When Toyota decided to stop production of the Qualis, it left many flummoxed as why would anybody think of giving up on a product that till date, is recalled as one of the most robust vehicles ever sold in India. Knowing what they were doing, Toyota replaced the boxy blockbuster with a more streamlined MPV called the Innova. It eventually helped people get rid of the Qualis hangover and carved a niche for itself. Although it has been a decade since it was first launched, the Innova happens to be in a league of its own even after the emergence of newer, less expensive competition that just couldn’t match the high popularity of this family mover.
So when Toyota sent us an example of the latest, facelifted version of the already popular Innova, we were left scratching our heads. The reason for that being; perhaps 8 in 10 Indians must’ve sat inside one, among them, maybe five must’ve been inside one on more than one occasion, and there must be countless who own one themselves or have an Innova in the family. So then, how do you review something which is already one of the most popular cars in the country? What do you figure, when there are people out there who know more about this MPV than we could figure in the couple days we spent with the car?
However, if there’s a job to be done, somebody’s got to do it anyways. As I headed towards the pick-up point to fetch the Innova, a phone call from a family member involved a conversation where I was boasting about a fancy motorcycle I had ridden. My cousin almost rubbished that aside when I told him that I was about to review the new Innova and he suddenly had a plethora of questions to shoot towards me about the car. Although he happens to own a first-gen Innova, his excited inquisitiveness about an almost unchanged model took me by surprise. Borrowing some of my cousin’s curiosity then, I walked into a professionally managed Toyota dealership to pick my ride.
Before we dissect this 7-seater though, allow us to shed some light on the very first place you’d start with, if you happen to buy a Toyota Innova in the near future, or maybe tomorrow. I couldn’t find a single speck of dirt on the floor, and although I walked in dressed at my casual best, the woman at the reception noticed me from a distance, greeted me with a smile, asked me my name and deputed someone to fetch the keys in an instant.
Thinking it must be because of the purpose I was there for, I hid behind an ornamental tree and waited for someone else to enter, and that person too was treated in a similar professional fashion. I swear to the Lord Octane Almighty, I’ve been to some of the swankiest, world class banks dressed in crisp suits, and even they don’t bother to look at you unless you’ve finished admiring the Swarovski hanging from the ceiling and an impeccably dressed woman in her black framed glasses behind the cash counter.
Turns out, more than a review then, this is an attempt to decode the Innova’s popularity and it receives full marks in Round One for making a potential customer feel positive about his purchase, the moment he/she enters the showroom. Getting back to the car then, although he could’ve chosen not to, an attendant jogged me through everything about the car, handed over the keys, and with a smile, showed me the way out. We aren’t sugarcoating things here, Toyota even tops the J.D. Power sales satisfaction study.
I drove the car for some distance, got out and started to stare at the Innova with a puzzled look. Although not much has changed over the years since the MPV was first introduced in India, a lot has still changed. Read on.
Built on Toyota’s Global Outstanding Assessment (GOA) concept, over the years, the Toyota Innova has transformed to lose some chubby curves in favor of a few edgy elements. Flanked by eye shaped headlamps, the appearance of which mimics the observatory accessories of yesteryear Bollywood bombshells whose eyes were made to extend all the way till their ears, the front radiator grille has now grown bigger.
The three chrome slats within the center piece have become chunkier, and surrounded by a chrome strip that looks like a handlebar moustache, the front grille now runs deeper into the bumper. Fog lamps are enclosed in a C-shaped chrome surround and the prominent large air-dam on the earlier model has made way for a curved all-black patch that has a ridge running through the middle. The bonnet now gets a few creases, adding to the crispness.
Sideways, it looks unmistakably an Innova with blacked-out A, B and C-pillars and integrated blinkers in the electrically adjustable ORVMs. There is some more splash of chrome on the side molding, and the top-end ‘Z’ variant we tested comes with body graphics for better discrimination from its poorer brethren.
At the rear, the top variant gets a spoiler, while the tail-light design remains more or less the same as it was on the older model. Another shiny element of chrome runs across the width of the tailgate, hiding two reflectors under its wings, while reflective material is also embedded at each corner of the bumper, with a chrome tipped exhaust peeking out from the right. Spare wheel is still mounted externally at the bottom to liberate additional boot space.
To sum it up, although the Toyota Innova is an everyday sight on our roads, for a design that has been around for almost a decade, in isolation, it still looks alright and pretty savvy for an MPV.
It is for what the Innova offers on the inside that has been luring buyers in hordes. Our test car came equipped with front and middle row captain seats and the last row bench draped in hide. The large sized four-spoke steering wheel and the tall gear knob get leather treatment too, with some faux wood insert adding to the premium appeal. The steering wheel also gets modern controls for audio and telephony along with silver satin finished inserts, however is only adjustable for rake. Unreal wood also finds its way to the driver and passenger side window switch panel, leaving a curved trail beneath the center console. Sadly, only the driver side window gets an auto-down feature.
The instrument cluster is an electroluminescent unit that stays lit throughout; however, its brightness can be controlled. With analog dials for the rev counter, speedometer, fuel gauge and engine temperature, it remains a functional unit with a digital readout for the odometer and the trip meter.
Above the satin silver finished center console happens to be a Multi-information display that tells the time, average speed, distance-to-empty, real time efficiency, tells you the direction you’re headed in, outside temperature and has a blinking red sign if the passenger isn’t wearing the seatbelt. Information can be toggled via a switch on the steering wheel and also a couple buttons on the passenger side of the little screen.
Below the MID is a 2-DIN infotainment system that plays DVDs, all your music via Bluetooth, Aux-in and USB. The touch screen display also doubles up as a screen for the rear parking camera and scores pretty decently on touch sensitivity and readability. Audio quality from 6-speaker system was only acceptable though. Below the entertainment system are two large buttons for the hazard lights and rear de-mister, while further below is the familiar Air-conditioning control panel.
AC vents flank the large patch of shine in the center, while below the smiling bark of faux-wood is a little drawer and space for a power socket, USB & Aux-in jacks and a lighter for the cancer stick. Further below the leather wrapped gear stick are some cavities to hold your phone or wallet and some seriously deep storage space which also acts as an armrest for the driver.
We were bowled over by the quality of materials and the top-notch fit-n-finish, and although the bits inside lack some modernity, everything feels robust and built to last. As much as we tried, we just couldn’t find anything crude or ill-finished. Says a lot about the quality of workmanship and it isn’t for nothing that there are best-selling books out there singing praises about Toyota’s efforts to maintain quality.
It is fairly easy to attain a comfortable driving position, courtesy of the height adjustable driver seat and steering, however, we found the diameter of the steering wheel to be a tad too large. Since one of the USPs of the Innova happens to be space and comfort, you could be in any of the captain chairs and it definitely is a cozy place to be in, with a lot of room to stretch and relax.
The last row bench isn’t an afterthought and has acceptable space for adults for medium distance drives. It splits and folds to accommodate additional cargo. The air-conditioner is incredibly effective, as even in the month of April and four passengers in the car, never even once did we use any of the four additional rear ceiling vents.
As is the case with all Toyota cars now, the Innova comes with dual front airbags and an immobilizer as standard across all variants. Saving for the base ‘G’ spec models, ABS comes fitted in the rest of the line-up. Inside the cabin then, the Toyota Innova is a pretty comfortable place to be, but do things remain the same once on the move? Let’s find out.
Next page for an image gallery..
Although a little large, steering wheel feels nice to hold and those buttons will survive holocaust
Passenger side sun visor gets a vanity mirror. The ones in the back seat have all the space to fit a full size glass
Rear bench is quite a flexible athlete
Front passenger gets additional buttons to toggle between information on the MID
That isn’t a parking camera
That isn’t a rear washer
We never used any of those additional AC vents
That system is quite handy in the city for a long vehicle like the Innova
Notice how all those switches fit flush
No navigation system, but you’d always know where North is
Wonder what’s that infinity sign for?
Only the driver gets an auto down window
Shut lines are uniform and tight
Your grandparents will love those switches
The front central arm rest is so deep, the lid shuts comfortably even with a 1-liter bottle inside
AC is a chiller!
Next page for Performance, ride, handling and efficiency…
Performance, ride, handling and efficiency
Apart from the familiar silhouette, what has also been a constant companion to the Innova since its launch is the 2.5-liter, 16 valve, DOHC, common rail motor. Aided by a turbocharger, the old school motor pumps out 102 PS of power at 3600 rpm and 200 Nm of twist between 1200 – 3600 rpm. Crank it up and there is an evident diesel clatter that you hear on the outside, which also manages to filter through the cabin. Slot the long throw shifter into first and the MPV moves off the block in a sedate manner. The engine scores high on tractability and at times, you could use the third gear as an automatic to putter around town. There is hardly any lag and power is always delivered in a seamless manner. The only fly-in-the-ointment though is that gear ratios are short and even for such high cubic capacity, the engine doesn’t feel relaxed at high speeds, the noise from the motor only amplifying it further as the revs build up. Shifting between five forward gears using the tall stick is a smooth affair, but throws are too long, making the process a lengthy affair.
The Toyota Innova handles pretty predictably for an MPV that weighs 1680 kilos without any passenger on board. It isn’t a vehicle one would throw around corners to experience a rush, but for its size and proportions, body roll is kept well under control. Maneuverability in town isn’t all that tricky, but could’ve been better if the steering wheel had a smaller diameter. Having said that, the assisted steering system remains fairly light at city speeds and builds up some weight as the speed goes up.
What surprised us was the ride quality though, as all of us, including the other three passengers in the cabin found it to be on the stiffer side. The Innova glides through spaced out crests and waves just fine, but it is those closely spaced undulations on the road which the suspension refuses to absorb. It could’ve also been due to the fact that our test car was occupied by only two mortals during this test. The set-up may settle down with a couple more occupants and a few bags thrown in. The ride isn’t supple and isolating, but there isn’t too much of vertical pitch or unsettling movements that ruffle your feathers either, the package finds a fair balance.
With a front disc and rear drum anti-locking brake setup, the Innova can be brought to a halt without any drama and feedback at the pedal remains assuring, even under hard braking.
With a 55-liter fuel tank, the Innova can travel anything between 600 to 650 kms on a tankful, if the fluctuating figures of 10 – 12 kpl on the car’s onboard computer are to be believed.
Next page for what it made us feel..
Summing it up
The popularity of the Toyota Innova is difficult to decode. You’ve got to trust us when we say that, because even manufacturing giants have failed to replicate the success of this MPV. What exactly clicks in the favor of this family mover then? It definitely is the reliability that comes associated with the Toyota badge, the robust, almost unbreakable feel the entire package conveys, and the quality of components that add to the appeal. It could also be the acres of space inside the comfortable cabin or maybe even the experience at their showroom which leaves a lasting impression on a potential buyer.
The truth is, if you really are reading this review as a potential buyer or maybe even as an auto enthusiast, you’re at the wrong place. Call up that cab driver you know who has been driving one for almost 300,000 kilometers without a single squeak inside the cabin, or like me, call your cousin who owns one. They’ll tell you a lot more about the car.
Technical Specifications and Image Gallery: