137,813 units: that's how many first-generation Innovas Toyota Motor Philippines sold during the car's decade-long run. With a combination of practicality, utility and comfort, it's perhaps no surprise why the Innova is the country's best-selling MPV. With such big shoes to fill, can the new 2016 Toyota Innova carry on the torch?

With its large two bar grill that merges into the front air dam and wraparound headlights, the Innova went from conservative to rather bold, almost SUV-like if I may add. The significant increases in dimensions plays a key part as it's noticeably bigger than the outgoing model. It gains a significant 150 mm in length, 55 mm in width and 35 mm in height. The MPV now measures in at 4,735 mm long, 1,830 mm and 1,795 mm tall. Park a 2016 Innova beside a first-generation Fortuner and you'll be surprised to see that the latest addition to the IMV family is longer than the original IMV SUV. It's all been put to good use as there's more space inside, not just for passengers but for cargo as well.

2016 Toyota Innova interior

Stepping inside the Innova was a pleasant surprise. Soft touch paddings, a driver oriented dashboard and Optitron gauges give the car a rather upmarket feel and a big step up from the predecessor's utilitarian interior. You can even say it has a dash of style. Comfort was pretty good too, not just in the front seats but the second and third row as well. Rear passengers are treated to better contoured seats too, now with lumbar support. Stowing the third row seats was the bane of pretty much every Innova (or Fortuner) owner. For this new model, you no longer have to hop in the cargo area, pull levers and tabs and lift it to hook it to the grab handle. Instead, you can just push the back rests down, pull a tab and let the spring loaded mechanism do most of the work. The only thing left for you to do is hook it to a partition found in the D-pillar.

Toyota Innova 2.8-liter GD engine

A pleasant surprise for us is the fact that we got the 2.8 liter turbodiesel instead of the 2.4 version of the GD engine. Naturally, we asked Hiroki Nakajima, the chief engineer of the IMV platform, why local Innova gets the higher displacement engine. According to Nakajima, the hilly roads and our fondness of carrying extra passengers led to this decision and thus, the 2.8 engine made its way to our new Innovas which are being built in the Santa Rosa, Laguna plant. Slightly detuned, the turbodiesel engines put out 171 PS and 360 Nm of torque. Gas models retain the 2.0 liter 1TR engine with 136 PS and 183 Nm of torque.

As far as first impressions go, the Innova puts on a good one standing still but what is it like to drive?

We had our first try in the Clark International Speedway where we put the all-new MPV to the test. Testing involved hard acceleration, heavy braking, cornering at speed, a turning radius test and maneuverability. For acceleration tests, we put the car in Normal, Eco and Power mode to see how each setting affects the car's behavior. We first tried power mode and in that setting, the Innova pulls off the line with urgency and rather brisk for what's essentially a people (and cargo) carrier. Eco mode, on the other hand shifted earlier, even when we pinned the accelerator to the floor. Normal mode (default setting, or press both Eco and Power buttons to activate) was a nice balance between the two. 

2016 Toyota Innova braking test

Up next was a hard braking test from 80 km/h. Like the Fortuner, it too had rather noticeable nosedive with the rear slightly going light but it stays straight. Braking performance was good, stopping the Innova rather quickly. 

We did a maneuverability test wherein a makeshift mini-roundabout was set in place. The new Innova felt like it had a tighter turning radius. When we gave that feedback to Nakajima, he gave us a surprising answer, saying that the MPV actually retained its turning radius. He told us that while the turning circle remains the same, he and his team fixed the suspension geometry and installed a quicker ratio steering rack for the second generation Innova. No longer do you have to put in large amounts of steering lock when maneuvering in tight spaces. The improvements made to the steering ratio was even more noticeable when we weaved the Innova through the slalom. All it needed were quick flicks of the wheel and the car turned in with midsize sedan agility. Sweeping bends taken at speed were also no issue. The large glass area also helped in placing the car exactly where you need it to be.

In test conditions, the second-generation Innova's performance was was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor plus the upmarket cabin and bold exterior certainly boosts its appeal even more. 

2016 Toyota Innova rear quarter beauty shot

The second phase of testing was the one we were all waiting for, real world driving. Toyota sent us to Bohol to try it out, along with most of the variants available in the country.

As mentioned above, we had tried out the 2.8 liter automatic model in Clark but out on the road, it proved to be a rather quiet and comfortable cruiser. Although the ride, while not harsh, was a touch on the firm side (to compensate for heavier payload). Nakajima had told us that the new chassis' crossmember is bigger than before, allowing for noise, vibration and harshness levels to go down a notch and the quick drive around the town proved it. While not as quiet as the Fortuner and Hilux, noise levels are much lower compared to the first-generation Innova. After that, I tried the gas-powered model with the 2.0 liter engine. While quiet and refined, it didn't quite have the same urgency the torquey diesel had, but it will be adequate for most drivers.

2016 Toyota Innova side interior

Seeing that there is still a large market for manual transmission models, I had to have a go in one as well. Start up is classic diesel with a manual, with the gear stick rocking from side to side but after that, it didn't vibrate as much as the old manual diesel did. Clutch feel was was good with precise feedback, although the brake pedal is set rather high compared to the rest of the pedals. Despite me not driving a manual for quite some time, it was easy to get the hang of it and in a few meters, I was comfortable with it. With the manual transmission, I felt like this particular model was sprightly and more responsive with a twitch of the foot being all you need for overtaking. 

Chief Engineer Hiroki Nakajima

When we asked Nakajima-san how long the new IMV platform took to develop, he said that it began as early as 2011 with loads of customer feedback coming in even when the first generation was receiving updates in the process. Those five years may well have been worth it because, on this initial impression at least, the all-new Innova has what it takes to continue the success of the first-generation model.