Alan Candy’s road test: Toyota Verso

REBORN Verso has sharpened up its image to such an extent that it is almost unrecognisable from the old model.

In fact when I saw the striking test car parked outside my house, I didn’t recognise it.

Verso, once worthy and practical but a little stodgy in design, would win hands down if there was a ‘most improved car’ award.

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It has redefined itself as a more compact, leaner and sharply-suited family car with space and, above all, economy.

Verso is the only left-over from a whole raft of cars bearing that name from Toyota. Once there was a Yaris Verso, a Corolla Verso and so on, which offered that much more space than the standard car. The results weren’t pretty, but highly practical.

Alas, times change and now we just have Verso – but the fact that there is a demand for this particular model has meant that Toyota has remained faithful to the name.

But let’s not get misled by the Verso-S I’ve been testing. S to me means Sport and the fact that the letter was displayed in red on the front wing also gives that impression.

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Nothing could be further than the truth, for Verso isn’t built with sporty performance in mind.

It’s powered by a modest 1,329cc engine and the zero to 62mph time of 13.7 seconds can only be described as pedestrian.

The engine note is also gruff when you ask questions of it in the upper rev range and in the auto version I tested, it sometimes hunts around for the right gear, hanging onto a low ratio for a disproportionate amount of time when descending a steep, hill, for example.

But the up-side, of course, is that Verso is returning a pleasing combined figure approaching the mid 50s in miles per gallon and can be coaxed into even better with some judicious driving.

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The resizing and restyling sees Verso competing directly with models such as the Citroen Picasso and though one reviewer describes the Toyota as a “supermini”, I think this is misleading.

Supermini means cars like the Vauxhall Corsa to me and Verso is much more like a family SUV.

Toyota claims that Verso now has the smallest exterior dimensions in class, but retains interior space close to that of a family hatchback.

And the fact that the Verso is also the lightest car in class supports the excellent fuel economy and low emissions. Another bonus is that the car never feels stodgy and its handling is surprisingly nimble.

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Verso has a lot going for it, particularly in terms of practicality and image.

With its stylised, dramatic front end and bulging bird of prey ‘eyes’ for headlamps, contrasting angles and long, low look, Verso looks self assured, neat and commanding.

Despite its compact size, there’s comfortable width and headroom and front and rear seat passengers have plenty of legroom.

Out back, there’s also a stack of space available when serious loading is needed. A pity, then, that the final load space ends up two tier, with a higher front end, even though the actual process of converting the car is simple.

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I like the Verso’s interior, which is always smart and classy, and has the Lexus touch in terms of attention to detail.

My only criticism here is the ‘liquorice log’ bulky black slab of dashboard that leaves the driver a bit out of touch with the front of the car – none of the bonnet can be seen when driving or manoeuvring, for example, despite the high driving position.

Other than that, the dashboard is

a model of clarity and very user friendly. While performance is unquestionably modest, actual

handling is still involving and ride quality is good.

The often droning engine on the auto set-up has a choice of driving modes, with economy or ‘sport’ – but the button to press isn’t intuitively found on the right side of the centre console. Used so often, it should surely fall to hand more easily.

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Despite its lack of firepower, Verso’s strength lies in its visual appeal and versatility and there will still be plenty of takers in this market sector.

Fast facts

> Toyota Verso T Spirit 1.33 Multidrive-S, £17,313.

> Powered by four-cylinder DOHC 16v dual VVT-i engine of 1,329cc, developing 98bhp @ 6,000rpm.

> 0-62mph in 13.7 secs, top speed 103mph.

> Transmission: Multidrive S-CVT with manual overdrive.

> Fuel consumption 54.3mpg combined cycle.

> CO2 emissions 120g/km.

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