a variant, I'd go for the 1.3 E with a manual transmission which starts at Php 864,000. A small, three-row MPV that feels robust for less than Php 900,000? Now that's a bit more reasonable.