by Richard Dredge (21 February 2011)
It's a Japanese B-segment MPV that comes only with petrol engines (in the UK) mated to a manual or CVT gearbox. If you were asked to guess the car, the chances are that you'd opt for the Honda Jazz, so it's bizarre that Honda's smallest model isn't seen, either by its maker or by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, as a rival to the car I was in fact describing – the new Toyota Verso-S.
The prices of these two cars are similar too, although with the cheapest Verso-S selling for £13,995 at launch (rising to £14,645 later this year), the entry-level Jazz is significantly cheaper. The Honda also offers a little more versatility, thanks to a rear seat that tips forward to create extra carrying space.
Indeed, with rear seats that don’t slide or remove, Toyota’s claim that this is a B-segment MPV doesn't really withstand much scrutiny. Sure, it's got a high roof line and the seating position is reasonably raised, but when it comes to versatility, it's got split-fold rear seats and, er, that's about it.
Yes the boot floor can be set to one of two levels, but there's not a split-level boot floor as such, because there's only the one floor available, not two. And 19 storage areas do not turn a small hatch into an MPV.
Look beyond which segment the car is claimed to sit within, though, and the picture is a bit rosier. As you'd expect from Toyota, there are high-quality materials, very good fit and finish plus a dashboard that's clear and logical. You’ll search in vain to find much in the way of design flair, but that doesn't really matter; everything working well is what Toyota's customers want.
The compact dimensions of the Verso-S mean cabin space will never be limo-like, but when you think this is officially the smallest car in its segment (the Jazz is fractionally smaller though), Toyota has done an impressive job of creating space. Accommodating a quartet of six-footers will be tight, but it will be just about manageable.
There's only one engine available in the Verso-S, a 98bhp 1.33-litre petrol unit that comes with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed CVT automatic transmission. The manual gearbox is pleasant enough to use, but for some reason it's woefully undergeared, so the engine screams when sitting on the motorway.
The CVT option allows for much more relaxed cruising, so it's no surprise that two-thirds of Verso-S buyers choose this gearbox over the manual – for a £1150 premium. Opt for the manual gearbox and there's a 106mph top speed with 0-62mph coming up in 13.3 seconds – the equivalent figures for the CVT are 103mph and 13.7 seconds.
As a micro MPV, you can't expect too much in the way of driving pleasure from the Verso-S. However, Toyota's engineers have made the right call in terms of how the suspension has been set up because it's surprisingly comfortable considering how short it is. Despite being able to cope so well with broken surfaces, the Verso-S doesn't wallow all over the place on bends, while the electric power steering offers a reasonable amount of feel.
As youd expect, the Verso-S comes with a wide range of safety kit as standard, including driver and passenger airbags, curtain airbags, a knee airbag for the driver and Isofix child seat mountings in the rear. Everyone gets a three-point seat belt, while brake assist, traction control and electronic stability programme (ESP) are fitted to all cars.
Verso-S buyers can choose between two different trim levels – TR and T Spirit. Even the entry-level model comes with a good range of standard equipment, such as electrically adjustable door mirrors, electric front windows, a touch-screen display with reversing camera, air-conditioning, Bluetooth and a multifunction steering wheel. Move up to the T Spirit and also included are a panoramic glass roof, alloy wheels (the TR has steel items), rear electric windows and privacy glass for the rear side windows.
Although the Verso-S isn't as versatile as its MPV tag might have you believe, it is practical, economical, well-built and well-equipped too. It should also hold onto its value pretty well, and it's not overpriced in the first place, although the Kia Venga, Citroen C3 Picasso and Hyundai ix20 are better value. So is the Jazz, but of course you can't consider that a rival, apparently.