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Avanza panel van is no ugly truckling

Sometimes the V in MPV just means 'van' - and no, Cyril, we're not talking about SuperSarel here, but about taking advantage of the generous interior volume of these versatile vehicles.

As if to illustrate my point, Toyota has announced a van version of its recently-upgraded Avanza all-rounder, with the same facelifted styling, bigger cabin (which in this case mean more cargo space) and improved comfort and safety features.

Toyota Avanza panel van still has five doors.

According to Toyota SA marketing head Calvyn Hamman: “Just because it works for a living, doesn't mean it has to look like a truck - but the Avanza panel van is certainly up for the job.”

TOUGH VINYL CLADDING

What's surprising is how little has been done to the Avanza to equip it for its new role. It still has five doors (not a bad thing when it comes to cargo access in cramped delivery yards) and, rather than make new rear doors and tailgate without glass, Toyota has simply blacked out the windows to discourage affirmative shopping.

The rear seats and carpeting are gone, of course, replaced by tough vinyl cladding, leaving a flat-floored cargo bay (the only intrusions are the rear wheel-arches) that's rated for a 500kg payload and comes with a cargo barrier net to secure the load.

From the B pillar forward, however, it's all familiar Avanza territory, with electric power steering, dual front airbags, alarm/immobiliser, antilock braking, remote central locking and even electric windows all round.

REAR-WHEEL DRIVE

The panel van has the same running gear as the 2012 Avanza MPV, with McPherson strut front and five-link coil-spring rear suspension, but with spring and damper rates revised for heavy-duty load-carrying.

And, of course, it's rear-wheel drive, which gives it a tighter turning circle than most of its FWD competitors, and better traction pulling away on a steep hill with a full load.

Motivation is supplied by a revised version of Toyota's familiar, long-stroke DOHC 1.3-litre four, rated for 67kW at 6000 revs and 117Nm at 4400rpm but now, according to Toyota, 20kg lighter (although they don't say where the weight was shed) - driving through a five-speed manual 'box.

Toyota does claim, however, that it will take the Avanza van from 0-100 in 11.9 seconds, while averaging 7.7 litres per 100km, although we assume both those figures were obtained without half a tonne of ballast in the back.

BOTTOM LINE

The Avanza 1.3 S panel van retails for R161 400 and, in line with its people-carrying siblings, comes with a three-year or 100 000km warranty, a four-year or 60 000km service plan and needs to go home to mommy every 15 000km.

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