Designing a family car that suits everyone's needs is more difficult than it sounds. These vehicles must be comfortable and safe, but they should also be versatile. A sedan can do most of that, but when it comes to carrying cargo, it comes up a little short. The demands of the modern Filipino family means they need something more flexible these days.

They need something with proven reliability, easy to service, efficient, and packs up-to-date features. Oh, and an extra row of seats would be great. Additional ground clearance? Yes, please. If you'll be totally practical about it, there is one model that fits that description: The Toyota Innova. It might even be the most logical vehicle sold here today.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

It received an update for the 2021 model year. Frankly, it didn't need one since it was pretty much the only choice you had if you needed a high-riding MPV. But recently, Geely is making waves with the Okavango, and it's been selling rather well lately. Because of that, Toyota decided to combat that threat. Besides, it's been five years since they launched it, so perhaps it was time to mix things up a little bit.

Granted, the minor styling updates won't blow you away. That said, the design is inoffensive, to say the least. However, opinion has been divided about the facelift. Some say the new grille and bumper add a bit of attitude to the front end. However, some prefer the simpler nose of the pre-facelift model. I even heard someone said the grille reminded him of Chick Hicks from Cars, especially when it's painted green.

The tweaks aren't enough to turn away any prospective buyers. Let's be honest, this model will still sell in the thousands so as long as Toyota doesn't beat it with an ugly stick. You won't mistake the shape for anything other than an MPV, but it doesn't look ungainly or ill-proportioned, either. The exterior changes are just enough to let you know this is the 2021 model and the rest of the body is largely carried over. Besides, it would be unwise for Toyota to give it a dramatic facelift that might turn off the masses.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

Like the exterior, Toyota stuck with the mantra, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” for the interior. The door panels are the same, and so is the steering wheel and instrument cluster. The dashboard looks a lot like the pre-facelift model too. In some ways, that's a good thing. The Innova had good ergonomics from the start, and those who came from the previous models don't need to dig up the owner's manual to get familiar with it. Every switch, dial, and button is logically placed. The only major change here is the touchscreen audio unit that now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

But this is an MPV we're talking about, so the focus here is the second and third-row accommodations. In the middle row, the legroom is generous, and there are stacks of headroom. You can also slide the seats forwards and back if you need more space. Carrying three across those seats isn't an issue since it's wide enough to fit passengers in relative comfort. To keep everyone cool, it has a powerful blower, a must in a car this big. It also has loads of storage spaces here. This is a family shuttle, after all.

It could do with a few improvements, though. A grab handle would be great since the Innova has a pretty high step-in height. Also, not all variants have a rear armrest, particularly the base, J, and E like the one we're testing here. It's also odd that a family car doesn't have cupholders at the back. If you want those, you have to spring out more money for the G variant. At least there are bottle holders on the doors.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

As for the third row, the space is decent but it's not commodious. If you need more room in the third row, you'll probably need something like a Land Cruiser or a Sequoia. There is enough wiggle room, and you'll have to ask the second-row passenger to slide their seat forward to get a little more comfortable. As with most third-row seats, it's best reserved for people under five and a half feet. Also, Toyota claims the third-row can accommodate three passengers, but that's pushing it.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

Then there's the third-row mechanism. It's still the swing-up method, but at least it's spring-loaded to make it lighter. There are pros and cons to this arrangement. The advantage is a low loading floor, and it allows you to put in tall items. However, the seats take up space, limiting width and total space. Still, it has up to 1,800 liters of cargo capacity, so there aren't many complaints about its loading capabilities.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

Under the hood is the familiar 2.8-liter turbodiesel engine. For the 2021 model year, Toyota ditched the 2.0-liter gas option due to low sales. To be honest, that's fine since the diesel has 174 PS and 360 Nm of torque. Of course, it would be nice if Toyota added the 204 PS version of the 2.8-liter in the Innova, but that's probably overkilling it if they did. It will surely drive up the price too.

How does the Innova feel like on the road? Before we dive deeper into that, let's make one thing clear: you don't buy an Innova for its driving dynamics. You buy this because you need a people carrier. But if you must know what it drives like, it's not too truckish considering its Hilux roots. However, there is a tendency to wallow, but it's not too unnerving. The light controls make it a good long-distance cruiser though.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

What's more important here is comfort. It doesn't feel choppy over bumps when you're at the front, but it's much better when you're at the back. From there, you won't feel much of the body motions and the sway. That's good news for those who suffer from carsickness. Even the ride in the third-row isn't so bad.

As for performance, the 2.8-liter turbodiesel has meaty power delivery. You won't feel short-changed if you need to pass on the highway. It still pulls well even when loaded. Not only that, it offers great fuel economy, too. You're looking at about 9 to 10 kilometers per liter in heavy traffic and 12.5 kilometers per liter in mixed driving conditions. In highway cruising, the multi-information display showed 16 kilometers per liter.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

But the highlight here is the engine's flexibility. There are three modes to choose from, namely Eco, Normal, and Power. In most cars, the differences feel minute, but that's not the case here. Eco-mode feels rather sluggish, but it gets back on its feet when you disengage it. But once you press Power mode, it feels like you have more than the advertised horsepower. Of course, if you keep that mode on, your fuel economy takes a tumble.

So far, we've established that the Innova is powerful, efficient, and comfortable, but how safe is this MPV? It has a stability control standard, which is a good feature to have for a family hauler. The Innova also received five stars in the ASEAN NCAP crash tests. It even has an airbag for the driver's knees. It would be better if the E variant came with a reverse camera or a set of sensors, at the very least.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

When it comes to delivering the things you need, the Innova doesn't disappoint. It seats seven, has good ground clearance, promises bulletproof reliability, and fantastic fuel economy. It might not be the most stylish vehicle out there, but there is no doubting its practicality. It might even be the only car you'll ever need. Of course, that doesn't mean it's perfect. Those third-row seats are a bit cumbersome, the mid-spec model could do with more standard equipment, and they could tweak the damping at the front, too.

This 2.8 E A/T model retails for PHP 1,355,000, and that might raise a few eyebrows. It wasn't that long ago when you can buy a high-spec Innova for that price. But the Innova E has a different kind of value proposition. With its well-earned reputation for reliability and durability, Toyota's people carrier can offer you years, or even decades, of faithful service. For some people, you can't put a price tag on that.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 E A/T image

For as long as Toyota doesn't give it eye-watering prices, we can expect even more Innovas to roll out of the Santa Rosa plant and into driveways. Besides, there is a strong affinity for the Toyota MPV, and it's still a default choice for many.

Over 90,000 have been sold since the new generation debuted in 2016. It's no wonder you can see one lurking around in photos all the time.

SPEC SHEET
  • Make:Toyota
  • Model:Innova 2.8E A/T
  • Engine:2.8-liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 intercooler Turbodiesel
  • Max Power:174 PS @ 3400 rpm
  • Max Torque:360 Nm @ 1600-2400 rpm
  • Transmission:6-speed automatic w/ manual mode
  • Price as Tested:₱ 1,355,000
RATINGS

9/10

Performance

8/10

Design

7/10

Handling

9/10

Comfort

7/10

Value

8/10

Overall