TEST DRIVE OF THE NEW TOYOTA AVANZA

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The brand new 2016 Avanza isn’t all that new. It’s more of a face-lift and an update rather than a full fledged replacement of the previous generation. Its no secret that despite being the ugly duckling and the one Toyota that refuses to be cool in any way, the Avanza is still a bestseller and a genuine hit with the families in Bangladesh.

In fact, the Avanza is so uncool that it won’t even be marketed as anything cool either: it’s actually being marketed as a fool for families, a handy companion on road trips and a necessity on vacations. The ads send a clear message: if you have luggage and kids and diapers and wooden horses and gifts and hired help and aunts and uncles, you’ll need a car to transport them to places, and the Avanza is that car. Except its not a car, its an MPV. Also, it really can’t do all that.

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This is where the whip breaks the horse and you’re left stranded on the side of the road. The Avanza, with all its promises of being efficient with your luggage and fitting ungodly amounts of it in the seemingly black-hole like confines of its body, can fit only marginally less luggage than your average crossover SUV. Like the Honda HRV and its JDM brother, the Vezel. As everyone has well established, the Vezel promises a lot and delivers more: it looks cool, is stable, and has all the equipment and space you’d need. Considering I myself have driven a 2013 Vezel on the highway at 160 km/h with 6 and a half people, three standard size suitcases, several large handbags, backpacks and a stuffed monkey…yeah, I would take the Vezel any day. Its not that the Avanza is horrid or is a terribly bad deal, its just not that…special. And at 32 lakhs, Honda Vezel territory, it really doesn’t offer much in the way of argument in its favour.

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Under the hood is a 1.5 litre dual VVTI 4 cylinder 2NR-VE motor making 103 HP and 100 lb-ft torque. It won’t set fire to the tyres and it won’t make a Prius embarrassed with its fuel economy, but that’s the thing. The Avanza is not an extraordinary car, and it won’t feel extraordinary in the way it accelerates and hauls loads. However, the car does feel capable and composed, if not a little deceiving – you’ll be surprised at the amount of power the Avanza has in its reserves. That engine is a solid unit, and will sit well with people who feel like driving their 7 seat MPV.

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That is the apparent top trump of the Avanza – its three rows of seating and their folding properties. Smart minds will note that the Vezel has 5 seats and the second and last row of seating does not fold down. You’d be right, but no one cares about theoretical space – to actually make use of the Avanza’s third row of seating, you need to be an amputee with no legs, half a right or left hand, and forget about converting to CNG and carrying luggage and all of those other impractical ideas. The middle and last row seats don’t even fold flat, which doesn’t really make sense to me if the point of folding them in the first place is to have more space. So yes, sorry to break the bubble, but the Avanza’s space and luggage hauling abilities are a myth and quite overstated.

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The interior – take a close look at the materials used and the build quality, you’ll find it a little underwhelming for a 30 lakhs plus vehicle. However, ergonomically it makes a lot of sense – the interior is functional, easy to clean baby poo from, and will withstand the long and extensive abuse of family use. There’s also a treasure trove of cubby holes and convenient spaces for storage that you will be thankful for. The biggest improvement comes about on the outside – the front end is all new and features a new grille, headlights, bumper and fenders, while the rear features a new smoked light cluster. It looks good, more muscular and shapely than the previous generation.

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In the end, the looks and the utilitarian aspect of the Avanza is its saving grace. There might be more cars out there which might make more sense and provide a better balance of luxury, utility, looks and user friendliness, but comparison aside, the Avanza is still supremely capable as a family car. If you have issues with the price, you can always find a second generation Avanza for sale at around 22-24 lakhs, secondhand. In the end, that makes more sense than buying new.

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