IT’S too noisy,” complains my daughter, referring to the Toyota Verso-S’s engine as it labours its way through North London and up the M1. Proof that even a two-year-old, if exposed to enough different cars in quick succession, has the smarts required to be a motoring journalist.
She’s right too. Most of the time the four-cylinder 1,329cc VVT-i engine in this Toyota Verso-S is too loud. It’s a result of its being too underpowered. Up at speed it’s fine – even comfortable – with just a small amount of wind noise. But by God does this car wail getting there. It sounds incredibly overworked, fantastically flustered. You have to drag it kicking and screaming up to motorway speed. And I spent quite some time switching between the automatic option and shifting manually using the Multidrive S CVT transmission, to see if it was my driving that was lacking. But the truth is, the Toyota Verso-S’s 1.3-litre engine struggles under acceleration – which to be fair on Toyota is not a massive surprise given the engine’s small size. Still, it makes Toyota’s decision only to sell the Verso with this single oh-too-small engine option somewhat confounding. It also means it makes the car’s light weight – which the marketing men trumpet – much less significant. Unless you drive this car everywhere under gradual acceleration, secure in the knowledge that you are too old or too tired to race about like the cyclists overtaking you, then it will be a frustrating car to drive. And caning it everywhere will no doubt have a substantial negative effect on its fuel economy. The fuel figures are, otherwise, impressive enough.
To befuddle things further, there is a “Sport” button in the cabin. It switches the car out of its regular “Eco” mode. I tried this and then shifted using the F1-style paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. In performance terms, I was barely able to distinguish any change. From an excitement perspective, I may have coughed. How very odd.
Yet on paper the Verso-S looks pretty good. There is a lot of interior space packaged into its small exterior dimensions. Inside it does feel TARDIS-like. According to Toyota, the interior is similar in size to one you’d find in a family hatchback. That seems a reasonable claim to me. It’s only when you get out of the car and you’re walking away from it that you are reminded of its diminutive size.
The interior is comfortable and the captain’s chair I sit in is a nice touch – I have always liked such chairs, being a lounger at heart – and the boot space is big with a load floor that lifts up to reveal another lower level. But no amount of space can make up for the shocking use of plastic everywhere on the inside. Like last week’s Yaris – a car that shares the same engine with this Verso-S – the dash is upright and the switchgear – the buttons and dials – is in plastic (again). The relentless use of hard plastic makes the interior feel a little outmoded particularly when you consider the car’s price. Would a few rubber feeling dials have been too much to ask for? So all together the Verso-S feels very much like a one trick pony. Toyota consider it a mini MPV. I am not so sure that it is as practical as all that. I’m sure it’s a reliable and sensible little buy, completely adequate in moving four people about comfortably if not at all quickly. But for me there seems a few too many compromises to facilitate the use of that engine.
THE FACTS: TOYOTA YARIS
TOP SPEED: 103mph
CO2 G/KM: 120g/km
MPG COMBINED: 54.3mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY