In 2002 Toyota launched the Corolla Verso, a capable if bland midi-MPV. Just two years on there’s an all-new Verso, less anonymous and even more capable, with seven seats, nine airbags and a more grown-up cabin and driving experience.
Toyota reckons the 1.8 VVT-I will be the best seller, but it’s hard to fathom why. To make swift progress the unit has to be kept between 4000 and 6000rpm, a wearisome experience in a people carrier. Worse still, our test car was fitted with the optional £500 MMT (Multi-mode Manual Transmission) sequential gearbox. Like Citroën’s Sensodrive it’s an incredibly frustrating system: in auto mode it constantly hunts – and rarely finds – the correct gear, and even when swapping cogs manually the stop-start action leaves you yearning for a torque-converter auto.
Which is a shame, because there’s lots to be said in the Verso’s favour. It handles tidily, with sharp steering and decent body control, and it’s cheap to insure: the 1.8 is in group 7, though T-spirit spec boosts it to group 8. The cabin is classy, with almost Germanic dashboard quality, attractive dials and a handsome mini hi-fi-style silver/glass centre console.
Up front the seats are supportive, but the Verso’s party piece lies aft. Toyota’s Easy Flat-7 system offers a tilting and sliding middle row, yet all five rear seats will fold completely flat for a usefully large, if high, load bay. With the third row folded there’s a decent boot, but flip them up – it’s quick and easy – and you’ll find boot space all but disappears and the final pair of seats is for little ’uns only.