Toyota's Verso is a 7-seat compact MPV you can depend on. Jonathan Crouch checks out the improved version.
Ten Second Review
What do people look for in a compact, seven-seater mini-MPV for the family? Good build quality, neat packaging, a versatile seating system, a reputation for reliability and a choice of frugal engines? Toyota's Verso certainly ticks all those boxes, especially with its efficient 1.6-litre diesel powerplant and extended connectivity options.
Slowly but surely, Toyota's product range is becoming more desirable. Not only the sporty niche models but also the more practical cars in the line-up - like this one, the Verso MPV. This is the third generation version of Toyota's compact family-sized MPV, a vehicle we first saw in 2001 badged as the 'Corolla Verso'. That model only had five seats, but a seven-seater design followed in 2004, before this MK3 version made its debut in 2009, also with up to seven seats, but now branded purely as 'Verso'. It was an exceptionally competent car, but it wasn't one you'd necessarily find reasons to try and buy and too often for Toyota's liking, potential buyers passed up the opportunity for ownership in favour of more stylish or perhaps more dynamic options in the compact people carrying segment. Hence the need for this revised third generation version, introduced at the end of 2012, then further updated a year later with a frugal BMW-developed 1.6-litre diesel replacing the thirsty old 2.0-litre unit. It's now got an even wider trim range too thanks to an extra leather-lined 'Trend Plus' grade. Let's check the Verso range out.
One of the issues with the second generation Verso was the car-like driving position that saw you sitting quite low, not something MPV buyers tend to like. This one doesn't perch you up 4x4-style, but you do get much more of the kind of commanding view out that you'd expect from this kind of car. Ironically though, the less sporty seating stance is now accompanied by more dynamic road manners. No, it's not a car you'd go out and drive for the fun of it but firm body control with plenty of grip mean it's easy to manoeuvre and more reassuring in corners than you'd expect from something relatively high-sided like this. The electric power steering system is particularly good, a clever variable assistance affair into which Toyota has developed a function that detects steering inputs that are too forceful and acts to smooth them out by reducing the amount of power assistance. Mainstream Verso ownership will see you choosing between 1.6 or 1.8-litre petrol engines or the unit most will want, the 1.6-litre D-4D diesel, a powerplant developed by BMW. The Valvematic petrol engines rev sweetly but are less relaxed than the diesel alternative and, as you'd expect, deliver significantly less pulling power. Hence our preference for the 110bhp 1.6-litre D-4D unit that most owners will probably choose. On paper, a rest to sixty figure of 11.3s makes it about 2.5s slower to sixty than the 1.8-litre petrol alternative. In practice, the fact that it develops a significant amount of extra torque and does it at the bottom of the rev range rather than the top means that it feels a far more willing companion in day-to-day motoring. The diesel engine also perfectly complements this car's demeanour as an exceptionally refined long distance cruiser.
Design and Build
If you haven't tried this facelifted third generation Verso before but are familiar with the original version, what you'll notice first is the brand's current, distinctive family face, the so-called 'keen' look we first saw on the company's second generation Auris family hatch. It certainly gives this Verso a purposeful stance, dominated at the front end by this large trapezoidal lower grille set within a redesigned bumper and this smaller upper grille which features a chrome-plated horizontal trim bar and runs the full width between sleeker headlamp units that incorporate daytime running lights. What hasn't changed are the essential dimensions of this car - wheelbase, height and width - all of which means that there's no more space inside. So, as with virtually all compact seat MPVs, the third row seating you get in almost all models is really intended for children. If you really must put adults here, you'll find it fortunate that the seats recline. To keep bigger folk happy even on short journeys though, you're probably going to need to go a bit further than that and persuade those in the middle seating row to make use of the 195mm backwards and forwards sliding range that's on offer to enable some kind of passenger legroom compromise to be reached. And boot space? Well with all the seats occupied (a rare scenario for likely buyers), there's 155-litres of luggage room though you do get 11-litres of under-floor storage, enough to hold three six-pack cases of 1.5-litre plastic bottles.
Market and Model
For some time now, Toyota's pricing has been sharpening against its rivals and here's another case in point. Expect to pay somewhere in the £18,000 to £24,000 bracket for your Verso, which makes this car very competitively priced indeed. Only the base-trimmed entry-level 'Active' petrol 1.6 offers the five-seat-only layout that very few potential buyers will want given that a seven-seat version is only £500 more. Around half of all potential Verso buyers will want to pay the £1,500 premium necessary to graduate from the petrol 1.6 to the 1.6 D-4D diesel variant, a car and engine combination that's priced from just over £20,000. If you're a petrol person and want to know how much more it would be to graduate up from the base manual 1.6 to the automatic Multidrive S 1.8, the answer is £1,500. There's a choice of 'Active', 'Icon', 'Trend', 'Trend Plus' and 'Excel' equipment grades and above 'Active' level, all models get Toyota Touch 2, the latest evolution of Toyota's touchscreen-operated multimedia system. It comes with an improved high-resolution screen that uses four times as many pixels as the original system, for bright, sharp images. The package includes Bluetooth for hands-free phone calls and sending and receipt of text messages; a rear-view camera; vehicle information, including trip data, climate control profile (where fitted); and management of settings for door locking and lighting. It also enables simple connection of iPods and MP3 players via USB or Bluetooth, and, where available, will display album, artist and track information. Audio system options, such as the radio and CD player, can also be controlled using the screen. Buyers can also upgrade to sat nav-equipped 'Touch 2 with Go' status if they wish - an upgrade standard for 'Trend'-spec buyers. Or indeed, folk who want 'Trend Plus' trim with its leather upholstery and twin rear-seat DVD system.
Cost of Ownership
Size and weight are two things the Verso has plenty of but its advanced engines still manage to yield class-leading economy and emissions figures thanks to Toyota's Optimal Drive technology. This has been used in this generation model to boost power across the range by up to 20% while lowering fuel economy and emissions considerably. As a result, both petrol engines return around 40mpg on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions in the low 160s. This version's 1.6-litre diesel engine emits just 119g/km of CO2, making it one of the cleanest units of its kind. If these figures don't help you to recoup the slight premium you'll pay for Verso ownership over obvious rivals, then residual values should. These see this car retain between 38-42% of its original purchase price after three years or 36,000 miles: compare that to the 26-28% you'll get from a Renault Grand Scenic.
Never a car to overly impress the casual onlooker, Toyota's improved Verso is most appealing to the real experts of the compact MPV market, buyers with families who put these vehicles through their paces day in and day out. Well built, user-friendly, reliable and economical, this third generation model really has these important qualities nailed down. Previously, it was only really lacking a class-competitive diesel engine. That box has now been well and truly ticked with the BMW-sourced 1.6-litre D-4D unit. This is a prime example of Toyota doing what it does so well. Other compact MPVs might leap off the showroom floor at you with their gimmicks and technology but how many are as good as the Verso at getting a family efficiently from A to B, keeping the balance sheet healthy and making you feel good about the whole thing at the end of the day? Exactly.