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Verso S battles to impress

REMEMBER the Yaris Verso? It was probably the ugliest compact MPV ever and little wonder it was dropped by Toyota across Europe. It was wonderfully spacious and owners rightfully raved about the interior space and practical layout.

Now a new Verso, the Verso S, to distinguish it from the bigger Corolla-derived Verso, moves on to the forecourts to fill the slot left vacant in the Toyota compact MPV segment. It is based on an all-new platform developed for a new Yaris hatchback due here in 2012.

In contrast to the original, the new Verso S has distinctive angular lights and strong body lines which will set it apart from the other compact MPVs with smoother exteriors. It comes to a segment that accounts for just 1.5 per cent of the car market. A newcomer here, the Hyundai iX20, has already streaked into a commanding lead for January with 105 sales ahead of Opel Meriva (70), Nissan Note (53), Citroen C3 Picasso (50) and Kia Venga (30).

With such strong competition, the Verso S has a big battle to win hearts, particularly as diesel accounts for 50 per cent of sales. There is no diesel on offer, although Toyota has a useful 1.4 litre oil burner available. "Not available in right-hand drive," we were told at the launch in Toledo.

Power comes from a 1.33 litre petrol unit which puts the new arrival into Band B (€156 road tax). In a segment where the holy grail is Band A (€104 road tax), this is a blow and will inhibit sales despite the fact that the petrol unit, which is also used in the Auris and Corolla, has a proven track record and gives a lively performance with 126 Nm of torque on tap at 4000 rpm.

Toyota claims 5.5L/100km (51.4 mpg) from the 99bhp output engine, which gets a 127 g/km CO2 rating.

Amazingly an automatic Multidrive CVT option with paddle shifts bucks the trend for automatic transmissions by getting a lower 120g/km CO2 rating and brings the Verso S back to Band A. The sting in the tail here is it adds an extra €1,200 to the cost on the Luna version.

Behind the wheel the driving position is high, there are front and rear armrests and the suspension gives an easy drive. A comfortable four-seater, five is a crowd. The boot space of 430 litres jumps to a very useful 1,388 litres with seats folded.

Pricing is critical in the small car sales and the entry-level Terra comes in at a very reasonable €16,995. There is a big €3,000 jump to get behind the wheel of the Luna version, which Toyota says will be the big seller. Here there is some serious kit, including Toyota's Touch Screen for vehicle information which includes a rear- view camera and Bluetooth phone connection. Air conditioning and 16" alloys are part of the package. The top-of-the-range Sol model at €21,175 adds automatic headlights and wipers, climate control and privacy glass.

At Luna level pricing is comparable to Note, Picasso and Venga and €1,200 cheaper than the Meriva, but where the Verso S is vulnerable is that the opposition has 1.5 and 1.6 litre turbo diesel engines to offer.

Sunday Independent