MANY moons ago Renault launched a car that drove a bit like a car but could seat seven people in comfort. It was called the Espace and it created the multi-purpose vehicle or MPV segment. It was a bit of a game-changer, if a little on the large side.528254_T_8931

Many moons later Vauxhall worked out a way of squeezing seven useable seats into a much smaller frame. That was called the Zafira and it created the mini MPV segment.

Mini MPVs are easier to drive, easier to park, easier to see out of, and all that makes it easier to establish which child has thrown up.

528262_T_8933They’re also more economical and tend to be much cheaper. It’s no surprise the band wagon has been leapt upon with serious enthusiasm by all and sundry.

Toyota makes one of these mini MPVs and it’s called the Verso and it’s long been a popular choice. Toyota’s reliability and build quality woos the savvy family car buyers in great numbers. But in the past it’s had a bit of a poor choice of engines.

In its latest edition, Toyota has stuck to its winning design formula but plopped in a much better diesel sourced from BMW and it’s made for a much better car all round.528266_T_8942

The new engine offers a purported 62.8mpg which, coupled with the simple but effective design of the Verso, makes it one of the strongest contenders of the market.

Of course, Toyota being a bit of a behemoth in the global car market, they haven’t just hoisted a power plant from a Mini or a One-series and mounted it in their mini MPV, they’ve fiddled about with some choice parts to ensure it’s a comfortable fit in a larger car.

The 1.6 D-4D replaces the old 2.0-litre D-4D engine and for the first time it’s mated to a six-speed gearbox which, as a package, delivers better efficiency saves weight. A win-win.

528270_T_8944Maximum power is rated at 110bhp at 4,00rpm and peak torque is 270Nm, generated from 1,750 to 2,250rpm, so it’ll never leave you feeling short-changed as you pull away from a junction.

Acceleration to 62mph from a standstill is covered off in a surprisingly swift 12.7 seconds and it’ll scoot all the way to 115mph.

But what really matters is the design and layout, which is family focused and honed to perfection.629737_051212toy_Toyota_Verso_015

All five rear seats fold down into the floor to create a totally flat loading surface and have a simple one-touch operation to fold each one flat. The rear-most pair of seats are small people only, but it’s great to have them when needed.

In the latest Verso there is more storage around the cabin, including a twin-compartment glove box that has a cooled upper section large enough to carry a 1.5-litre bottle, and an 8.2-litre lower section.

It’s fair to say its handling prowess won’t do anything to excite you but it shouldn’t need to in this type of car. It rides well, that said, and that actually is important.

629739_051212toy_Toyota_Verso_023The improved engine will help close the gap on the likes of the Citroen C4 Picasso which, in my opinion, is its strongest rival.

Renault also has its Scenic, Ford offers a C-MAX and Volkswagen has its Touran. Not forgetting the car that started it all, the Vauxhall Zafira.

Unlike some of its rivals, there aren’t any headline-grabbing features, ostentatious styling quirks or marketing gimmicks to draw you in, but there’s a generous list of equipment, sterling build quality and now, for the first time, a great engine and transmission package.

It’s removed a major drawback from a car that had only one major drawback.

It’s an example of clever and sensible product evolution and Toyota deserves praise for creating a simple, un-fussy option in a whole new world of over-designed and over-complicated competitors.