Verso is given new heart as part of revamp
- Credit: PA
The humble multi-purpose vehicle has taken a bit of a beating from a new breed of crossovers, but there's life in the old concept yet, says Matt Kimberley of the Press Association.
Sometimes the biggest obstacle you can face is the simple fact you're not a 'trendier something else'.
The Voice wasn't The X Factor. The motoring show Fifth Gear did not have the draw of Top Gear. And the Toyota Verso multi-purpose vehicle… well, let's just compare its 3,000 UK sales last year with the Nissan Qashqai crossover's 50,000.
Ultimately they're a similar size, with similar driving positions and similar engines, so it's no wonder Toyota has been scratching its metaphorical head. The problem was judged to be the lack of an eco 1.6-litre diesel so, thanks to a new partnership with BMW, that's changed.
The latest Verso has a host of small detail changes and quality improvements.
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That's all well and good, and while the cabin still feels distinctly Toyota the real meat of the new model is its engine, and what Toyota has done to it.
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel has been pinched from the Mini, where it has been reliable enough to catch Toyota's eye. The Verso is a heavier car, though, so rather than try to change its power delivery the car-maker has focused on refining it – making it as useful in day-to-day driving as possible.
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And it has done a remarkably good job. Toyota's engine mounts are different, designed to absorb more of the compact diesel's vibrations and prevent them from reaching the driver and passengers. As long as your hands aren't resting on the interior trim, vibrations are almost undetectable.
This distillation extends to the stop-start system, which uses an uprated starter motor to kick the engine into life again. This kind of stop-start process can rattle your fillings out if it's badly set up, so Toyota, believing that the Verso will spend most of its life in traffic, has smoothed out the restart into a buttery-smooth process with all the disturbance of a passing moth.
From the driver's seat there's more to appreciate, from the myriad storage compartments of various sizes to the near-ideal driving position. The seats are flat-based and offer little in the way of lateral support but for gentle cruising along they're comfortable. There are good views out of the Verso, too.
On paper the borrowed engine looks a little feeble next to the competition, but the reality belies the numbers. The Verso never really feels out of its depth and pulls strongly through the gears with two people and luggage on board. It's quiet below 2,500rpm, but boot the throttle and it gets a little rowdy.
The middle row of seats is mightily spacious, with child seat attachment points on the outer two perches. The third, foldaway row is definitely for occasional use only, but seeing as kids always seem to travel with friends the two extra seats might come in very handy.
A perennially comfortable ride seems to sum the Verso up. It's not a new-fangled exciting crossover and it makes no pretence as to dynamism. But it's well thought out by people who know how to make a great everyday family car, and the new engine is a perfect fit. It deserves to do much better this year.