The Right Direction
They say that you will never forget your first time.
From your first love, first kiss, or first day at school, it's easy to understand why. The Avanza is also a first for me. It was actually my first-ever car review. That's right, the modest compact MPV became my stepping stone in doing automotive reviews, specifically the 2015 Toyota Avanza 1.5 G A/T.
But on a more serious note, this MPV is a suitable first car for growing families, budding businesses, as well as taxi fleets. Like its bigger sibling, the Innova, the Avanza can wear many hats. From serving as a family vehicle, a delivery van, or even as a public utility vehicle, it essentially highlights the Avanza's multi-purpose role, hence MPV.
Now I'm driving the third-generation Toyota Avanza. While some will immediately notice its sleeker looks and bigger dimensions, its most important update lies underneath. That's because this Avanza is no longer a rear-wheel drive (RWD) MPV. For its latest generation, Toyota has decided to make the Avanza into a front-wheel drive (FWD) MPV.
But how did we get to this third-generation Avanza? What makes it vastly different from the past models? And why is it such a big deal that the MPV has switched from RWD to FWD?
First and foremost, let's talk about its looks.
MPVs may not exactly be the type of vehicle that people see as stylish, but Toyota made sure the all-new Avanza is a looker. Immediately grabbing our attention is the Avanza’s more assertive front end. It’s no longer as busy as before thanks to the new split LED headlights (which are standard across all models) and the bolder grille. I'm not a fan of the matte black elements on the foglights, but they do provide some eye candy for onlookers and curious passers-by.
Don't expect to find vertical taillights at the back as Toyota replaced those with new L-shaped units. The taillight garnishes and chrome trim pieces from before have also been removed which makes for a simpler and cleaner-looking rear. Less is more, as the late Colin Chapman from Lotus once said.
Also worth mentioning on this particular Avanza is its unique paint. Finished in Greenish Gun Metal Mica Metallic, the new paint suits the Avanza really well. In fact, we wouldn't mind if Toyota actually applied this new coat of paint to its closest sibling, the Veloz.
All in all, I like the styling direction Toyota is taking with the new MPV. The 2022 Avanza looks very different from its predecessors. But this is still a budget vehicle. In fact, it's actually made by Daihatsu which means they are the ones responsible for the new design, as well as its new platform.
No longer underpinned by a RWD chassis, the next-gen Avanza now sits on the Daihatsu New Global Architecture (D-NGA). This allowed Toyota to switch the MPV from a semi body-on-frame platform to a more passenger-friendly, unibody FWD platform. The result is a larger and more spacious vehicle for both passengers and cargo.
But how was Toyota able to make the Avanza more spacious inside? Every automaker can make a car bigger, but it's another thing to actually make the cabin spacious as well. Toyota (or Daihatsu) was able to do this thanks to the new unibody construction. Unlike its predecessors which came with a body-on-frame design, the monocoque design means the body and the chassis are bonded together.
With the body directly integrated into the frame, there's more room for engineers to maximize cabin space, which Daihatsu has successfully done with the Avanza. Combined with the FWD drivetrain, what used to be the space previously allocated for a prop shaft has been reduced to only accomodating the exhaust. The result is a flatter floor and easier ingress for passengers.
However, the transition to a unibody meant that the Avanza is no longer as tall as before. With just 190 mm of ground clearance (the previous one came with 200mm), those that prefer a slightly higher-riding MPV might find the lower ground clearance as a hindrance.
Open the doors and Toyota completely changed the dashboard of the Avanza. From the instrument panel and the center stack to the HVAC controls and center console, Toyota surely made the MPV's interior bang up to date. The new steering wheel, redesigned fabric seats, updated instrument cluster with a 4.2-inch multi-info display, and the L-shaped corner air vents give the MPV's cabin a sleek and modern finish.
Standing proudly at the center of the dash is a new 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Not only does it have Bluetooth and USB connectivity, but it also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which is now a must-have on almost every new car. What I don't like about the head unit, however, is the placement of the USB port. While I do like that it's easy to access, its placement on the touchscreen itself means when you have long cables, it will dangle around inside the cabin.
Sitting in the second row, the Avanza's bigger dimensions is apparent as there is more legroom and elbowroom. What's more, is that the second-row seats can now be slid forwards or backward which helps in providing more cabin space for those seated in the third row. In case you need to recharge your phones or mobile devices, there are now two USB charging ports that can charge two devices at the same time. Even the third row has a 12V power socket which means those seated at the very back need not have long cables just so they can recharge their phones.
What I also liked in the 2022 Avanza is the new fold-flat third-row seats. In the past, you had to fold down the seats, raise them up towards the rear of the second-row backrests, and then hook them to the second-row headrests so they're locked into place. In the all-new version, a quick pull on the tab and you're good to go.
If there's one more feature I like in the Avanza, it's the placement of the rear cupholders for the second row. Instead of integrating them to the center armrest or below the center console, they cleverly placed them on the doors. Not only do they free-up cabin space, but their placement means rear passengers can easily get a hold of their drinks.
So the cabin is larger and roomier from top to bottom and there are plenty more features than past models. However, it’s not all perfumes and roses. Sure, it gets a brand new look but the use of cheap black (and gray) plastic means it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing. Yes, there are neat touches of faux carbon-fiber trim here and there, but perhaps having more piano black trim or faux chrome accents would liven up the interior of the Avanza.
That's why we (much to Toyota's dismay) have to mention that this is a Daihatsu. That's not exactly a bad thing; Daihatsu is really good at making affordable cars. But the compromise is the materials used and the fair lack of NVH deadening when it comes to Daihatsu vehicles. The Avanza still comes with a 'T' badge, but Toyota customers will expect a certain degree of quality feel from the brand.
There was also a lack of leather in the cabin. Yes, the gear selector has some faux leather, but the steering wheel and seats don't have them as standard. For a top-spec variant with an SRP of nearly PHP 1.040 million, I was at least expecting the steering wheel to come with leather. The Raize 1.2 G CVT already comes with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and it's more affordable than the top-of-the-line Avanza. What gives, Toyota?
Powering the 2022 Avanza is the familiar 1.5-liter 2NR-VE four-cylinder engine with Dual VVT-i. It provides a modest 106 PS at 6000 rpm and 138 Nm of torque at 4200 rpm. No 4-speed automatic transmissions here as the top-of-the-line MPV now has a CVT that drives the front wheels.
So what’s it like to drive the Avanza now that it’s front-wheel drive and uses a CVT? Right off the bat I immediately noticed that the MPV picks up on the power quicker. Sure, it doesn't have a turbocharged engine but the new FWD platform and CVT combo mean response from the engine is faster. And should you need to overtake other cars as quickly as possible, the transmission can be set to 'Sport' mode which picks up the revs quicker.
As far as fuel economy is concerned, the CVT vastly improved the Avanza’s fuel consumption. In light city traffic, it’s easy to achieve 10.0 to 11.0 km/l (or more) with the MPV. On the highway, don’t be surprised to see the Avanza average around 18.0 to 18.5 km/l.
While the CVT was able to improve the MPV's fuel consumption, it wasn't as smooth as I'd expected it to be. When I floor the accelerator pedal, there's a slight hesitation from the CVT before it sends all available power to the wheels. This happens in both Normal and Sport modes which can be a hindrance especially when overtaking. A quick solution to this problem is to activate the CVT's manual mode and go through each “gear” individually.
Another fault of the CVT that I experienced is that when the car drops below 20 km/h, the transmission tends to slow down the vehicle quite abruptly. There were times I felt the vehicle suddenly lurch when near 10 km/h, which can catch other drivers (especially those behind you) by surprise.
There's also the issue of torque. Most of my time with the Avanza was driving solo, but once you start loading it up to seven, it can be challenging. Not so on the flat roads, but if you're uphill and fully loaded (plus cargo), you will feel it. Our editor says he'll put that to the test later on.
Handling-wise, the Avanza is easy to guide through every turn. Granted, it doesn't have the most engaging steering, but that's not exactly the point of this MPV. Its main goal is to provide the driver with light steering when in the city or parking. I did notice, however, that the steering can become heavy while stationary. I'm not sure exactly why but it could be something with the electronic power steering (EPS). Otherwise, the Avanza delivers a modest (if slightly numb) steering feel.
When it comes to riding comfort, I was expecting the Avanza to deliver a softer ride. Unfortunately, it's still a mixed bag in the new FWD generation. When seated at the front, the driver and front passenger are treated to a somewhat soft ride. If you happen to be seated in the second or third rows, don't be surprised to experience a bouncier ride.
Historically the Avanza still has had a stiffer ride in the back, and that's to account for the passenger capacity of the vehicle. Despite switching to the new D-NGA platform, they still have to make the rear suspension stiffer to compensate. But if you're trundling along solo or with just 1 companion, you will feel the bounce.
So the 2022 Avanza has grown by leaps and bounds in its third generation. It's bigger, has more cabin space, comes with standard equipment, and is more fuel-efficient thanks to the new CVT. However, its stiff ride, heavy use of cheap plastic, and lack of certain cabin amenities (plus NVH) affected its value-for-money proposition. And we also believe that Daihatsu could have worked on a better engine for this, preferably with more torque down low.
With the Veloz now becoming its own model, Toyota may have had to remove some features from the Avanza and only make it available to its more upmarket sibling. Heck, the Veloz even comes with Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) features like Pre-Collision System, Automatic High Beam, and Lane Departure Warning.
Despite the Avanza not having TSS, the MPV variant still comes with plenty of safety features. These include anti-lock brakes, vehicle stability control, traction control, hill-start assist, reverse camera, rear parking sensors, and ISOFIX child seat anchors at the rear. For extra peace of mind, the 1.5 G CVT also has a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and 6 airbags (dual front, dual side, and dual curtain).
At PHP 1.039 million, the 2022 Avanza 1.5 G CVT is priced pretty steep. However, compared to the starting price of the 2022 Xpander which retails for PHP 1.050 million, the Avanza in top-of-the-line trim is not exactly bad. There are arguments that while the Xpander is priced higher, it is a very solidly engineered vehicle and it feels like it to drive.
We have to go back to the fact that the Avanza is a Daihatsu underneath. If you were looking to get a family MPV, the all-new Avanza ticks the box for a practical, spacious, and fuel-efficient 7-seater. But we believe it could be so much better if they tried a bit harder.