Ryan Bubear drives the Toyota Innova 2.7 VVTi 8-seater...
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Let's play a game. A motoring-themed word association game.
What is the first number that pops into your head when you read the words "Toyota" and "front-engine, rear-drive"?
If you're a proper petrol-head, there's a pretty decent chance you'd come up with the number 86 (pronounced, in this case, "eight-six"). Yes, Toyota has added a full-cream dollop of excitement to its range in the form of the two-door sports coupe, which makes use of a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout.
Like the Toyota 86, the Innova also features a naturally aspirated engine at the front, sending drive to the rear wheels. But that's where the similarities end. Yes, the Innova is not very exciting. At all. To be fair though, how many people-carriers (and we're talking budget MPVs here, not SUVs) do actually rouse the senses? How many are exhilarating to drive? I'd venture exactly, well, none.
A budget MPV is a functional machine, and its very dimensions mean that it's unlikely to be aesthetically pleasing. And although it is certainly not the prettiest thing on four wheels, the 4.58m-long Innova won't compel other road-users to gouge out their eyes with their windscreen wipers. It's inoffensively styled and immediately recognisable as part of the Toyota family (it shares its platform with the Hilux, after all), thanks to its trapezoidal grille, wide headlights, and inverted lower grille with integrated fog-lights.
Two different models are available: a basic eight-seater and a somewhat better-equipped, slightly more expensive seven-seater. Both make use of the only engine available in the range, Toyota's 2.7 VVT-i four-cylinder 2TR-FE petrol, a proven lump that also powers certain Hilux, Quantum and Sesfikile models. It makes 118kW and 241Nm, and is up to the task of pulling along the Innova's bulky frame.
In fact, the Innova's engine performed better than expected when confronted with a steep mountain pass, with only the typically top-heavy handling holding it back. The five-speed gearbox has a fairly long throw, but is simple enough to use. Fuel consumption is a bit on the high side at a claimed 11.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. However — aided perhaps by one particularly long drive on the open road — we managed to better that, returning a final figure of 11.1. This is good news for those with feet lighter than ours.
We had the entry-level eight-seater on test. From the outside, there is only one difference: it rolls on 15-inch steel wheels, while the seven-seater gets shiny alloys. Inside, the cheaper eight-seater gets a multi-functional height-adjustable steering wheel, automatic air-con, power windows, six-speaker audio system (radio/CD/MP3), 15.5cm-touchscreen, USB, Bluetooth, cloth seats, and fabric door trim. The seven-seater gets all this, plus plenty of leather (on the seats, steering wheel, gear-lever, and door trim) and an integrated reversing camera.
Of course, the other cabin distinction is the seating layout. The seven-seater model (2+2+3) is fitted with individual captain seats in the middle row with slide and recline functions, while the eight-seater (2+3+3) makes do with a bench in the middle row. The middle seats can be folded flat and tumbled forward, while the third row of seats folds sideways. There's plenty of room back there, and cupholders pretty much everywhere you look.
A nice touch on both models is the separate air-con vents (and a separate control for the back two) for each of the three rows, allowing passengers to specify their individual cooling/heating requirements. A criticism of the interior, however, is that the trim is quite light in colour, making it vulnerable to stains (some sort of mess is almost a certainty with kids in the vehicle). Also, the faux wood trim may not be to everyone's liking.
Both models get driver and front passenger airbags, seat belts for all occupants, and ABS. Further peace of mind is ensured thanks to Toyota's three-year or 100 000km warranty and five-year or 90 000km service plan (with intervals of 15 000km).
So, while it may not be as thrilling as the 86, the Innova is spacious, comfortable, generally well-equipped, reliable and pretty affordable.
Which is exactly what you want from a people-carrier.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.