Toyota Corolla Verso 180 (2004) Driving Impression

Toyota Corolla Verso

Although it was Renault that started the compact MPV craze in the ‘90s when it launched the original Megane Scenic, it was Opel that picked up the proverbial ball and ran with it. The Zafira not only gave that somewhat struggling brand a healthy sales injection, but also introduced the concept of a compact seven-seat MPV with fold-flat rear seats. It was an immediate sales success, with customers loving the practicality of having either seven seats, or five seats and a truly massive boot. Now, the Toyota Corolla Verso joins the party, a vehicle the Japanese company says is not only more practical than the Opel, but also more upmarket in its fittings, and sportier to drive.

Easy Flat 7 for Toyota Corolla Verso

The Toyota’s party trick is a seat folding system called Easy Flat 7. The second and third rows of seats can fold into the floor (with their headrests), and leave a flat load surface – aching backs from removing seats are a thing of the past, as is swearing as seatbelts and headrests get in the way of folding. You simply flip the backrests forward to set in motion the folding routine. Once the seats have all disappeared into the floor, the Toyota Corolla Verso offers commercial van-like space for transporting typical household objects, appliances and even furniture.

With the middle row of seats upright, the boot is impressively large, though not quite as big as the Zafira’s. Another plus-point is the wide range of fore/aft sliding adjustment offered by this middle row, allowing occupants to tailor their legroom. The third row of seats, however, are really only suitable for children, and when taken just about wipes out any meaningful space in the boot.

Slide into the driver’s seat for the first time and you may not immediately believe you’re in a Toyota, never mind a humble MPV. The appearance of the facia is both upmarket and adventurous, courtesy of lovely instrumentation with minty green backlighting and a centre section that resembles a top-end hi-fi. Build quality is good, and there are numerous hidey-holes, including a double glove compartment.

Generous specification

Although by no means cheap, this base model Toyota Corolla Verso nevertheless offers excellent value as a result of a comprehensive standard features list. Sure, it has neither alloy wheels, nor leather upholstery or electric windows in the rear, but air-conditioning (with rear ducts), rake/reach-adjustable steering, an audio system with remote audio controls, push-button starting, remote central locking, adjustable headlamps, height-adjustable front seats, ABS with EBD and dual front and side airbags, as well as a knee airbag, are all standard.

The exterior appearance arguably also makes the Toyota Corolla Verso look more expensive than it really is. There’s full colour coding, quirky rear lights and plastic wheel covers that do a very good job of looking like alloys. Toyota is often criticised for producing bland cars, but this isn’t one of them.

Frugal power

For now Toyota is only offering one engine option in the Verso, the proven 1,8-litre petrol that is also used in the Corolla sedan, albeit in a different state of tune. In the Verso it produces 95 kW and 170 Nm of torque, and is coupled with a five-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels. Traffic light grands prix are unlikely to be a high priority, but good overtaking power for those long-distance family holidays will be. The maximum torque figure is only available at a fairly high 4 200 rpm, but in general use the Verso is lively enough. With a full complement of passenger and luggage, however, and especially at altitude, regular downshifting may be required, but this is no hardship, as this gearbox is one of Toyota’s better efforts. The engine delivers reasonable economy, with a figure of around 10 litres/100 km being a realistic goal.

Finally, Toyota has managed to strike a particularly fine balance between achieving a comfortable ride and good dynamics. The Toyota Corolla Verso absorbs bumps with ease, but the suspension never wallows or feels floaty. Consequently, body control is good in the corners, and the Verso feels more like a tall hatchback, than a “bus”. It’s a particularly impressive achievement by Toyota because it means the stated goal of bringing sportiness to this segment has clearly been achieved.

Toyota Corolla Verso - Verdict

The Toyota Corolla Verso is a surprising package in a number of ways. Firstly, Toyota is not known for breaking its own mould all that often, but it has certainly done that here. The Verso could easily have been a conservative derivative of the Corolla, but instead it has its own character, and quite a sporty and quirky one at that! In the end, however, a seven-seat MPV has to be practical and comfortable, and on that front the Verso impresses once more. While not all customers will need seven seats, the Verso at least offers a no-compromise package, with superb comfort for five and a large boot in what is likely to be its most often used configuration. Zafira… you’ve been dethroned.

We like:

  • Versatility
  • Eager performance
  • Safety specification
  • Classy looks
  • Ride
We don’t like:
  • Boot very small with seven seats taken
  • Third row only for kids
Fast facts

Engine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 95 kW @ 6 000 rpm

Torque: 170 Nm @ 4 200 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Wheels: 16-inch steel

Top speed: 193 km/h

0-100 km/h: 11,4 seconds

Fuel economy:  10,3 litres/100 km


Also consider:

  • Opel Zafira 1,8 CD: One of the first compact MPVs to offer seven seats, the first-generation Zafira is now ageing, particularly with regards to its facia design and finish. Still, it offers excellent all-round comfort and is possibly slightly larger with all the seats folded down.
  • Volkswagen Touran 1,9 TDI: Very new on the market and lacking an entry level petrol derivative, but the 1,9 TDI makes a lot of sense. You have a choice of five or seven seats, the latter costing slightly more. Offers superb comfort all-round in a well-made cabin.
  • Renault Scenic II 2,0 Privilege: Five seats only, but if that’s not a problem, then the Renault is a strong contender for class-best honours, boasting superb flexibility and loads of clever features. Renault did start the compact MPV craze, after all...