Toyota Avanza 1.5 TX (2006) Driving Impression

5 TX

Although the frequent use of “value-for-money” as a marketing term has somewhat eroded the impact of the description, there can be little doubt about its authenticity when applied to a seven-seater MPV that sells for less than R100 000.

Toyota has achieved just that with its new Avanza, the entry level derivative of which sells for a measly R99 900.  Once again, it would appear, Toyota is set to cash in big time by providing cash-strapped consumers with an honest package at a near-unbelievable price.

Tested here, however, is not the entry level model, but the flagship 1,5 TX, which is rather more expensive at near R140 000, which brings it into direct contest with a few van-based French MPVs as well as a more car-like Korean rival. Do the Avanza’s cut-price basics shine through too brightly at this price level?

Neat design

Compared with its rather agricultural-looking forerunners (the Venture and Condor), the Toyota Avanza 1.5 TX looks modern and perhaps a bit more expensive than its price tag would suggest.

It boasts full colour-coding, a neat chrome grille, tailgate spoiler, smart 15-inch alloy wheels and integrated front fog lamps. The design is the work of Toyota affiliate, Daihatsu, which markets this product in Indonesia and surrounding nations with great success. It looks significantly longer than it really is and is in actual fact quite compact at 4 120 mm in length.

Interestingly, it is taller than it is wide, something which plays a significant part in the Avanza’s driving behaviour, but more of that later. The ground clearance is an SUV-rivalling 190 mm, making the Avanza very suitable for use on rougher roads.

Seven up

Of course, the Avanza’s trump card is the fact that it can accommodate seven people inside its compact body. The key to its impressive packaging is a long wheelbase of nearly 2.7 metres.

Interestingly, the Toyota Avanza 1.5 TX makes use of rear-wheel drive, which usually hampers cabin space but has not played much of a space-limiting role in this instance. With all three rows of seats occupied, boot space is very limited, but as is the case with most seven seaters, the Avanza is most likely to be used in this configuration only for short trips – the school run, for example.

Fold down that rear bench and boot space grows considerably, making it a very practical holiday car for a family of five. If need be, the centre seats (split 50/50) can also be folded down. One practicality related complaint, however, concerns the choice of a very light-coloured cloth upholstery and interior trim. Family buyers will need to invest in a good set of seat covers.

The Avanza has a neat, simple facia design with logically laid-out controls and instrumentation (a Daihatsu strength) and fit and finish are good, even if the quality of the plastics is clearly of the entry level variety – read, hard and shiny… The standard features list is quite impressive – Toyota has included dual front airbags, ABS, electric windows, air-conditioning (with rear ventilation outlets), power steering and remote central locking. Unfortunately an audio system is optional.

For a vehicle that offers no steering wheel adjustment at all, the driving position is actually quite acceptable. One sits high, though, which will appeal to some, but the lack of sufficient lateral support does mean the sensation of top-heaviness is pronounced.

Zippy and economical

With a mass of only 1 128 kg, the Toyota Avanza 1.5 TX weighs no more than a current B-segment hatchback. Consequently, the 80 kW 1.5-litre petrol engine has no trouble hauling this Toyota around town and at a fair pace on the highway.

Of course, loaded with seven occupants, the performance takes a noticeable dive, especially at altitude, but overall the Avanza can’t be fairly described as lethargic. It is also surprisingly economical, with a figure of just around 8.5 litres/100 km being a very attainable daily average.

Where the Avanza loses some points is in its dynamic behaviour. The laws of physics are simply against it. The Avanza is slab-sided, taller than it is wide and very light, so no wonder it gets pushed around quite noticeably by a stiff breeze.

Compounding the problem is overly light steering that is completely devoid of feel. In general, however, the ride quality is good and some extra weight on board makes it feel significantly more “planted”.

Verdict

While the Toyota Avanza 1.5 TX is undeniably built to a price, it doesn’t necessarily reek of the bargain basement. In flagship trim the exterior design is neat and inoffensive. The interior – poor colour choice notwithstanding – is practical and nicely put together. The standard fitment of dual airbags and ABS is laudable at this price level and then there is, of course, Toyota’s legendary after-sales support to consider as well.

Just like it did with Venture and Condor, Toyota again seems to be perfectly in tune with what local consumers want. Expect to see plenty of Avanza’s on our roads, as it really is excellent value for money in the truest meaning of the phrase.

We like:

Seven seats

Eager performance

Two airbags and ABS

Value

We don’t like:

Stability

Impractical interior colour

Fast facts

Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 80 kW @ 6 000 rpm

Torque: 141 Nm @ 4 400 rpm

Transmission: five-speed manual

Wheels: 15-inch alloy

Top speed: 165 km/h EST

0-100 km/h: 12.8 seconds EST

Fuel economy: 7.5 litres/100 km EST

Also consider:

Citroen Berlingo Multispace Exec A good example of the delivery-van-turned-into-passenger-vehicle phenomenon that is so uniquely French. There are positives, though – the Citroen is very spacious, and can carry large objects. Not as powerful as the Toyota and can only take five occupants. No ABS.

Renault Kangoo Multix 1.4 Authentique Similar to the Citroen in execution but slightly more basic. Also down on power and is a five-seater only. Lacks ABS and has only one airbag.

Hyundai Matrix 1.6 The Hyundai has its quirks but is a far more straightforward little MPV than the more basic offerings from Citroen, Renault and, yes, Toyota. Comfort levels are much higher and it drives like a small hatchback. But it only has five seats and far less packing space.

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