When you are reviewing a car, it is always interesting to first see what a manufacturer says about its own vehicle, and then to assess how it measures up to that claim. In the case of its multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), the Verso, Toyota says, ‘Verso is the family car where style and driving pleasure meet practicality and versatility.’ To me, that sounds quite promising, and that I should expect the Verso to deliver a lot of good things. The question before us now, of course, is whether it lives up to that claim.

Every other time I’ve hired a 7-seater vehicle, it has been a Vauxhall Zafira, so being handed the keys to something different was a nice change. Not having driven or even ridden in a Verso before, I really knew nothing about it. In North America, Toyotas have a reputation for being good vehicles, something I discovered myself, having driven many of them over there. I expected to find the same thing with the Verso.

As always when hiring a car, your initial impressions of the vehicle come from its appearance, seeing it sitting on the lot as you go through the paperwork. Toyota, in its strapline, says the Verso has ‘style’, and whilst it can certainly be said that it has a style, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it stylish. It’s not ugly – I kind of like the hunkered down, almost lowered look – but neither is it attractive. Some of the body panels, particularly the front and rear fascias, are too big, to the point of looking like tacked-on afterthoughts, and the clear taillights look like cheap aftermarket units you would find on eBay.

Stepping into the Verso, you see evidence of Toyota’s reputation for quality. The materials, though not up to the highest standard, look and feel decent, and you slide in behind a lovely-to-hold leather-wrapped steering wheel. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and it is very quiet inside at speed, with not a squeak or rattle to be heard at all. All the controls are laid out sensibly and easy to use (next to wheel-mounted buttons, I’ve always liked Toyota’s cruise control…well, controls, the best), and the gauges, though mounted high up in the centre of dashboard, are easy to see and well-placed within the driver’s eye line. For the driver, the Verso’s cabin is rather a pleasant place to be.

What of Toyota’s claim that the Verso can be characterised by ‘practicality and versatility’? Well, that is an interesting question. Certainly the attempts to make the Verso practical and versatile are evident. It has seven seats, most of them fold down to significantly increase storage capacity, and it has some clever storage spaces available, including some recesses built into the floor between the front and rear seats. But the Verso has one major fault that significantly hinders its practicality and versatility: lack of space. It begins in the front, where an absolutely massive dashboard eats up huge amounts of interior space, and right away requires that the front seats be placed further back, eating up huge portions of rear passenger legroom. To make my 5’6” mother comfortable behind me, I had to move the driver’s seat farther forward than I usually would, and my wife had to move the passenger’s seat nearly all the way forward to accommodate my 6′6″ father behind her. Don’t even think about trying to get an adult into the third-row seats; even my 4- and 2-year-old children found their legs crammed into the seats in front of them. What’s more, with the third-row seats up, boot space is pretty much nonexistent. If you’re going to use the Verso for four or five not-so-tall people, it might be all the practicality and versatility you need.  But you will struggle if you are regularly going to be transporting more people, especially if they are anywhere above average height.

Falling short in the practicality and versatility departments, can the Verso then redeem itself when it comes to ‘driving pleasure’? The short answer is, yes and no. Obviously, a MPV is never going to be the pinnacle of driving experiences, but for what it is, the Verso is not bad to drive. As I mentioned above, it is nice and quiet on the road, and motorway cruising, as you’d expect from such a vehicle, is a comfortable and relaxing experience. It would be easy to do long journeys in this car. The overall ride strikes a good balance between being firm and smooth, and for a bigger vehicle, it corners well, owing in part to a good suspension set-up and a lower centre of gravity. And although the steering is a bit numb, it’s weighted well. The brakes feel as you would expect them to on a bigger, heavier vehicle, and while they get the job done, a bit more firmness in the pedal would be welcome. I found the clutch on the Verso to take a bit of getting used to; it’s got a fair bit of play before it engages, and when it does, it grabs very quickly. The 6-speed gearbox is very nice to use, though. It has quick, short throws, and one of those satisfying clicks every time you slot it into gear, as if the gearbox is saying, ‘Yes, you got it’.

Unfortunately, that nice gearbox is connected to a disappointing engine. This particular Verso was equipped with Toyota’s 1.6L diesel, making 110bhp and 200lb.-ft., an engine designed for fuel economy more than anything else. Whilst I didn’t calculate it, you’ll see figures of 60-65mpg being cited for it online. If all you’re concerned about is fuel economy, that’s one thing. But given that Toyota expects the Verso to deliver ‘driving pleasure’, the 1.6D is a big let-down in many other ways. For a vehicle of this size, it is too underpowered; moderate inclines, even with no one else in the car, usually require downshifting. Add five or six people to the car, and you will really feel it struggle. Higher revs aren’t of much use either as it runs out of steam very quickly, and will protest quite loudly when you climb over 3000rpm.

Is the Verso then, as Toyota claims, ‘the family car where style and driving pleasure meet practicality and versatility’? Though it certainly attempts to be those things, it does none of them particularly well. If Toyota wants to make good on the Verso’s claims, the biggest improvements they could make would be to enlarge it and make better use of the interior space, and to equip it with a more powerful and refined engine. Were they to do that, this would be a competitive MPV. As it is, there are better options out there.

Engine: 1.6L diesel, 110bhp, 200lb.-ft.
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
MSRP: £21,995
Mileage at pickup: 4622
Distance driven: 370 miles
Photo location: 55°40’33.7″N 1°48’01.6″W

Official Toyota Verso website

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