Toyota Innova is a wallowy loader

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IOL mot pic apr12 Toyota Innova Side 1

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Perhaps not quite eye-catching in looks, but the eight-seater Toyota Innova is all about practicality with a bit of comfort.

It was a tall order for the chaps in white coats at Toyota to design a good-looking vehicle that would carry up to eight people in relative comfort. Such a people hauler is essentially a rectangular box with a wheel at each corner, despite attempts to disguise this with swoops and curves on the bodywork. The result was the Innova, a bland-looking, yet practical and versatile vehicle that does the job required of it and then some.

The trick to fitting that number of people in to what is more of a car than a minibus, lies in the three rows of seats, with the middle and last row of seats each accommodating three people. Headrests provide some creature comfort, while the seats can recline. However, once all three rows of seats are being used there’s virtually no room to use the seats in the reclined position as it would take up the leg room of the person behind.

Space becomes a trade-off

Boot volume is very limited when all three rows of seats are used. The second and third row of seats can be folded up to increase the boot area, and in most cases we drove with the third row of seats folded. Doing so is a cinch, requiring just a tug on a strap. Legroom is a bit limited in the third row for an adult, but I was able to sit fairly comfortably - but then again I’m a runner, not a brawny rugby player.

Headroom is good and air vents in the ceiling above the second and third row of seats ensure the climate control suits all passengers. The climate control is easily accessed by passengers with controls on the ceiling.

Up front, the cabin is well specced with onboard computer, satellite controls on the steering wheel for the audio system, MID and Bluetooth, a touch-screen audio system, and airbags for driver and front passenger.

IOL mot pic apr12 Toyota Innova Clocks 2

The Innova has a functional and neat dashboard and clocks, although the fake wood grain strips jar.

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FAKE WOOD-GRAIN INLAYS

The audio system is quite funky and easy to use, although it can be hard to read in harsh sunlight. It also has an audio input terminal, auxiliary USB and iPod connection.

But the dash is not so funky with fake wood-grain inlays and hard plastics.

The seats are trimmed in beige fabric, and may be hard to keep clean with an active family. The driving position is comfortable and would suit most people as the driver’s seat is six-way adjustable. The steering wheel can be adjusted for height adjustment but not reach.

NOTCHY GEARBOX

We took the Innova on a 300km round trip to the Witbank dam to go sailing, and the 2.7-litre VVT-i four-cylinder engine pulled the Toyota loaded with people and cooler boxes along briskly enough, although it could be more refined. The ride quality is smooth and soaks up most bumps with ease, but wallows a bit on tight cornering due to its high ride height.

IOL mot pic apr12 Toyota Innova Sound 3

Audio system is quite funky with a touch screen in shades of blue, but can be hard to read in harsh sunlight.

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The five-speed manual gearshift is notchy, with a lot of play, and I missed a gearshift once or twice. I also missed having a sixth gear when cruising on the open road.

Fuel consumption was close to the claimed figure of 11.2 litres per 100km with the Toyota using 10.8 litres per 100km on the open road at the legal speed limit and a little more on the urban treadmill to work and back.

VERDICT

Toyota says the eight-seater is ideal for commercial or community use, with the more expensive seven-seat version is aimed at the family: we feel the eight-seater would also suit many large families.

The Innova is a practical and versatile vehicle that, although not striking in appearance, offers value for money with a R257 200 pricetag. Its nearest competitors are the Mazda5 2.0 Original and Nissan Grand Livina Acenta+ which are seven-seaters, but are powered by much smaller 1.6-litre engines. The Mazda5 is similarly priced at R257 320, while the Nissan comes with a R205 000 pricetag. - Star Motoring

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