First drive: Toyota Verso

Let’s cut to the chase: what you want from an MPV like the Verso is the ability to carry your kids in comfort and safety. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Mum and dad occupy the front seats. 2.4 children occupy the rear seats.

Let’s cut to the chase: what you want from an MPV like the Verso is the ability to carry your kids in comfort and safety. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Mum and dad occupy the front seats. 2.4 children occupy the rear seats.

In theory that leaves 0.6 seats free in a five-seater vehicle. In practice it leaves you about two seats short.

Children have friends; friends who like to invite themselves around for play-dates at short notice. They also have grand-parents; grand-parents that want to come to the adventure playground on birthdays. Seven seats are not a necessity, but if you have them they’ll be filled regularly. That’s a tick in the box for the Verso.

Of course, if you do have five kids in the back of your car, hyperactively anticipating an afternoon of grazing knees and refusing to share toys, then it’s only a matter of time before one of them gets over excited and drops their bottle of Ribena, spilling it all over their exercise book inducing a sobbing outburst and leaving the bottle to roll under your brake pedal inducing a driver panic.

To prevent this, the car needs to be positively brimming with storage spaces. With cup holders front and rear, two glove-boxes, under seat storage, fold down trays, cubby holes, nooks, crannies and hooks galore, the Verso is perfectly equipped for trial by child. It even has a wrap around mirror positioned alongside the rear view example for keeping an eye on those in the back, whether that’s kids squabbling or grand-parents surreptitiously handing over appetite-spoiling Werthers Originals.

Naturally, no self-respecting parent can volunteer to be part of the school bus circle without an impeccable safety record. The new Verso is a winner in this department, too, with an interior that will explode like a bouncy castle in the event of an accident and a system that actually applies torque to the steering to compliment the ESP in the event of a slide.

The fact that it’s practical, safe and extremely user friendly isn’t enough to differentiate it from the outgoing model, but despite the old Verso’s mid-cycle name change, the new model definitely feels more like a car in its own right.

Its predecessor was originally known as the Corolla Verso. The clue is in the name, and the model was indeed a seven-seater, slightly roomier version of the then current Toyota family hatchback. That model was replaced by the Auris and other Verso variants within the range were dropped, leaving the Corolla Verso to adopt the simple Verso tag. Corolla DNA was still very evident within the model though, an element that the sleeker, independent new model has shirked.

The third model after the Auris and Avensis to boast the bolder style of Toyota exterior, the Verso wears it well. An imposing front end and chunky light units are complimented by dramatic lines in the body work that look good and mean the model has class-leading aerodynamics; improving fuel consumption and interior refinement.

A fully adjustable interior makes both for practicality and comfort. A sliding and folding middle row is a real benefit, allowing for extra legroom in the easily deployed third row if required. Don’t rule out using the third row for adults over short journeys. It won’t be particularly comfortable, but it will at least be possible thanks to a very spacious interior. Drop the rear seats flat, and you have a five-seater with a large boot.

But it’s not just the passengers that benefit from the smart interior design. The driver gets a very good level of visibility complimented by huge door mirrors. The centre console is topped by a clear set of dials angled towards the driver and the extended gear shift column means all of the controls are within easy reach and there’s plenty of room left between the seats for storage.

Behind the driver it’s likely to be all activity, but Toyota has done as much as possible to reduce the workload upfront. The company is applying its Optimal Drive technology to all new models, meaning that both the 2.0-litre diesel engine and 1.8-litre petrol available at launch are as efficient as possible. A more powerful 2.2-litre automatic diesel is set to arrive later.

The 2.0-litre diesel version ultimately offers the best economy and, with higher torque low down in the rev range, is better suited to load pulling duty. With no squeaks or rattles to detract form a very refined drive, small

children will sleep comfortably in the back on cross-continent holiday drives. As far as a family car goes, you can’t ask for much more than that.