Innova Continues Positive Performance in Fresh Perspective

By Lee Pang Seng

TOYOTA has given the latest Innova a fresh perspective with a sharper body profile that belies its deep roots. This subscribes to its current approach of giving its range of vehicles less of a conservative profile but a more forward, and in some cases even bold, front.

In the Innova, it does not hide the fact that its new clothing covers a platform that is developed from a strong base that had been around for some time now. It was introduced in Malaysia in 2005 to take over from the Unser as the bigger family-size MPV for those who find the Avanza small.

The initial response to the latest Innova was encouraging but good solid reliability might not be enough against the onslaught of rivals with a more modern base and engineering. The price factor might help a little but rival brands are coming out with good looking options that are also priced competitively.

Nevertheless, the Innova has gained quite a strong following since it was introduced here and the latest model should continue to hold its appeal. We had a go at the new Innova recently and found its character intact from the version that we drove in 2005, with some added charms that keep it abreast of modern motoring conveniences.

The first one is the remote door lock and unlock system; as long as you have the key fob in your pocket or handbag, you could press the button on the front door handle to open or lock the doors. However, as a safety feature, it would only open the door that you press the door button with. Surprisingly, press the door button twice didn’t open all the doors. That was better achieved by using the key fob. Or you could open the door and use the locking facility on the door armrest.

The other one, which is our current favourite, is the pushbutton engine start and kill facility. Just step on the brake pedal and press the dedicated button on the dashboard; you apply the same approach whether you are starting the engine or turning it off. The good habit here is stepping on the brake pedal, mainly to avoid any unexpected forward movement although the gearshift has to be in P(ark) if you want to start the engine.

There is an eight-inch touchscreen display on the central dashboard section, which is an optional item, even for the top 2.0G model that we had a long weekend with. It comes with smartphone connectivity, voice recognition, navigation and reverse camera with guide lines.

However, we found the instrument panel for the driver a bit ornate. The ‘special illumination’ is a bit distracting and would prefer something simpler and less striking. The 4.4-inch multi-info display between the speedometer and tachometer offers a fair share of information, including fuel mileage.

Of course, the more important feature is its good interior space and the ease in folding the middle row seats for access to the third row. Using a single lever, the middle row seats (split 60:40) could be folded in a two-step process; just the seatrest to accommodate sizeable items or to be tumbled away for entry or egress. The bigger section is on the left as that is the side your passengers would use to get in or out, especially along busy roads.

Being a bigger MPV, the passengers get better elbow, leg and head room to be comfortably accommodated. The luggage room with all the seatrests up is still limited to two standing suitcases at most and you would have to fold the third row 50:50 split seatrests to achieve better luggage room. The flexibility is there for long items as we again put that to the test, with yet another purchase from Ikea since our last outing with the Sienta.

There are many pockets and trays, including two gloveboxes. However, we found the pocket on front door handle rather impractical. It is not quite open to immediate view and one could forget that something was put there. But ample storage space is still among the Innova’s better social points. Likewise, we also like the electronic door mirror folding and extending facility and the blue LED ambient interior lighting at night.

Like the Sienta, the Innova comes with the Auto light system. The moment the engine is started, the daytime running light is activated. There is a sensor in the headlamp that determines the level of external ambient lighting. If it is low, as is usual during a thunderstorm or going through a tunnel, the headlamps would come on. It is a function that you and other motorists, especially those in front as you enter the tunnel, would have to get used to.

For power, the new Innova is said to have a new 2.0-litre power unit, the 1TR-FE four-cylinder engine with improvements made to enhance fuel efficiency and midrange torque for stronger passing acceleration. This is a squarely configured unit with 86.0mm bore and stroke to displace 1998cc, much like the engine in the very first model brought in here.

Understandably, improvements were made to the engine over the years but nothing major. This has seen to slightly higher power output with the new engine delivering 102kW (139PS) at 5600rpm and 183Nm of torque at 4000rpm. The big difference is mating the well tested engine to a five-speed automatic transmission with sequential shifter for sporty driving. The previous Innova came with a four-speed automatic unit. This has enabled the latest Innova to be classified as an EEV (energy efficient vehicle).

On the road, the improved torque could now be better utilised with closer gear ratios to move a heavier MPV; it appeared to have picked up more than 150kg in kerb weight over the older model at 1720kg. While we did not feel any sluggishness in the new Innova when taking off, there was quite a bit of gear hunting when going up inclines or during passing acceleration. Using Power mode gave a bit more bite to the vehicle’s acceleration but that would come at the cost of fuel economy. We saw little need to use this mode other than to compare the experience.

With prudent pedal accelerator use, you could get the engine to run on Eco mode often, moseying along at an easy pace with the engine operating well below 3000rpm for urban driving. On the highway, the overdrive fifth gear allows the engine to purr along at an easy pace of 2200rpm at legal speeds around 110km/h.

It would pick up the speed if the accelerator was prompted a bit harder to go fast enough to qualify for speed camera activation. The engine had that familiar roar each time we stepped on the accelerator to gain speed and that sort of gave it an ‘old’ impression. The important thing is that with prudent driving, you would be rewarded. We covered more than 220km in mostly urban driving and the fuel indicator was only between the first quarter and halfway mark from a full tank.

We found the previous Innova reasonably good on ride comfort and Toyota engineers have tuned the suspension system further to make the appreciable ride better. The front has double wishbones and MacPherson struts, and the four-link rear now has larger shock absorbers. The alloy rims are also bigger being 16-inch units and the tyres fitted on the Innova 2.0G were 205/65 R16 Bridgestone Ecopia EP150s.

The latest Innova rode the bumps and road irregularities with improved compliance and the impacts were largely softened. This vote of ride comfort was also endorsed by our middle row passengers. While we didn’t have friends to check out the third row, we have received sufficient feedback from Innova owners to give it the thumbs up there as well.

As a tall vehicle of almost 1800mm (just 5mm shy), the Innova held its own pretty well through winding roads at fairly quick speeds. There was body roll but it was nicely checked. Traction control and vehicle stability control come as standard and that helps as well. This takes into consideration that the Innova is among the very few rear-wheel drives today and stability control would help to prevent a ‘happy’ rear end if it is pushed into a tight corner. Then again, the Innova is not designed for such spirited winding road drives.

Its rear drive design also makes the comparatively big MPV easy to manoeuvre in tight areas or make a U-turn on narrow roads. There is good view all round from the driver’s seat to gauge its proximity to other vehicles and objects, and the rearview camera is fully appreciated when parking the Innova.

Given the new Innova’s positive values, we wouldn’t be surprised to see its appeal being valued by those who have owned one and would like to upgrade. It might also persuade those who are looking for a practical MPV for family motoring. More importantly, the new Innova stays competitively priced to enhance its appeal; RM126,000 (on the road with insurance) for the 2.0G that we drove. The 2.0E five-speed auto is RM117,000 and the five-speed manual model goes for RM109,000. With festive discounts, the Innova gets even more attractive.

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