Let's start this off by answering a burning question in car shoppers' minds:

The Toyota Rush drives like an Avanza.

New Rush owners who have just taken delivery of their vehicles may disagree. They did buy the Rush on the promise of an SUV from one of Toyota's marketing professionals, and to say that it drives like econo-MPV that the Avanza is a let down. And given the strong demand, we wouldn't be surprised if the transaction wasn't exactly in the customer's favor with things like high in-house financing rates and high insurance premiums in order to get that all-important unit allocation.

But don't get me wrong: Driving like an Avanza is not a bad thing. Far from it.

There's a good reason the Avanza is a consistent top seller for Toyota: that MPV is a solid, everyday vehicle. I should know; I used to drive one everyday.

First Drive: Toyota Rush

Sitting in the Rush to finally drive it on a long trip such as Toyota's Roadtrek, there's a strong sense of familiarity with the Avanza that I drove before. Everything may be clothed differently with the classier looking dashboard, the black seats, the new steering wheel design, the gauges, switchgear and more, but if you've driven a current model Avanza, it will feel very familiar because the underlying architecture inside is the same.

The seating position for the driver is exactly the same (quite upright), along with the point-of-view of the driver towards the gauges. The positioning of the controls, the shifter, the parking brake are all the same. The A/C is the same apart from the automatic climate control upgrade; like the Avanza's, it produces more noise than cool air at the most powerful settings. Heck, even the vent on top of the dash that sends cool air into the rear blower above the driver's head are all the same. 

There are two seating configurations for the Rush's three variants. The entry grade version of the Rush is the 1.5E, and it comes with either with an automatic or a manual. Both E variants are 5-seater versions, meaning there's no third row. The high grade version is the Rush 1.5G, and that's the one that gets the third row that can split 50/50, fold down and tumble, just like the Avanza 1.5G and E.

First Drive: Toyota Rush

Like the interior, the body looks very different from the Avanza. Toyota had shed the softer design features of the Avanza MPV in favor of stronger, sharper design elements worthy of an SUV. And it does look good. Many have commented that the Rush looks like a baby Fortuner, but I disagree; if anything, the Rush's front end has more of a resemblance to the 2011-2016 Honda CR-V.

The “conversion” of the Avanza's architecture to become the Rush is the beauty of platform sharing, though I prefer another terminology for it: top hat strategy. One platform can wear many top hats. Ford's B3 platform is the basis for the Fiesta and the EcoSport. Toyota's IMV platform has three top hats: Innova, Hilux, and Fortuner. Volkswagen's MQB is almost too widely used; versions of this platform can be used from something as small as an Audi A3 and TT, up to a Passat and a Tiguan.

It can be argued, however, that the Rush and even the Avanza are both badge engineered versions of their sister company's (Daihatsu) counterparts in the Terios and Xenia, respectively. Actually, if you look at the manufacturer's identification plate on the passenger side (driver's side in RHD countries) door frame, you'll see that the Rush is manufactured by Daihatsu in MPV-crazy Indonesia for SUV-mad Philippines. Badge engineering, however, is a non-issue in the Rush's case; Daihatsu isn't marketed here (anymore) anyway.

Pop the hood and there's a very familiar sight: the 1.5-liter 2NR-VE. The engine won't win you over with performance figures; power output is at 104 horsepower and torque is at 136 Nm at 4200 rpm. Like the Avanza, it's oriented along the length of the Rush. The reason is that the Rush is rear-wheel drive, unlike front-wheel drive competitor models such as the Honda BR-V and Mitsubishi Xpander. RWD should make it easier for the Rush to move around; pushing is easier than pulling, at least in theory.

First Drive: Toyota Rush

At low speeds, the Rush 1.5G drives like, well, an Avanza. No surprise there. That's because the gearbox choices are the same: the entry grade model gets a 5-speed manual while these higher grade E and G models get the 4-speed automatic. We did groan a bit about the 4-speed slushbox, but if it's long term reliability you want, then older but proven technology has better chances of lasting.

At provincial town speeds (about 40 km/h average) it's acceptably efficient, at least by the fuel eco meter. With three in the car (plus luggage), we were just getting a whisker above 7 km/l, though that's with quite a bit of generosity with overtaking. On provincial highways it fared a lot better: 10.5-11 km/l at about 70 km/h average. We couldn't do an independent verification at the pump given that we were in a convoy, but those figures seem about right for the Rush's powertrain.

First Drive: Toyota Rush

The key thing about the Rush is its chassis; yes, the presence of an actual ladder-style truck chassis means that the Rush is technically an body-on-frame SUV, not a crossover. Go figure. The front suspension is made up of MacPherson struts, while you get a rigid axle in the back. The brochure says its a 5-link arrangement with coil springs and a lateral rod (like an SUV), though I suspect it could be exactly the same as the Avanza's 4-link, at least in the way it rides. 

As expected, the Rush drives and rides like an Avanza. If you're driving solo or with minimal weight, it's OK in the front, but the rear would be bouncing around if you hit some ruts at speed. That's because the rear suspension is suited to the same principle as most modern pick-up trucks: to bear weight.

With the Rush being engineered to handle 7 people, the rear springs have to be stiffened to accommodate that weight. If it wasn't, then you'd end up with a vehicle that squats badly in the back. And so the compromise is a bouncy ride for the back if you're just driving to the grocery alone, but it can cope with a family of seven.

First Drive: Toyota Rush

The Rush easily deals with a mix of provincial highways and expressways; you'll have to be generous with the thottle if you want to quickly get past the slow jeepneys and tricycles (on the left lane, no less), so much so that you can actually hear the VVT-i system activate. It's no old school VTEC, but you can feel it. Wind noise and tire noise could be better suppressed at speeds around 100 km/h, but it's hard to expect NVH that approches Innova levels at this price range. Also, the Rush's tachometer was already touching 3000 rpm at that speed, so it's not the most efficient speed to drive. This small Toyota SUV feels more at home at the 80 km/h mark, and external noise isn't as pronounced. And at that speed, the Rush was doing 12-13 km/l.

Handling from the electric power steering isn't really the Rush's strong suit, though the braking is strong, even though there's a bit of dive if you're braking hard from higher speeds. Thankfully this Rush is very well equipped in the safety department. Normally we'd expect basic safety features like dual airbags and ABS, but Toyota really sent a message by making traction control, an emergency stop signal (the lights flash under full, emergency braking), and six airbags as standard features across the range. The way Toyota specced the Rush for safety was unusual good, especially for a market leader. 

The Rush delivers what Toyota needed it to. We never expected it to drive like the bigger SUVs or beat the driving characteristics of the BR-V, and that's OK. What we did expect of it was a better experience overall than the Avanza, while retaining things like the MPV's reliability, versatility, and extremely easy (and affordable) maintenance. Toyota built on the Avanza's best qualities and added more safety, more features, more ground clearance (220mm), and far better looks inside and out. And they did it at Avanza/Vios money: the Rush 1.5E 5MT is at PhP 948,000, the 1.5E 4AT is at PhP 988,000, and this range topping 1.5G is priced at PhP 1,070,000. 

Just about the only thing I would change are the standard speakers. They're a bit tinny.