First Drive: Toyota Verso

AS some manufacturers choose to go down the 'world car' route and pursue a one size fits all policy regarding car design and technology, Toyota is taking a more considered approach with its Verso compact people carrier.

There's no guarantee North American buyers will be willing to embrace what is popular in Europe, and visa versa. And while they're not alone in the industry, Toyota's bosses hope the decision to design and engineer cars destined for Europe in Europe will give them an important competitive edge.

This latest Verso is a good example of how such logic can pay off. With the car's design having originated in France, the engineering and development done in Belgium and the factory located in Turkey, Toyota's answer to Volkswagen's Touran and Ford's C-Max promises to be more hit than miss for its European buyers.

Design-wise the Verso apes the smaller Auris with its rakish nose. With the Verso, Auris and Prius, it's clear that Toyota's European designers are keen to give their core C-segment models a distinctive appearance.

While design can be a subjective subject there's no debating the work that's been done to ramp up refinement. Much has been done to reduce noise levels, and it only takes a moment when behind the wheel to notice the lack of road, wind and tyre roar plus the subdued character of the Verso's diesel engine.

Whether purchased for private or company use, diesel has historically been the engine of choice. For this generation the unit has been comprehensively overhauled, with the resulting benefits including reduced fuel consumption, emissions and noise plus greater flexibility and responsiveness. For those who are less demanding the Verso retains its 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol motors - the latter offered exclusively with Toyota's auto gearbox.

Completing the car's newfound ability to deliver a hushed driving experience is the, predictably, Euro-centric suspension set-up. The combination of revised settings and a tweaked bodyshell have resulted in car capable of delivering an impressive level of ride comfort. Sure, the tall-ish Verso will roll a little when cornering, but the effect is minimised by the suspension set-up and the car's supportive front seats. If you value a supple ride over any ill-conceived go-faster tendencies then the Verso's pretty much got it nailed.

Obviously there's more to a people carrier's abilities than how it drives. Historically the Verso’s been a seven-seat MPV and while this remains the case, entry-level variants can also be had with five seats. The obvious trade off is more boot space, but the seven seat arrangement allows you to fold the rearmost pair flat. Continue this with the second row - all rear seats are individual and can be folded one handed - and you've got an expanded flat load deck.

As you'd expect given the Verso's conventional footprint, third row head and legroom is fine only for small children. There's better news up front, with both front and middle row occupants treated to better than family hatch levels of room. Factor in the car's panoramic glass roof, though not in conjunction with roof rails, and the cabin benefits greatly from the extra light. Which is a bonus considering the uncluttered appearance of the Verso's fascia, although the car's funky instrument cluster is proof that Toyota's designers like to experiment.

The Verso also benefits from a good level of standard equipment. There's a choice of three trim levels (Active, Icon, Excel), with Icon destined to be the most popular choice. This means you can expect DAB radio plus a touchscreen interface, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, climate control, privacy glass, reversing camera, cruise control and a leather steering wheel. Top spec Excel adds keyless ignition and entry, Xenon dusk-sensing lights, part leather seats, rain-sensing wipers and roof rails. The most notable optional kit is Toyota's full-featured combination multimedia sat-nav system complete with a Google search function.

As rounded products go the Verso is hard to ignore. More driver-focused cars exist but there's always a compromise to be endured. However, if you value refinement and ease of use over outright performance the Verso rewards occupants with a hushed ride, ample space and generous levels of safety kit and creature comforts.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Toyota Verso 2.0 D-4D Icon, priced from £21,445 on the road.Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 122bhp.Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.Performance: Maximum speed 115mph, 0-62mph 11.3 seconds.Economy: 57.6mpg.CO2 Rating: 129g/km.

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