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On the road
The first thing you notice about the car is that, of course, you sit slightly higher on the road than in your average Corolla.
This gives the benefit of being, in part, able to see over the tops of ordinary sedans and station wagons, but there's a big disadvantage in terms of straight-ahead vision, for the Verso's nose falls away sharply and you have absolutely no idea where it is when you're parking.
Some European versions get a camera to help in this regard, but we'll have to make do with the infra-red parking aids which come in the top model - or the old "listen for the crunch" method.
The seating position is comfortable, and the front seats well padded, especially the side bolsters, which hold one very firmly in place.
The steering column has tilt and reach adjustment, and the front seats both lift and recline, so adjustment there is excellent.
The steering wheel has three spokes, with satellite controls for the sound system inset into the spokes, and allows excellent visibility to the instrument binnacle.
This comprises three "overlapping" dials with black lettering on a white background, and comprising a rev counter, speedo (reading to 240 km/h) and a fuel gauge, while temperature control is taken care of by coloured lights. Green indicates the engine has reached operating temperature.
Not a lot of creativity has been spent on the Verso's interior colour scheme - you get either black or black - and the only offset to this is the very large centre console which is finished in silver plastic with little translucent blue relief panels.
The gear change lever is placed on its own satellite panel (again with a silver-coloured surround) which juts out from the console, and allows a lot more legroom in front.
There's lots of headroom throughout the vehicle, and legroom in the second row of seats is excellent, with 240 mm of fore-aft adjustment and several degrees of recline in the backrest, allowing passengers to also achieve a really comfortable seating position.
The third row of seats is really just for children, and doesn't allow much legroom for adults.
While we're talking about seats, that Easy Flat-7 system is really, as its name implies, extremely easy to operate.
One touch releases each backrest, which them slides forward (with the headrest attached) while the seat squab sort of sinks down into the space left behind. This leaves a flat load area which is at the same level as the seat squabs in the "up" position - it's not merely a matter of "flop forward" on top of the squabs.
The nett result is that very large items can be carried - long, tall or flat, combined with people. I don't know whether two bikes can be carried upright - that will have to wait for the road test...
Toyota says there's 397 litres of load space behind the seats, with all seats up and loading only to the top of the seats, which isn't bad at all.
The first car we drove was the 180SX with M-MT, and this proved very useful in the first few kilometres as we navigated out of Johannesburg International and into the traffic.
In the automatic mode - E (for Easy) on the centre console "gate" - changes can be a little jerky if you keep your foot flat through each gear change, or very smooth if you lift off the power for each upshift.
The same applies in M (for manual) or Ms (for manual sport). This time you have to shift the gear lever forward or back for each gear change, and it's more natural to ease off the power a bit, just as you would when driving a manual with a clutch.
The M function is aimed at slower changes for better economy, while the Ms function gives faster changes for sporty driving.
On the whole I found it an acceptable system, and believe users will find it totally acceptable after a few days.
The manual, which I drove later, was totally Corolla - a trifle rubbery between the gears, but a short and positive click into place. Again, acceptable.
At first all the driving was in traffic, and the throttle response proved excellent for quick overtaking (with three adults aboard). Later we got the opportunity to put "pedal to the metal" in Mpumalanga, and revelled in the excellent grip and roadholding through the long fast sweeps that Province is famous for.
We also noticed that wind and road noise was at a very low level, and the engine note well within acceptable levels.
Summing up, with its excellent service levels and a wide dealer network, Toyota will probably exceed its targets quite easily.
The MPV market is showing lots of growth, and although there are more newcomers joining the ranks this year - notably the Volkswagen Touran and the seven-seater Renault Grand Scenic - the sheer weight of numbers of the Toyota dealer base will prove extremely advantageous.
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