MPVs and traditional station wagons have taken a back seat to SUVs in the family wagon popularity contest. They simply don't let their owners tower above traffic and they don't have that “I'm an adventurer” appeal about them.
Yet for those who make absolutely no emotional investment in the car they're buying, there's something to be said about a genuine MPV like the Toyota Verso, which fits a huge interior onto a relatively small chassis.
It's like squeezing Nkandla onto a suburban stand. Well maybe not quite, but the 4.44-metre-long Verso manages to pack in a practical seven seat interior despite being shorter than a Corolla. This means you can have space for a big family and easy manoeuvrability.
I know I'm sounding like an accountant here, but then this is no sports car review now is it?
Like its predecessors, the recently facelifted Verso comes with Toyota's 'Easy Flat-7' seating system with seven individual seats that can all be shifted forwards or backwards. It's a system that can be adjusted around your needs. The third row might be cramped and best suited to small children, but then you can liberate reasonable legroom by making the second row occupants give up some of the generous space that's allocated to them in the standard configuration. There are 32 differing seating permutations in total.
Seven-up, the boot is rather tiny, offering just 155 litres; yet if you're only hauling five people, you could fold the third row flat for 440 litres. The second row also folds flat for those moments when you wish you bought a panel van.
What sets the upgraded Verso apart is a new face and classier interior finish. The front end certainly looks more interesting, mimicking the latest Auris with a slim upper grille that runs between the headlights and a large trapezoidal lower grille. The new headlights incorporate daytime running lights and TX models like the one on test have High Intensity Discharge lamps.
Inside, the Verso retains its centrally-mounted instrument pod and a generally uninteresting appearance, although new trim detailing, softer materials in places and satin black embellishments make it appear more elegant than before.
Toyota has also packed more standard equipment into the Verso and in addition to niceties found the SX, like cruise control and a touch-screen infotainment system, the range-topping TX adds keyless entry and start, dual zone climate control, rear side window shades and automatic headlights and wipers.
The Verso that I tested came with Toyota's 91kW/310Nm 2-litre turbodiesel engine, which can only be had in TX trim guise.
It offered impressive performance on a 600km round trip, the engine proving to be brisk and responsive on the open road, although a little laggy in town.
Its fuel consumption on the road trip amounted to 5.8 l/100km, which is not too bad considering that it was pushed a bit at times.
The Verso also felt reassuringly stable through the fast sweeps and the ride quality, under all conditions, left nothing at all to moan about.
As a buy-with-your-head kind of vehicle, the Toyota Verso is a respectable choice; it's refined, practical and easy to live with. It's just a bit on the pricy side in diesel form, with the D-4D TX costing R340 000.
Back to the accounting jargon, those looking for the budget buy in the range could look at the 1.6 S base version, which makes an easier R269 200 hole in the ledger - minus the diesel's performance, economy and luxury assets.
Engine: 4-cyl, 2-litre turbodiesel
Power: 91kW @ 3600rpm
Torque: 310Nm @ 1600rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 11.3 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 185km/h
Consumption (claimed combined): 5.5 l/100km
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service plan: 5-year/90 000km
Price: R340 200
Renault Grand Scenic 1.6 dCi (96kW/320Nm) - R334 900
Volkswagen Touran 2.0 TDi (81kW/250Nm) - R295 000