This is Toyota’s answer to truly affordable motoring and even the flagship – the 1,5-litre TX – comes in at just shy of R140 000, a figure which makes it the cheapest seven-seater on the market by some R40 000. We tested the top model
As much as most people with large families would like to drive full-sized seven-seaters with lashings of power and a long list of comfort and convenience features, financial constraints put the brakes on that dream for many.
Hence the rise of the compact 5+2 MPV, and more recently, for those on a tighter budget, the arrival of the Avanza, the most affordable seven-seater on the market, even in top-spec TX guise. Car-spotters will be able to identify the TX by the alloys, rear spoiler, front fog lamps and the privacy glass.
The TX is aimed at the large family that is able to afford a reasonable level of safety (dual airbags and ABS) and comfort (air-con and electric windows all round), but other models in the line-up may also appeal to small business users, urban taxi operators or those motorists who simply need maximum seating capacity for minimum outlay.
The cheapest model in the range is the 1,3-litre S at R99 900, which still seats seven.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
In terms of its technology, the Avanza mixes the old and the new successfully. Under the stubby bonnet is a modern multivalve four-cylinder petrol engine, which, thanks to variable valve timing, makes a useful 80 kW. Torque is a decent 141 Nm, albeit at a slightly peaky 4400 r/min.
Drive to the solid rear axle is via a five-speed manual gearbox, torque transferred to the road by a pair of skinny-looking 185/65 tyres. Suspension is by coils, the axle located by trailing arms and a Panhard rod. The front uses struts, and an anti-roll bar is fitted. Stopping duties are handled by a mix of solid discs and generously proportioned drums.
The three-row seating is straightforward: none of the seats is removable, but the folding second row is split 50/50, while the rearmost bench folds and tumbles easily enough to allow for generous luggage volume.
★ ★ ★
The first and most obvious criticism of the cabin is the cream colour of the upholstery. In double quick time our juvenile test team was able to make their mark in a number of ways. Adults also found the front pews a little shapeless and overly firm on longer trips, but the good outward visibility and clear view of the surroundings was praised. The driving position is hard to fault, despite the absence of height adjustment for either the seat or steering column.
Remote releases for the tailgate and fuel flap are easily located, and other ancillary controls are both chunky in size and clearly marked. Column stalks operate with pleasing precision, but the window switchgear is slightly less tactile. The compact instrument cluster has a modern design, with brushed aluminium bezels around the individual gauges.
In terms of overall length and wheelbase the Avanza isn’t noticeably bigger than rivals, so with its rear-drive layout you may expect it to be a little less space-efficient. That’s not the case though, and legroom for the two in the third row is surprisingly good, while the tall roof means headroom isn’t in short supply, either.
Access to the rearmost seat is reasonably easy, but like most of the genre is not for those who are aged or infirm, or wearing skin-tight clothing…
Where the Avanza does lose out is in the width of the cabin. The middle row is split 50/50, which limits overall versatility somewhat and also means the middle occupant actually straddles two cushions (and must make do with a lap belt – unlike the rest of the crew).
With all seats in use there is still a little luggage space available, but as with most 5+2s it is good only for a couple of grocery packets or some soft bags. Care needs to be taken that goods don’t out open when the large, single-piece tailgate is opened.
★ ★ ★
A seven-seater with 1500cc might raise a few eyebrows, but the Avanza has a surprisingly good power-to-weight ratio, and a set of wellchosen gear ratios to go with the lively engine. The result is that it feels adequately eager in the urban environment, and while it does react best to determined use of the accelerator, it seldom feels breathless or out of its depth in stop-start traffic.
Throttle response is crisp and clean, and the gearshift quality generally aids the driver’s cause. The clutch is easy to modulate, and jerk-free progress is easily achieved from the outset.
Freeway ability is a little less effortless, but still no bind. Overall gearing works out to about 30 km/h per 1000 r/min in top but it is less buzzy than we expected, and while the driver is well advised to use downhills to gather a little momentum, the Avanza doesn’t lose speed at the merest hint of an incline.
A snappy shift back to fourth is invariably all that is needed to keep things ticking along at a respectable pace, though it does send the noise levels past the comfortable. Fuel consumption cruising on the open road is reasonable at around 8,7 litres per 100km, and we’d expect just over nine overall, which means range from the 45-litre tank will be merely adequate.
Our 80 to 0 km/h stopping routine resulted in a fairly strong smell from the friction material, but little fade. Results were good if not spectacular, and the Avanza also scored for pedal feel and effort, and decent stability despite the narrow track.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★
With its narrow and upright body the Avanza isn’t going to win any cornering awards, but its overall road manners shouldn’t set the driver’s knuckles whitening, or have passengers reaching for the grab handles.
In fact, it telegraphs a decent amount of feedback to the driver, both through the rack-and-pinion steering (where the relatively high profile rubber helps the driver to sense side loads), and the seat of the pants. It copes with bumpy, potholed roads more than adequately up to moderately brisk speeds, the tail doggedly staying in touch with the tarmac. Only transverse ridges and washerboard surfaces reveal the disadvantages of a live axle, with the body trying to compress the springs while the rear axle is also doing its best to depart terra firma.
The result: a harsh jolt, increasingly unpleasant the further back one happens to be sitting. Similarly, sudden changes of direction do get the body and chassis underpinnings swaying out of sync.
In this regard it isn’t as car-like as some rivals, feeling slightly agricultural over poorer surfaces, but the gap isn’t significant.
★ ★ ★ ★
Those who believe an MPV is simply an appliance for conveying a human cargo from A to B with as little fuss as possible will rejoice in the arrival of the Avanza. It is logical to mention the likes of the Condor and Venture in the same context, but the Avanza is streets ahead in terms of technology comfort and active and passive safety features.
For R140K it represents a lot of car and, of course, the typical buyer will see additional value in the fact that there’s a Toyota badge on the nose.
The standard service plan adds appeal, and as a package it reminds us of the “everything keeps going right” Toyota days, but at least this one does have reasonably up to date technology.