Let down by an old favourite
Toyota may have bounced back from last year's recall fiasco by claiming 14 per cent of the market, but its latest model is a dud, writes Campbell Spray
Published 29/05/2011 | 05:00
It is hard not admire Toyota. In fact it would be distinctly churlish not to do so. The importer has reacted in the most positive and vigorous way to all the negative publicity about recalls last year and it is firmly entrenched in the top place in the sales chart, with about 14 per cent of the market and nearly 8,000 cars sold in the first four months of the year.
Yet it would be wrong to say that everything the manufacturer touches turns to gold. Despite Toyota leading the pack many years ago by installing heaters, radios and the like as standard before most other mainstream manufacturers thought of them, their specifications are now often well behind many of their rivals. They also can produce occasional duds. For me the latest Verso-S model is one such vehicle. The Verso badge was first used to define extra carrying capacity and versatility as MPV derivatives of the Yaris, Corolla, and Avensis. They were often very exciting vehicles that added something to what were rather predictable cars. That history has been eschewed as the Verso emerged on its own as a Corolla-sized MPV in the small family sector; it now has a sister, the Verso-S, which is a compact MPV to rival the Nissan Note, Citroen C3 and Opel Meriva. It also has to compete with my personal favourites; two very strong Korean offerings, the Kia Venga and Hyundai iX20. And, course, there is the great Honda Jazz and the soon-to-be launched Ford B-Max.
I was looking forward to driving the Verso-S after testing a number of quite large cars. But as so often my hopes were soon dashed.
In the gales of the last couple of weeks its box-like shape was a nightmare and, at one time, left me quite scared.
It claims to be a five-seater but would only be so for very short journeys and definitely not for a handful of long-legged people. The car seems very old-fashioned inside with poor attention to detail, the visibility looking to the left isn't great, the specification is very muddled -- a reversing camera comes with the middle grade but only rear power windows in the top grade -- the gear-changing isn't precise and the accelerator pedal is difficult to control precisely. The driving dynamics as a whole don't inspire confidence and are not up to Toyota's normal standard. The ride quality is awful and far too harsh for these days of potholes and speed bumps.
At present there is only a petrol unit for the Verso-S, the well-tried 1.33 dual VVT-i engine from the Auris and Corolla. That isn't a big deal for me but many of its rivals' diesels have road tax in the A band against B banding for the Verso-S. The lack of mid-range torque for overtaking is the only noticeable difference. There is an automatic system on offer but my colleagues are wary of it.
On the positive side there are masses of small storage options, while the load space is very impressive and adaptable even though the rear door is very large and unwieldy. The TV screen in the middle of the fascia will host a lot of media connectivity eventually but I have a feeling that it might be just too much for the older buyers who will make up much of the Verso-S target audience. However, these downsizers will find the high front seating easy to access.
I may not have quite got the Verso-S. While many of my colleagues privately agreed with me about its faults some others have praised it in print.
Prices start at €16,995 but you need to spend another €3,000 for a good spec and more than another €2,000 on that for the rather fetching panoramic roof. You are then into very different territory where both big and impressive beasts roam.
Maybe my disappointment was the more intense because the Toyota crew are such a professional and likeable lot and I really wanted to admire this car. But I can't and won't.