Latest Toyota Avanza is more spacious and sophisticated than its predecessor. Power is provided by a choice of 1.3 or 1.5-litre engines.  Pricing begins at R156 000.
Latest Toyota Avanza is more spacious and sophisticated than its predecessor. Power is provided by a choice of 1.3 or 1.5-litre engines. Pricing begins at R156 000.
Neat dashboard is spoiled by ventilation dials which require taking your eyes off the road to operate.
Neat dashboard is spoiled by ventilation dials which require taking your eyes off the road to operate.
The third row of seats are not all that adult-friendly, but kids love them.
The third row of seats are not all that adult-friendly, but kids love them.

What is it about kids and MPVs with three rows of seats?

You’d think there was a candy store hidden back there with the amount of excitement and attention the third row gets. The moment my youngsters got into Toyota’s latest Avanza all they said was: “Dad, can we sit in the boot?”

Which was worrying on various levels, the least of which is that with the third row of seats in place, the boot itself is about the length of your average golf bag. What they were referring to was that third row itself, which I suspect they loved because: a) the second-row seat has this cool tumble feature which by pulling one easy lever collapses and folds away for easy access to the last row; and b) because, strictly speaking, that last row of seats in terms of size looks like it was designed just for them - let’s just say they’re not all that adult friendly.

And then it dawned on me, that’s why larger families love these types of vehicles. With the kids strapped into that last row it’s almost like they’re in another car. You can’t hear too much of the usual nagging and yelling and they’re content with their own little space and their own little cupholders.

But more about the Avanza.

Having driven the original one I think it’s safe to say the only thing it had going for it was the price. At around the hundred grand mark it seemed liked great value. The new Avanza, though far more demanding on your wallet with the range starting price of R155 900, is actually a lot more pleasant, both aesthetically and on the road.

But clearly the focus was space, with Toyota squeezing 20mm more length and 25mm more width out of the body size, throwing in seats with thinner seatbacks for more knee room in the second and third rows, and promising buyers a boot area 18mm bigger. The designers also got a bit cleverer with the second row of seats in the higher-spec models, offering passengers a sliding function for more legroom - when toddlers who don’t need third row legroom are behind you, that is.

BELLS AND WHISTLES

We had the range-topping TX spec on test (which sits above the S and SX spec levels) and is kitted out with most of the bells and whistles including remote central locking, electric windows, dual-zone climate control, colour-coded mirrors, a decent sound system with USB connectivity, steering-wheel controls, rear roof vents and decent-looking 15-inch alloys. The silver grained finishes across the centre console and doors add a classy touch too.

There are one or two oversights, however. The steering wheel adjusts for height only, meaning you have to sit with your arms stretched out - we call it the orangutan seating position. The clocks look modern enough but don’t feature an engine coolant heat gauge, one of my pet hates. The seats look durable but are a bit on the hard side - you tend to sit on, not in them. And the Avanza still has one of those old fashioned telescopic steel aerials. Our one broke so we couldn’t listen to the radio.

WHICH DOES WHAT?

But my biggest issue was with the ventilation switches. They’ve been designed as a dial within a dial, with the outside dials serving functions such as fan speed or recirculation of air, and the inside choosing temperature and ventilation points. Problem is which does what isn’t all that clearly marked, meaning that every time you want to do something quickly you have to take your eyes off the road to figure it all out.

The TX is powered by a 1.5-litre carried over from the previous range, delivering the same 76kW and 136Nm outputs, though this time around the body is 20kg lighter – not that I noticed.

Other tweaks include low-rolling-resistance tyres, improved air-conditioner regulation and electric power steering - all in aid of better consumption. I averaged 7.9 litres per 100km, against the official Toyota claim of 7.2.

FOUR GEARS AND AN UNDERDRIVE

It’s certainly a perky engine for its capacity and the size of body it has to pull around, but tends to get buzzy at higher revs and on the open road at higher speeds. Why the engineers didn’t throw in a sixth gear is beyond me, especially as the ratios are so short. First gear is like low range and can generally be avoided completely; while at 100km/h in fifth you’re already sitting at 3 500rpm.

It does feel more stable than its predecessor though, probably thanks to its wider stance, wider wheels in the TX, and revised suspension which is now a five-link setup with coil springs, instead of workhorse leaf springs as it was originally.

It feels stable at higher speeds but is still not a fan of sudden changes in direction with body roll still a concern. The tight turning circle is a highlight though.

VERDICT

The Avanza has come a long way in comparison to the range it replaces, but so has the pricetag: the range-topping TX costs a whopping R202 200. But as far as MPV competitors go you’d have to look at the Mazda5 range which starts at R257 320 or the Toyota Innova range which starts at R257 200. The only real competitor would be the Nissan Grand Livina range which starts at R194 800.

The Avanza range steps in at R155 900 for the 1.3, offering various models and spec levels up to the two hundred grand mark.

I reckon there’s good value here. - Star Motoring