Appealing to some, thanks to a fine balance of quality, space and refinement, but rarely thrilling to be in

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The Toyota Verso MPV is offered in both five and seven-seat form, and with a choice of two petrol engines and a single diesel option.

It competes in an exceptionally hard-fought category, with the likes of the Ford S-Max, Vauxhall Zafira, Seat Alhambra, Volkswagen Touran and Citroën C4 Grand Picasso ensuring buyers have plenty of choice.

If good handling plus a durable and logical interior are the watchwords for your car purchase, the Toyota should be on your shortlist

Toyota responded to this competition by facelifting its existing version of the Verso in 2013, giving the car an overhauled exterior and interior look, as well as making under-the-metal changes to make the car quieter and more comfortable.

This was achieved by fitting improved sound damping between the engine bay and cabin, and also by reducing wind noise with the fitment of smaller door mirrors.

In addition, the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension setup was treated to revised damper settings, and the steering control software rejigged for a more linear response. There are also now more weld points at the back and extra reinforcement in the front suspension mountings to enhance rigidity.

The result is a car that is much better than its predecessor and which, depending on your priorities, could earn a place on your buying shortlist. The Verso is now a quiet, lean, comfortable and altogether likeable people carrier.

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That may sound like we're damning it with feint praise, simply because nobody really aspires to owning an MPV, but that is not the case. The taught body and suspension tune deliver confident, agile handling and ride comfort of almost Ford-like finesse.

Of the major controls, only the steering is a minor let down. It is a little too slow and insubstantial, and lacking in feel. However, it’s accurate enough to adequately deploy the grip on offer and becomes neatly weighted on the motorway.

The engine lineup comprises of two petrols - a 130bhp 1.6 and 145bhp 1.8 - and a 108bhp Toyota 1.6-litre D-4D diesel sourced from BMW

For now, our pick for anyone but the most determined short-distance driver would be the diesel, which delivers 199lb ft of torque to help shift big loads, plus decent refinement and economy. It is a responsive, even gratifyingly perky unit.

Emissions may only just sneak under the 120g/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 superior sound-deadening also offers great advances. Doors open, there is some engine noise but, doors shut, it fades swiftly into the background. Vibrations are also far less intrusive, and at motorway speeds, a driver will no longer need to raise his voice to be heard above the wind noise in the distant second row.

The Verso's interior remains a drab place, however. For all its durability, many will consider the dashboard to be a touch too dominated by the staid plastic-looking fascia. It is not in keeping with the level of engineering quality found elsewhere on the car.

For all that, it is practical, especially in seven-seat form: Toyota's Easy Fold system works well, and takes the hassle out of moving the seats around. As ever in such cars, the middle bench will accommodate an adult, but the rear seats are strictly for children.

Range-wise, the Verso is carved up into three trim levels: Active, Icon and Design, with the five-seat configuration only available in the poorly equipped base trim. As for standard equipment the Active trimmed Verso comes with 16in steel wheels, automatic headlights, front foglights and heated wing mirrors as standard on the outside, while inside there is air conditioning, a height adjustable driver's seat and Toyota's full Pre-Sense safety technology included. 

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Upgrade to the mid-range Icon, our pick of the range, and you'll find luxuries such as 16in alloy wheels, electrically folding door mirrors, automatic wipers, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and Toyota's Touch 2 infotainment system complete with Bluetooth, USB connectivity, DAB radio and a reversing camera. Choosing the range-topping Design model gets you niceties such as sat nav, a panoramic sunroof and tinted rear windows thrown into the package.

In our view, the Verso is a decent MPV, with a commendable diesel engine, equipment level and driving dynamics, however, it is co-existing in a crowded multi-people hauling segment which is dominated by the versatile Volkswagen Touran and the attractive looking and handling S-Max.

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Toyota Verso 2009-2018 First drives