What is it?
A mid-life facelift of the Verso – the mid-sized, seven-seat MPV Toyota launched in 2009. A styling brush-up brings the model in line with the latest family face – a tweaked nose, sleeker door mirrors, new wheels and integral rear diffuser are the standout alterations – while the interior receives the customary trim material and fabric bump for better perceived quality.
The subtle – though highly successful – redesign means the Verso is 20mm longer than its predecessor, but the 2780mm wheelbase (and platform) are unchanged. Adjustments underneath are intended to make the car quieter and more comfortable, with improved sound damping between the engine bay and cabin, and a reduction in wind noise (hence the smaller mirrors, too).
Dynamically, the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension setup has been treated to revised damper settings, and the steering control software rejigged for a more linear response. More definitively, there are now more weld points at the back and extra reinforcement in the front suspension mountings to enhance rigidity.
The engine lineup is kept simple: two Valvematic petrols (a 130bhp 1.6 and 145bhp 1.8) are carried over from previous car, as is the 122bhp 2.0-litre D-4D, although the latter has undergone tweaks. They include the introduction of a new variable nozzle turbocharger which helps to deliver an improved 228lb ft of torque 200rpm earlier, as well as various detailed improvements intended to boost fuel economy and refinement.
Range-wise, the Verso is carved up into three trim levels: Active, Icon and Excel. A five-seat configuration makes a return, but only in the poorly-equipped base trim. As usual, the middle specification (driven here) offers the best compromise of kit for cash, with 16-inch alloys, Bluetooth, rear-view camera, dual-zone climate control, retractable door mirrors, cruise control and a DAB tuner all appearing as standard.
What is it like?
While it may have produced some genuinely inspired cars in the last few years (think GT86 and LF-A) the Verso is the kind of bulk-buy product Toyota forged its reputation on, and continues to pay the bills with. It was originally assembled with few frills or quirks, and sprang no surprises.
In the past, the facelifted car would have followed the tick-box approach to development that spawned its predecessor, but under Toyota's new policy of regionalisation, the job is now in the remit of the manufacturer’s European design division. Hardly a revelation - the Avensis (among others) received the same attention, and still floundered. But this time round the engineers have blended their modest adjustments to fine overall effect.
Remarkably, much of what they set out to achieve has actually been accomplished. This is a quieter, leaner, more amenable, more comfortable and just plain better Verso. Time spent discovering where the body required its 34 extra spot welds has produced a far tauter body, which, in conjunction with the retuned suspension, has delivered confident, agile handling and ride comfort of almost Ford-like finesse.
The reconfigured steering doesn’t earn quite the same level of praise – it is still a little too slow and insubstantial, and inevitably lacking in feel – but it’s accurate enough to adequately deploy the grip on offer and becomes neatly weighted on the motorway. According to the chief engineer, modifications made to the Verso’s 2.0-litre D4-D engine are almost identical to those introduced on the Avensis over 12 months ago, save for two critical differences.
Firstly, the Avensis’s lower, more economical gearing was rejected because it ruined the dynamic performance (a quite wonderful admission from a senior figure in a Toyota uniform) and, secondly, the engine map was reprogrammed for better linearity. The result is a far more responsive, even gratifyingly perky unit. Emissions may only just sneak under the 130g/km barrier, and engine speeds beyond 3000rpm are largely redundant, but via a sturdy six-speed manual gearbox it’s about as satisfying a guise as the D4-D has ever enjoyed.
The motor’s cause is helped considerably by the superior sound-deadening. Doors open, the oil burner still clatters a mite incessantly. Doors shut, it fades swiftly into the background. Vibrations are also far less intrusive, and at autoroute speeds, a driver will no longer need to raise his voice to be heard above the wind noise in the distant second row.
Should I buy one?
The flaws still apparent in the Verso are not the fault of this facelift. No matter how concerted the highlighting effort, the dashboard remains a fairly stock-standard plastic array, and it’s well short of the finish evinced elsewhere. But it remains durable and logical. And the car around it, at £21,445, is highly competitive. The seats behind still number seven, still feature Toyota’s Easy Fold system and conform to all expectations, i.e. the middle bench will accommodate an adult, the rear seats are strictly for children.
Almost everywhere else, (arguably low) expectations have been surpassed. Quizzed about the dynamic improvements made under his watch, Toyota’s European engineer suggested that such development was now all about achieving a suitable equilibrium between updated components, describing nuanced software changes as the 'cement' which now binds a final product together. On this evidence, Toyota’s regional strategy has just begun to find that elusive and rewarding kind of balance.
Toyota Verso Icon 7-seat 2.0 D-4D
Price £21,445; 0-62mph 11.3secs; Top speed 115mph; Economy 57.6mpg (combined); CO2 129g/km; Kerbweight 1540kg; Engine 4cyls, 1998cc, turbodiesel; Power 122bhp at 3600rpm; Torque 228lb ft at 1600-2400rpm; Gearbox Six-speed manual