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Published in Weekend Witness Motoring on Saturday April 28, 2012
We attended a launch, years ago, at which the embattled gentleman begged journalists to please stop calling his company’s people mover a “mermie berss.” Xavier, that day has arrived. We will no longer call your beautiful car a mummy bus, because we have met the queen and undisputed champion of the pre-school car pool and kids’ party circuit. Her name is Avanza and, contrary to a tongue-in-cheek suggestion we heard recently, that does not mean ‘a van for ZA.’ It apparently comes from the Italian word avanzato, meaning ‘advanced.’ So now you know.
Toyota’s smallest MPV started life as the Daihatsu Xenia, a basic little seven-seater from Indonesia with a choice of 1,3 and 1,5-litre engines, a slab sided body, simple suspension and rear wheel drive. It was brought here by the combined magic of marketing and badge engineering and went on to become a hit.
Toyota facelifted the little ‘bus this past January. They revitalised interior design, found more space, improved ride characteristics and handling stability and tweaked fuel economy and performance. Seats have been made lighter and more comfortable, while thinner seatbacks for both first and second rows have improved knee room. The middle seats on SX and TX models can be adjusted back and forth by 60 mm and they fold and tumble with a simple, single-handed flick. This makes access to the foldaway third row even easier – Grampy could do it, provided he isn’t too tall.
The automatic transmission version reviewed, comes only in SX trim, so you get ABS, remote central locking, alarm and immobiliser, electrically powered steering assistance, electric windows, powered outside mirrors, air conditioning, two airbags and lots of storage. You have to buy your own radio and CD player. Sorry about that.
You sit up high in the Avanza. The driving seat doesn’t adjust up and down but even the tallest driver should have enough headroom. Big, wide windows ensure that there is a decent view outwards, so it can be parked easily. An odd little feature is the truck-like beeping sound when reverse gear is engaged. No one can hear it outside, but perhaps some drivers need reminding of which direction they are taking?
It’s a straightforward little car built for urban service, so no records will be broken. About the basic four-speed automatic gearbox fitted; perhaps the kindest way to put it is that this is an auto ‘box for those who really need, rather than just want one? It works, but again, no records were harmed in the testing of this vehicle. It flares if sudden kickdown demands are made and changes are somewhat leisurely, although it’s good for going gently about one’s daily rounds, especially in crush-hour traffic. Apart from the ‘Drive’ position, there are notches labeled 3, 2 and L. These hold the transmission down to maximum third gear, maximum second and first only – useful for holding gears up or down steep hills, for instance.
On the open road, the engine spins along at about 3500 rpm for 120 km/h in top gear. That is about normal for a 1500 but we found the engine drone more than one could forgive on a long journey. The tall, boxy design also makes it susceptible to strong side winds, making this more a city car than a holiday vehicle.
But back to its forte: with the hindmost seats tumbled forward, there is lots of space to load a carry cot or folding pram, nappy bags and all the other ‘stuff’ babies need. I mentioned the fold and flip second row seats earlier – mummy bus Nirvana, indeed. Needless to say, the back hatch opens easily, it’s wide, load height is just above knee level and the floor is flat. The spare is underneath, like on a pickup, so it doesn’t get in the way and you can get to it without unloading the car first.
Even the door bins play along. There is one on each door. Every one of them is subdivided into three bottle carriers. That makes 12 and right at the back, one could fit five more. Seventeen formula- or juice bottle holders! This is indeed the queen of mummy busses. We asked our niece-in-law (nephew’s wife; what would you call her?) who has two kids and has owned one of these since they first came out, what one could possibly do with all those holders. She simply said that hers doesn’t have that many, but she wishes it did.
Would she buy another? Emphatically, yes. What would she change? “How about a pollen filter for the aircon?” she asked.
Price: R189 600
Engine: 1495 cc, DOHC, 16-valve, VVT-I, four-cylinder
Power: 76 kW at 6000 rpm
Torque: 136 Nm at 4400 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: approx. 13 seconds
Maximum speed: 155 est.
Car Fuel index: 9,12 l/100 km
Tank: 45 litres
Warranty: 3 years/100 000 km
Service plan: 4 years/60 000 km at 15 000 km intervals
TX model shown. SX does not have alloy wheels or chromed grille trim
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
My articles appear every Wednesday in the motoring pages of The Witness, South Africa's oldest continuously running newspaper, and occasionally on Saturdays in Weekend Witness as well. I drive eight to ten vehicles most months of the year (press cars are withdrawn over the festive season - wonder why?) so not everything gets published in the paper. Those that are, get a tagline but the rest is virgin, unpublished and unedited by the political-correctness police. Hope you like what you see, because there are no commercial interests at work here. As quite a few readers have found, I answer every serious enquiry from my home email address, with my phone numbers attached, so I do actually exist.
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