Spacious Yaris-based mini-MPV makes a comeback, but faces stiff competition from a mature market filled with refined rivals

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The Toyota Verso-S is a successor to the unexpectedly popular Yaris Verso. Launched in the UK in 1999, the Yaris Verso remained on sale until late 2005, during which time it sold over 10,500 units in the UK. It was decided that the second generation was too similar to the standard Yaris to sell well in the UK, hence the many years without a B-segment MPV in Toyota’s line-up.

The concept of a supermini MPV is not a new one. There are a number of variations on the theme on offer today, among them the Honda Jazz, Citroën C3 Picasso, Kia Venga, Nissan Note and now Toyota is taking them on with the new Verso-S.

The Verso-S can carry four people and luggage, but without flair,originality or brilliance

On paper the Verso-S looks like a good entrant in this niche in the supermini market. It is less than four metres long, has a pretty roomy cabin and seemingly ticks all the boxes that will matter most to prospective (and most likely older) buyers – with both comfort and affordability top of that priority list. It’s as well that the 1.33 VVT-i petrol version isn’t expensive to run, since it’s the only engine option available.

So there’s one engine, but two trim levels, both reasonably specced: the TR and the more luxurious T-Spirit. By the standards of its limited direct rivals, the Verso-S appears very competitive. But with a list price that puts it up against plenty of models besides mini-MPVs that offer a broad array of talents, the Verso-S needs to do more than just meet the standards of its niche segment to stand out.

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Toyota Verso-S alloy wheels

Toyota was keen to ensure that the new Toyota Verso-S offered more appealing styling than the Yaris Verso, which was rather vulnerable to the accusation that it looked like a modified van, and in general the firm has been successful. Toyota’s current design language is very evident in the front end, which has notes of the iQ’s bluff, stingray-inspired look, and although the rear is a touch frumpy, it is inoffensive and allows for a usefully low load height. 

The Verso-S has a tall windscreen, so instead of two wipers that don’t stretch to its top, it has a central wiper on a cam that allows it to clear a surprisingly large amount of the glass. There’s an L-shaped profile to the bumper at the front, too, pushing some air out sideways and up, limiting the amount of flow beneath the car.

A discreet spoiler assists in achieving a Cd figure of only 0.30

The single-bladed grille is Toyota’s most recent family face, while contours next to them reduce the visual bulk of the front bumper.  A discreet spoiler is standard and assists in achieving a Cd figure of only 0.298 — or 0.30 if you’re rounding up — which isn’t too bad.

At the back, secondary lights are set low and wide in the rear wings. The idea, according to Toyota, is that they “emphasise the Verso-S’s wide stance and low centre of gravity”. In other words, they make it look less top heavy.

The rear roof spoiler’s leading edge trails a feature line into the rear window to add visual interest to what could otherwise be a bulky rear corner.
 The door handles get a curiously intricate surround. The partial recess we think is meant to make it look like the front of the handle is cleaving air as it travels forwards, thereby adding a hint of dynamism to the sides of the car.


Toyota Verso-S dashboard

This is where the Toyota Verso-S defines its place in the market and makes its most persuasive play to be purchased. From behind the wheel, it is the car’s headroom that seems particularly remarkable. In comparison with a standard supermini, there’s a huge amount of fresh air above your head, the effect of which is emphasised by the large standard glass roof of the T-Spirit model. 

But in practice, for the average-sized adult at least, this provides no practical benefit, and elbow and leg room aren’t massively better than in a standard hatch. 

It is frustrating how underwhelming the dash is

It is also frustrating how underwhelming the dash is. A new touchscreen infotainment system is a welcome hi-tech touch, but low-grade graphics disappoint, and otherwise the differing textures on show fail to lift the overriding impression of underwhelming material quality.

Rear occupants get the real benefit of the more spacious interior, with usefully more legroom than you would expect of such a short car. Even those around six feet tall will have enough knee space when sitting behind a similar-sized front-seat occupant – something that even C-segment cars sometimes struggle to deliver.

But in a car majoring in versatility, it seems like an oversight that the Verso-S’s 60/40 rear bench does nothing more than fold flat. Not that the Verso-S suffers from a shortage of luggage room

All Verso-Ss get a variable boot floor as standard, and 429 litres of load space with all the seats in place is very competitive given that a Honda Jazz offers 335 litres and a Citroën C3 Picasso 385-500 litres, depending on where its rear seats are positioned. But even with the spacious rear accommodation, the Verso-S could do with more of the versatility that its name suggests it should specialise in.


Toyota Verso-S engine bay

It’s unlikely that many Toyota Verso-S buyers will be seeking scintillating performance, but the sheer effort required to wring reasonable out-of-town speeds from the Toyota’s 1329cc petrol motor is more than you would have to expend in plenty of other small petrol-powered cars. 

In the sprint to 60mph we managed 12.1sec, which on paper is perfectly acceptable, but in practice the buzzy engine is never a relaxing or enjoyable motor to use. Despite the Verso-S’s low weight, the engine feels strained even at normal motorway speeds and doesn’t provide the flexibility that you require for easy progress on a typical B-road. 

Refinement is not what you would hope for at higher speeds

This is not a car that needs to be fast, and it is responsive enough for 
the urban roads on which it will most often be driven. But it is nonetheless a shame that the Verso-S requires such hard work when it is taken outside the confines of the low-speed urban environment. 

At this price point there are plenty of other, equally practical cars that are more at ease with the task of being driven at a brisk motorway clip. The Verso-S, on the other hand, can leave you feeling exposed due to the engine’s lack of response at higher speeds. 

Refinement is not what you would hope for at higher speeds, either. The engine is very hushed at lower revs, but road and wind noise intrudes noticeably at other times, so that even when the engine isn’t in its vocal upper ranges the Verso-S can be a less than calming way to travel. 

The brakes on the Verso-S are very good in terms of outright stopping power and feel further down the brake pedal travel, even if the initial bite is a little sharp. Despite only having drums at the rear, the brakes stood up well to hard use throughout our testing.


Toyota Verso-S cornering

Drive the Toyota Verso-S at normal speeds along a typical B-road and it provides a progressive and well-resolved balance between a soft ride and predictable, responsive handling. If anything, the level of poise and grip here seems disproportionate – if very welcome – given the Verso-S’s utilitarian nature and mediocre performance. 

The high-speed ride is good, with the rate of roll kept in check even under much harder driving than any Verso-S is likely to experience. Bump absorption is adequate, though the suspension will thump and the body can be unsettled over vertical undulations of the road’s surface. Occupants are isolated well enough. At slower speeds some unexpectedly firm damping over bigger bumps makes for a strange shortage of chassis compliance, but the Verso-S’s ride is not harsh at any point, and this slightly firmer set-up is preferable to the wallowy, over-soft springs that are fitted to some of its rivals. 

The Verso-S handles surprisingly well

The Verso-S handles surprisingly well, too. Turn-in is quicker than you might expect and the resulting body roll is gentle and well controlled. Mid-corner steering adjustments can be made with no unexpected theatricals, and understeer is easily and quickly counteracted by lifting off the throttle. Even the steering is well weighted and gives you a good indication of the levels of grip available throughout any corner, even if it is devoid of feel.

In many respects the Verso offers a level of ride comfort that you’d expect in a car of this class – not far off the Citroën C3 Picasso, but miles ahead of a Honda Jazz – and a level of handling that you wouldn’t.


Toyota Verso-S

The Toyota Verso-S's full list price is a little on the high side compared with the equivalent Citroën C3 Picasso and Skoda Fabia Estate, both of which offer a choice of petrol and diesel engines. 

Still, the Toyota does have low running costs in comparison with its main petrol rivals, not to mention a high standard spec. With a competitive CO2 output in manual form, road tax will be low and company car buyers will have relatively tiny bills every month. The CVT version does even better, and residual values look set to be very good, but even with the Toyota’s tempting running costs and equipment levels, the Verso-S’s rivals offer far better ownership prospects. 

The Toyota's full list price is a little on the high side

Our fuel economy average of 38.6mpg is decent enough in comparison with the real-world results we’ve achieved in other, similar cars, but it’s a long way off Toyota’s claimed figure. Automatic stop-start would be a welcome addition – particularly given that Japanese versions get it as standard – but otherwise the Verso-S is acceptable but not outstanding in this respect.

The TR starts the range and gets ample standard kit, including air conditioning, a USB input, Bluetooth, a touchscreen multimedia system and a reversing camera. The T Spirit adds a full-length panoramic glass roof but loses the standard space-saver spare wheel in favour of a tyre repair kit.


3 star Toyota Verso-S

The Toyota Verso-S fits the bill perfectly should you just need a car that is small and easy to drive around town and yet can carry four people and some luggage. But it doesn’t do it with flair, originality or brilliance in any single area. The engine is the biggest letdown, and if a broader range of motors were available this Toyota would be more recommendable. As it is, it’s lack of refinement will leave most owners wary of extending it.

For a car that sits in the MPV class, Toyota hasn’t given a thought to the first two letters standing for multi-purpose. The Verso-S’s lack of functionality is a surprising omission – the reat seats fold flat, but that’s it. There’s okay room in the back for the long of leg, but width-wise there’s no more space than in a conventional hatch.

The Verso-S doesn’t offer flair, originality or brilliance in any single area

Interior quality is a disappointment, too. Sure, the Verso-S is well-equipped, especially in T-Spirit form where the full-length panoramic roof is a nice standard touch, but the shiny, hard plastics around the cabin smack of penny pinching and aren’t keeping with the high price tag. Other running costs are reasonable, though.

Even with its objective merits, there are too many small MPVs that offer more flexibility and are potentially more enjoyable as an ownership proposition. The Toyota Verso-S does a specific job, and it does it adequately — nothing more and nothing less.

Toyota Verso-S 2011-2013 First drives