Be advised: this is going to be a long review. 

There is one important reason why the Asian Utility Vehicle, once a staple of showrooms around the country, has gone the way of the dinosaur: it never evolved.

The AUV never improved to meet changing consumer preferences or to be more competitive against a wave of new crossovers and SUVs that were coming down in price. The final straw for the AUV was when the newer (but still behind, internationally) Euro-4 emissions standards were enforced.

That was really it. The AUV was gone. Except for one descendant: the Toyota Innova.

While Innova owners would scoff at the idea of us referring to their vehicle as an AUV, that's not to put it down. Not anywhere close, actually. The fact that it is descended from one is a big part of what makes it so enduring: it combines that classic robustness of a vehicle built on a frame with the appeal of a modern multipurpose vehicle (MPV) or a minivan.

The first-generation model was already phased out in 2016, paving the way for the second-generation model and that's what this one is.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

Honestly, I was never a fan of the look of the second-gen Innova because it looked like something your Tita would arrive in during year-end family gatherings. That's probably why Toyota offered a Touring Sport package to entice the Tito to the Innova way.

The slicked back headlights were alright as was the grille, but the way Toyota shaped the lower portion of the front bumper always reminded me of the bulbous bow of a ferry or barge. The D-pillar's odd triangular shape somewhat reminds me of the first-gen Ssangyong Stavic/Rodius (albeit flipped). The rear had a pair of taillights that probably rivaled the ones on the third-gen Mitsubishi Montero Sport when it comes to polarizing consumers: you either loved it or hated it. If you were in between, you may be in denial. Yeah, I'm kidding. Or am I?

Thankfully Toyota put out an update for the Innova earlier this year, but it's not easy to spot the changes. So the bumper doesn't look like a bow anymore with that reshaped grille and the lower part. The chrome actually looks nice on it, and the headlamps and new foglamp design do look alright.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

The side profile hasn't changed much apart from the wheel design. Actually, it doesn't look like Toyota made any changes to the sheet metal. Even the unusual D-pillar is still here, along with the taillights that look like Dufresne's rock hammer. Okay, so there is a new plate garnish on this V model that isn't color-keyed; I half expected it to be chrome, but no. Toyota went for black.

That about sums up the exterior changes, and quite frankly the interior changes seem even milder. Actually, there are barely any changes. The dashboard, the trim, the features, the steering wheel are all the same compared to the V models we drove in 2016.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

There are actually two identifiable changes if you flip back and forth between the photos of the dashboard as I did. The other is the audio system; it appears different, and it is. The screen is slightly larger at 7 inches, and it gets Apple Carplay and Android Auto. It also has the usual Bluetooth and 6 speakers. Other features include climate control with the overhead cooler and airline-style ambient lights as well as the upper glove box for cooling down drinks.

The list of standard safety features appears to be good too. This one doesn't get Toyota Safety Sense (as seen on the Fortuner, Corolla Cross Hybrid, etc.) but it does come fitted with 7 airbags (the 7th is for the driver's knee), stability control, anti-lock brakes, and more.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

The other major change is the upholstery: the pattern is still that tiger stripe style, but instead of that lighter shade of tan, Toyota opted for a darker burgundy-ish tone they call “noble brown”. It looks nice; the changeover mimics the feel when you hop off an Emirates and aboard an Etihad jet. The fabric looks better. Yes, fabric and not leather.

The seating layout is the same as the previous V, though the best seats in the house are really in the middle: the two captain's seats. The legroom is great, and the armrest does make it comfortable on long drives. There are no ottoman or sliding doors here like the Alphard, but that's alright. What customers will like is the ride height of the Innova V as more senior passengers won't have a hard time getting up to the middle row.

The third row remains unchanged: a three-seater bench. Yes, Toyota calls this a seven-seater with a 2-2-3 layout; the lower grade variants without captain's seats have a 2-3-3 layout for 8, but honestly, the third row is best for just two. The middle seat allocation in the third row isn't exactly optimal for adults given the presence of the wheel wells protruding into the cabin.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

If you don't need max seating and need some for cargo, then that's where the Innova excels. The third row can fold either down or up to give maximum cargo space. The captain seats can fold and tumble as well to give you even more room.

The mechanism of the third row is a lot better than the first-generation model because it's spring-loaded, making it easier. Yes, the space is good, but note that the seats occupy quite a bit of volume when folded up. Toyota still hasn't engineered a fold-flat (to the floor) system into the third row because that's part of the limitation of their body-on-frame platform. The fold-up system isn't bad, but it does leave a lot to be desired.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

Providing propulsion for the V grade is the 2.8-liter 1GD-FTV four-cylinder engine. Actually, all Innova units now will come with the 1GD-FTV turbodiesel as Toyota finally decided to drop the 2.0L VVT-i gasoline engine which isn't optimal (for performance and fuel economy) given the weight and capacity of the vehicle.

For the updated Fortuner and Hilux units, the 1GD engine produces 204 PS and 500 Nm of torque; that's the higher state of tune of the engine. In the Innova V, that same engine produces 174 PS and 360 Nm of torque with the rear-wheel drive, 6-speed automatic; not anywhere near as much, but the Hilux and Fortuner are heavier vehicles after all.

The 174 PS / 360 Nm tune engine is shared with all other automatic transmission variants, but the 5-speed manual models get the 170 PS / 343 Nm tune. That dual-tune configuration is something Toyota has done since the first generation Innova with the 2.5L 2KD-FTV turbo diesel; the AT models had 260 Nm while the MT had 200 Nm.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

Driving around town, it doesn't make that much of a difference though. I've driven the manual Innova 2.8L before, and it's alright; I wish it had an extra gear for highway driving, but in town it's OK. The automatic version is really the one I prefer because you won't have to worry about shifting or clutching in when going about your way around town.

There doesn't seem to be any mechanical or suspension upgrades that are noteworthy. I'm sure there are some improvements based on the lessons learned from the pre-facelift second-gen model, but nothing we can really point to. The manners of the suspension are the same and the brakes feel the same (with the strong brake assist, FYI).

Toyota should work on the sound insulation of the Innova. It's not too uncomfortable, but loud noises from modified or dilapidated mufflers (e.g. motorcycles, jeepneys, trucks) can easily defeat the sound insulation of the Innova V. Tire and suspension noise on concrete can permeate and resonate in the cabin even if you're just cruising at around 60 km/h. I'll call it sub-optimal.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

On smoother asphalt, it's not a problem; the Innova V cruises nicely whether you're driving or, better yet, if you're in one of the captain's seats. That was to be expected. The fuel economy is great too; in the city, in moderate traffic (21 km/h average) we were averaging 12.3 km/l of diesel. On the highway that went up to 18.3 km/l (72 km/h average). The Innova can do those numbers because it can cruise at a low RPM as the torque comes in at 1200.

Still, I have a long list of criticisms of the Innova V, but we first have to frame those in the context of the pricing. Toyota is charging a PHP 1,739,000 SRP for the 2021 Innova 2.8V. For that price, this top-of-the-line model has no 360-degree camera system, no cruise control, no power-adjustable driver's seat, no ottoman for the captain's seats, no fold flat for the third row, and no leather upholstery as standard. Let's start with something even more simple: there are no USB ports (except for the data port on the HU) for people to hook up and charge their devices directly.

2021 Toyota Innova V image

Yeah, the tray tables for the captain's seats are nice, but we're not seeing anything that significantly exceeds the V model that was launched in 2016. And it's not like before where the Innova was the only game in town these days, and the chief competition will undoubtedly be the Geely Okavango which offers so much more for less.

Actually, if you want an indicator of the price hike in the last 5 years, look at the SRP of the Innova V then: Toyota first offered the 2016 Innova 2.8V for PHP 1,445,000. That's a whopping PHP 294,000 difference over 5 years; the big hike was the PHP 128,000 when 2018 rolled in. Even the more value-oriented E grade automatic has experienced a huge price jump since 2016; back then, Toyota offered it for PHP 1,222,000, but now it's PHP 1,355,000.

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 V image

Critically, you can get a mid-grade PPV with an automatic gearbox for the price of a V. The Ford Everest Trend is available for PHP 1,738,000 SRP; that means you still have 1k left for lunch and fuel, and that's before the discounts. The Mitsubishi Montero Sport GLS 2WD retails for PHP 1,728,000; you'll still have 11k left for lunch, fuel, and a dashcam. Even Toyota's own Fortuner G is at PHP 1,723,000; you'll be able to get a ceramic coating job (maybe) with the 16k leftover.

Of course, Toyota has some advantages that others simply do not have yet. Many will comment with phrases like resale value or parts availability and reliability, and that's alright. When you buy a Toyota, you're entering a fully-developed aftermarket ecosystem as parts and accessories are literally everywhere, making maintenance and personalization easy. But does the price of admission vis-a-vis what you get has to be so high?

2021 Toyota Innova 2.8 V image

Some who have read or watched my reviews say that I'm critical of Toyota's models, and that's true. The case of the Innova 2.8V and the model, in general, is different though because it's built here in the Philippines, and that fact alone means its success supports a wider domestic economy. But being proudly Philippine-made may not be enough to convince consumers if the product isn't superior in value versus the rivals.

I'm a firm believer that leaders should continue leading and show rivals how it's done, versus showing what they can get away with. Don't get me wrong, the Innova is a solid vehicle. If we were talking golf, Toyota hit it straight down the middle and landed in the middle of the fairway. The only problem is that competitors can do the same, but they're hitting harder to try and get onto the green.

I don't think the Innova is in danger like the AUV class that preceded it, but the Toyota Innova needs to improve and innovate.

Actually, it's all there in the name.

  • Make: Toyota
  • Model: Innova 2.8V
  • Engine: 2.8-liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 CRDI VG Turbodiesel
  • Max Power: 174 PS @ 3400 rpm
  • Max Torque: 360 Nm @ 1200-3400 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed AT with manual mode, RWD
  • Price as Tested: ₱1,739,000