In the race to fill the market full of ‘soft-roader’ SUVs for buyers who think they have an active lifestyle, it’s easy to forget other equally important sectors of the market.
More recently there’s been an opening in the small car end of the market. In true Goldilocks fashion, when the traditional supermini is too small and the conventional family hatchback is too big, a new model has stepped in to take the “just right” mantle.
This B-MPV class of car offers the raised driving position and versatile cabin of an activity-led car and the footprint of something that’ll easily fit in the supermarket car park.
For some, Toyota probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind for such a car. Company executives have been brave enough to admit that, since phasing out the Yaris Verso some years ago, there’s been a gap in its line-up that’s been exploited by the competition, not least by Honda and its Jazz.
With its Verso-S, Toyota is aiming to claw back some market share. Tall-ish and longer than the norm by supermini standards, the Verso-S offers buyers a practical and flexible loadspace plus an accommodating and spacious cabin. Crucially, the not too big, not too small Toyota also seeks to make friends with your wallet; its small capacity 1.33-litre petrol engine boast modest fuel consumption and CO2 figures.
In the metal the Verso-S is something of a departure from the more boxy Yaris Verso of old. Streamlined in profile and surprisingly angular compared to softer offerings such as the Auris and Yaris, this middle order compact model is clearly designed to be functional.
Inside that practical shape is room for five plus the ability to fold forward the 60-40 split rear seats. In flagship T-Spirit trim there’s a generous 429 litres of boot space, thanks in part to the absence of a spare wheel (and the presence of a secret storage compartment plus the tyre inflation kit) plus the dual height boot floor. In other models it’s 393 litres with and 336 litres without changing the boot layout respectively.
In a welcome twist to the usual problem of dark, gloomy cabins, the highest specification Verso-S can be had with a full-length glass panoramic roof. Granted, it’s likely to be viewed as something of a luxury by many, but there’s no mistaking its light-giving qualities. The electric powered blind is also a nice touch.
Back in the real world, it’s Toyota’s claims of wallet-friendly motoring that are more likely to turn heads in the showroom. With the aforementioned 1.33-litre – the only option for UK buyers – the Verso-S produces 98 horsepower and can be had with a six-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed CVT auto. The latter is a fraction cleaner, with the result that you’ll pay less tax. For the record it’s 51.4mpg and 127g/km CO2 for the manual and 54.3mpg and 120g/km CO2 for the auto.
On the road it’s clear that the CVT-equipped car is happiest in an urban environment. The continually variable transmission copes well with the stop-start nature of city motoring, while there’s no question that it trumps the manual when it comes to ease of use – even if you choose not to use the steering wheel mounted paddleshifters.
For longer, more challenging journeys you could make the case for the manual gearbox car. You’ll find it easier to react quickly to those subtle but power-sapping motorway inclines, for example.
Either way the Verso-S delivers a competent and solid performance – it’s a Toyota, after all. It’s an incredibly easy car to drive and all the controls are clear and close to hand. Speaking of which, the central multimedia touchscreen offers a great way of accessing the car’s main functions. There’s also a sat-nav option that boasts ‘connected services’ such as online search, weather and other features through a Bluetooth enabled mobile phone.
Factor in a good level of standard kit – plenty of airbags, decent stereo, that touchscreen – plus an intelligently laid out interior and the car’s practical and versatile nature and it’s easy to see the functional Toyota’s appeal. The only criticism you could level at the Verso-S is that it should have been in showrooms sooner. Still, it’s good to know that it’ll up to the job.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Toyota Verso-S 1.33 VVT-I T Spirit, from £15,745.
Engine: 1.33-litre petrol unit developing 98bhp.
Transmission: Continuously variable transmission with manual override, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 103mph, 0-62mph 13.7 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 120g/km.
By Iain Dooley