Family affair

Family affair

Ah, the humble people mover. Mommy wagon? Not quite. GAVIN MYERS puts two offerings from Toyota through their paces.

Ever wondered what it would be like to be a chauffeur or shuttle bus driver? Seeing people movers parked at airports and hotels, I doubted whether I could ferry people around all day. I got the chance to find out when Toyota’s Avanza 1,5 SX and Innova 2,7 seven-seaters arrived at about the same time for testing – roughly coinciding with a visit by family from overseas, so guess who played shuttle driver …

The Avanza was up first. Despite its compact dimensions (although it’s 20 mm higher and 25 mm wider than the old model, but height remains the same), the Avanza – with its 2-3-2 seating configuration – proved spacious and easy for passengers to get in and out of. The second row of seats slides forwards and backwards for leg room, and easily folds and flips forward for access to the rear. These seats also fold and flip forward, freeing 0,899 m3 of maximum cargo space (360 to 745 mm).

The Avanza has a rated gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 1 680 kg, and was fitted with the 76 kW, 136 Nm 1,5-litre four-cylinder engine carried over from its predecessor, and a four-speed automatic gearbox. The combination coped well enough with a full complement of passengers, although slightly shorter gearing and an extra ratio would be beneficial.

The Avanza proved comfortable for passengers and was easy to drive, park and see out of – even with six other heads in the cabin.

We then got to enjoy the (much) bigger Innova, which Toyota describes as “a spacious and affordable people connector that will appeal to large families and fleet operators alike.” It is built on Toyota’s IMV platform (Innovative International Multi-purpose Vehicle) – which it shares with the latest generation Hilux and Fortuner sports utility vehicle.

Avanza took the author and his family on a Women’s Day excursion to the Kliptown Youth Programme in Soweto.Experience with the Hilux (as with all bakkies) has shown the ride to be slightly harsh at times, so it was a surprise to find that the Innova rides as comfortably as some of the best luxury vehicles available – a constant positive from passengers as well. This could be due to its bulk – it’s 4,58 m long, 1,77 m wide and 1,75 m high.

However, it is no more unmanageable than its little brother, and the size pays off with interior space and a similar 2-3-2 seating arrangement (an eight-seater is also available). However, instead of tumbling forward, the rear two seats fold up sideways.

The Innova is powered by the same 2,7-litre four-cylinder petrol engine offered in the Hilux. It produces 118 kW and 241 Nm of torque, providing effortless, strong power, and is mated to the five-speed manual gearbox also found in the Hilux.

The Innova also impressed with its “luxuries”, such as its soft, reclining (a feature in the Avanza too) seats, all round overhead air-conditioning, and integrated Display Audio touch-screen in-car entertainment system – incorporating auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth connection. Being a Toyota, build quality is solid.

It has to be said that the Avanza felt cheap (of course, it is a budget vehicle) both in the look and feel of its cabin and in the driving experience – initially not feeling “solid” on the road. It was equipped with manual air-conditioning (operation was found to be counter-intuitive) and an aftermarket MP3 radio with auxiliary input.

Both are equipped with ABS brakes, driver and passenger airbags, seatbelts all round and child seat anchorages as standard.

At R191 500, the Avanza 1,5 SX automatic might be seen as a little expensive, considering that the cheaper manual models offer as much for quite a bit less. At R276 200, the Innova represents a very solid option (if you can get past its bland looks). It’s sold with a five-year/90 000 km service plan, compared to the Avanza’s four-year/60 000 km. Both feature a three-year/100 000 km warranty.

So, how was it providing the shuttle service to a full complement of passengers? Let’s just say I’m glad to be behind the computer right now, and not behind the wheel.

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