Toyota Corolla Verso 1.8 T Spirit review
by Ross Finlay (13 August 2004)
When you walk round the Corolla Verso, glancing at the exterior styling, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the design team paid as much attention to the chrome-barrelled front and rear lamp arrays as to anything else.
But there's a lot of careful aerodynamic work here, in very close panel gaps and shut lines Toyota likes to describe as "to Lexus standards", as well as in features like the A pillar design, the door mirror placement and even the slope of the rear roof.
A main aim of all this, of course, is to improve the drag coefficient and, in the case of the roofline, provide some extra downforce, but it's also part of the package of improvements over the previous Corolla Verso which make the 2004 model unusually quiet-running. Its laminated windscreen features an acoustic-film middle layer which damps down low-frequency noises, and although there was no way to test Toyota's claims about just how much of an improvement this represents, there's no doubt that the car is quieter on the cruise than many similarly high-built compact MPVs.
The 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine fitted to the test car helps here too. While it doesn't have anything like the mid-range torque of the alternative two-litre D-4D turbo diesel - which, however restrained of its type, can't avoid being noisier when pulling hard - its power output feels more satisfactory for a car which can carry up to seven people than the entry-level petrol 1.6. Indeed, the 1.8 is proving to be the best-selling engine in the range.
Most of the really ingenious work on the Corolla Verso has gone into the interior, not least in the fold-flat arrangement for all five rear seats, and the generous provision of airbags. It has nine of them, as the first car in its class to come with an airbag to protect the driver's knees in the event of a front-end shunt.
Together with other safety features, that has helped the Toyota to the best Euro NCAP rating in its class. It was awarded five stars for adult occupant protection, with a higher points score than any of its rivals, and four stars in the new child protection test.
Folding down the rear and middle-row seats is a very easy business, this being something which manufacturers have refined since the first of these systems was offered to the public.
The three middle and two rear seats in the Toyota all fold down individually, but it's not so much the flexibility of the seating that is so impressive, as the fact that when these five seats are folded, the extended load floor created is genuinely flat, not mostly flat with a rising bit up front. There's a pull-over security blind for the main load space, and when not needed it fits under the boot floor rather than having to be left lying loose.
There are plenty of smaller stowage spaces and, of course, the Corolla Verso comes with roof rails. A passing thought when driving it, even in the holiday period, was that you see very few cars of this type with anything on the roof, largely because there's so much load space inside.
The driving position is high and commanding, with a console-mounted gear lever (our test car had the manual transmission) at the foot of a rather garish area of metal-effect fascia. Deeply cowled, the instruments are neat in design and very well lit.
Out on the road, the 1.8 petrol engine misses out on the mid-range pull of the D-4D, and I imagine that a fully loaded Verso of this type would start asking for a lower gear on long climbs, although two-up the test car tackled a number of these gradients with little slackening off.
It's sometimes forgotten that even a compact MPV like this, when fully loaded, takes more bulk and weight into down gradients than a saloon or hatchback of similar overall size. That being so, it's reassuring to feel the Corolla Verso brakes really doing their stuff, as well they might, having been carried over from the Avensis.
Some early designs in this class majored more on accommodation than on handling, but at this stage in the game the best ones are dynamically quite responsive, and you can count the Toyota among them.
A "card key" start system with push button operation, rain sensor wipers, and a tweak of the air-conditioning system so that European-market cars have less of the Japanese-preferred contrast between fascia and floor-level vents, are among the things which go to show that the latest-generation Corolla Verso is right up in specification levels with the best in its class.
Stability control, traction control, brake assist and so on are all standard on the top-rated T Spirit. This is the only version offered with the optional DVD-based satellite navigation system featuring a monitor screen which shows the pictures not only from a rear-facing parking camera but also from front-facing cameras which snoop round blind corners for approaching vehicles and pedestrians.
As compact MPVs become better-equipped, more refined, roomier and with still more versatile seating, while keeping that high driving position, it's little wonder that new buyers are coming into this sector of the market, having decided that a school-run 4x4 maybe doesn't make so much sense after all.