Toy­ota hatches the Verso S

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - FEATURES - Fred­eric Manby

TOY­OTA’S spring sales of­fen­sive kicks into its stride with a brand new car called the Verso S. It is a five-seater hatch­back with bold up­right styling giv­ing more space in­side than a racier hatch like the Fi­esta. Its box­ier peers in­clude the Honda Jazz, Nis­san Note, Vaux­hall Meriva.

Un­like most car mak­ers when they launch a new model, Toy­ota GB boss Jon Wil­liams is not chas­ing bright young thrusters, but go­ing for the older gen­er­a­tion of empty-nesters and “ma­ture fam­i­lies”.

“We are look­ing at cus­tomers who have a lit­tle more time on their hands, need­ing a car with good flex­i­bil­ity in terms of car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers or cargo and who per­haps don’t do that many miles.”

Bri­tain takes only one en­gine, the fa­mil­iar 1.33litre 98bhp petrol from the Yaris. Gears are ei­ther a six-speed man­ual or, for an ad­di­tional £1,150, a vari­abler­a­tio au­to­matic, with pad­dle shift­ing. Only the Jazz in the sec­tor of­fers a sim­i­lar CVT trans­mis­sion.

A six-month re­duc­tion of £650 brings an open­ing price of £13,995 for the welle­quipped TR model. The Spirit, with a full-length fixed sun­roof and pow­ered blind, 16-inch al­loys, power rear win­dows and pri­vacy glass, is £14,995. At 120g/km for CVT, that means no road tax in the first year.

The car is be­ing ad­ver­tised as an MPV, but that is a mar­ket­ing con­ceit. It is no more a multi-pur­pose ve­hi­cle than a Jazz, and ac­tu­ally not as clever as the Jazz or Meriva, both of which have more ver­sa­tile rear seats. In the Verso, they just fold away con­ven­tion­ally, though top marks for eas­ily reached re­lease levers just in­side the tail­gate.

Both the TR and the Spirit have a “me­dia” screen with touch-type con­trol for au­dio etc. It in­cor­po­rates a re­vers­ing cam­era for safer park­ing. From May, it can be up­graded for £500 (es­ti­mate) with nav­i­ga­tion, in­cor­po­rat­ing Google search­ing, linked to your mo­bile phone, for things like lo­cal petrol prices and di­rec­tions to the fore­court, ho­tels and so on.

It will not only give you the fastest or most scenic route to your des­ti­na­tion, it can also find the green­est one. This Touch & Go nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem can work out an ‘eco­log­i­cal’ route de­signed to min­imise emis­sions and fuel con­sump­tion over the course of a jour­ney.

Other op­tions are two-tone grey leather and re­vers­ing sen­sors. The TR model can be fit­ted with 15-inch al­loys in­stead of the stock steel wheels.

Toy­ota in­au­gu­rated this com­pact util­ity hold-all sec­tor in 2000 with the Yaris Verso, un­gainly to look at yet liked by the (usu­ally) older buy­ers for its ad­di­tional pas­sen­ger space, tall doors and easy-fold rear seats. That model faded away, to­day re­placed by the new Verso S – not to be con­fused with the Verso, which is a much larger seven-seater real MPV based on the Aven­sis

The S in Verso S is said to spell “small, spacious, smart”. What it does not stand for is svelte, sexy or swift. Sen­si­ble, cer­tainly, and that’s where the Verso S scores. Stor­age spaces abound, with com­part­ments on the cen­tral tun­nel, a tray un­der a front seat and up­per and lower gloves boxes plus a handy ex­ter­nal shelf be­tween them.

There is a fold-away rest for the driver’s left arm, and a cen­tral arm rest in the rear seats. These are fixed seats – not ad­justable. One sur­pris­ing omis­sion in an anti-trap cut­off on the power win­dows. It is many years since I brought this po­ten­tial safety haz­ard to the at­ten­tion of Toy­ota when launch­ing the Pic­nic – an­other pre­cur­sor to the on­set of the MPV cul­ture.

The Euro­pean press launch of the Verso S was held in the prov­ince of Toledo – the his­toric sword-mak­ing cen­tre of Spain. The hill-top cap­i­tal is a World Her­itage site. Its cob­bled al­leys did not up­set the Verso S too much. There was some vi­bra­tion and pat­ter­ing but, gen­er­ally, the sus­pen­sion is set for com­fort,

The S in Verso S is said to spell “small, spacious, smart”. What it does not stand for is svelte.

rid­ing on sup­ple-walled Bridge­stones – en­gi­neered for low rolling re­sis­tance and shorter stop­ping dis­tances. The climb up from the plain into the ci­tadel did sug­gest that the Verso S may get weary in hilly ter­rain.

The ad­vanced petrol en­gine and light­weight con­struc­tion gives the Verso S the low­est run­ning costs in its sec­tor. Its mod­est per­for­mance should not frighten the in­sur­ers.

The low C02 emis­sions for a car of this size (it is 90mm longer than Jazz) are wel­come. Toy­ota GB sees no de­mand for fit­ting it with stop-start ig­ni­tion, which would raise the price by £200 but have min­i­mal ef­fect of MPG and C02 and not change UK road tax levies. Nor will TGB of­fer the avail­able diesel mo­tor. The typ­i­cal Bri­tish buyer will not do large mileages and this not re­coup the four-fig­ure price hike for diesel power.

I said this car is not swift. The 0-62mph time with man­ual gears is given as 13.3 sec­onds. The CVT is 13.7 sec­onds but gains a few miles a gal­lon be­cause of its longer top gear, which sees it run­ning on 2,500rpm at 70mph. It does get a bit noisy if you ac­cel­er­ate hard.

The man­ual car is qui­eter pick­ing up speed but feels too stretched at mo­tor­way pace. For a re­laxed cruise the top gear needs to be a higher ra­tio.

Nei­ther gear­box gives lively ac­cel­er­a­tion and un­less you keep an ear open for the warn­ing signs there are times when the Verso S runs out of puff. Then it’s time to drop a cou­ple of gears to re­gain mo­men­tum.

Of course it is not de­signed to be a ri­val to a Ford Fi­esta. Toy­ota tends to make un­ex­cit­ing cars, the bread and but­ter ve­hi­cles for A-B jour­neys. Re­li­a­bil­ity has been its forte un­til the re­cent tech­ni­cal hitches.

Hope­fully, for own­ers as well as Toy­ota and its deal­ers, that episode is fin­ished. (Hours af­ter I typed those words, Toy­ota an­nounced a re­call for left-hand-drive Lexus RX mod­els to “ad­dress a po­ten­tial is­sue with the fas­ten­ing of the floor car­pet cover. Right-hand drive mod­els do not have the same po­ten­tial is­sue”.

CON­TI­NEN­TAL DRIFT: The Toy­ota Verso S, in Spain.

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