First drive: New Toyota Verso
What is it?
Get past the new corporate nose and it's basically a face-lifted version of the third-generation Verso. Toyota claim there have been over 470 part changes for this car, with 60% visible on the exterior and interior. These along with the improved refinement are designed to appeal to buyers of compact MPV rivals, such as the Ford C-Max and Renault Scenic.
What's under the bonnet?
The Verso is offered with a choice of 130bhp 1.6, or 145bhp 1.8-litre Valvematic petrol engines and the expected top seller, the 122bhp 2.0-litre D-4D Diesel. We only had the chance to drive the 2.0-litre diesel, an impressively hushed performer; it feels disappointingly flat before the max torque of 310Nm comes in at 1,600 rpm and generally doesn't like to be rushed either.
What's the spec like?
In line with the new Auris there are three trim levels: Active, Icon and Excel. All get standard air-con and six-airbags. Expected best-seller Icon adds Bluetooth, dual-zone air-con and a touchscreen multimedia system. Range-topping Excel includes 17-inch alloys, part-leather trim and keyless entry/go. Prices start at £17,495 rising to £23,445 for the range-topping 2.0-litre D-4D Excel.
The Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic and Volkswagen Touran instantly spring to mind, all of which have proven to be strong sellers. The Renault Scenic is the longest serving MPV in the group and it shows in the slightly dated styling. The Ford C-Max is closest in terms of sleek lines and kerb appeal but if it's space and reliability you're after, it's hard to fault the Touran.
What's it like to drive?
Work on Verso's NVH and suspension has resulted in a quiet and refined drive. Even the roughest French roads and the hardest acceleration could hardly be heard in the Toyota's cabin. The electric power steering isn't totally devoid of feel, but can seem artificial. The clutch is light, but the six-speed manual slow-witted. Plenty of grip in corners, but there's some body roll and it never feels sporty.
The AOL Cars Verdict
Like the Auris hatchback before it, the Verso is a big improvement over the outgoing car, but sadly despite the European influence, it's just not enough to be class-leader. However it is well-equipped, should be cheaper to run and the Toyota's refined, undemanding drive will be enough to satisfy core buyers. Sharper performance, dynamics and a more premium feel to the interior could send it to the top.
Model: Toyota Verso 2.0 D-4D Icon
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Power: 122bhp, 310Nm
Max speed: 115mph
MPG (comb'd): 57.6