The versatile compact MPV

Flexibility is the key to a compact MPV and this is where the Toyota beats its rivals hands (and seats) down.

Toyota's Verso lost its 'Corolla' tag in 2005 and gained a couple of cracking new diesel engines in the process. One of which, the 134bhp 2.2 D-4D, was enough to help the Verso to its first, well deserved, Car of the Year award.

We have always admired the ease with which the Verso transforms from seven- to five- to two-seater, along with the way it looks, the way it was built and the way it drives. Yet it never had a diesel engine good enough to do the rest of the car justice. Until now.

The most important aspect of MPV ownership is practicality. Space isn't the main priority with a compact MPV but flexibility is the key - and that's where the Toyota beats its rivals hands (and seats) down.

Each seat in rows two and three folds flat into the floor in seconds, while there is none of the knuckle-grazing, muscle-straining action that is required to remove some of the seats from last year's winner, the VW Touran. The seats in the middle row tilt and slide forward independently of each other, while there's enough width for three adults to sit in the middle row in reasonable comfort.

Space is not great if you happen to find yourself in row three (best left to the kids) while you will struggle to carry much luggage with seven on board. Still, you do get an excellent safety package, with nine airbags, a generous level of luxury kit in our favoured T3 model, and a good quality and reliability record.

That new D-4D diesel engine is clean, frugal, powerful and refined. Combine that with tidy handling and a ride that is firm, but not jolting, and you get an MPV that is most unlike an MPV to drive.

- Published in What Car? Car of the Year March 2006.

Price: £18,100
Acceleration: 0-60mph 9.4 seconds
Top speed: 122mph
Insurance group: 8
MPG: urban 35.3/ ex-urban 53.3/combined 44.8
What Car? rating: 4 out of 5
What Car? verdict: Clever MPV, but drive could be better
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GP REVIEW: Verso 2.2 D-4D T3

Until my daughter was born, I didn't understand compact MPVs. But a taller car, with big wide opening doors and a width to hold three adults in comfort makes travelling around with half of Mothercare on board a bit easier. My wife bought last year's What Car? compact MPV winner - a VW Touran.

Now, we have tried this year's winner - Toyota Verso 2.2 D-4D T3. I am a diesel fan and this 134bhp engine does not disappoint. I was less impressed with the brakes, which need firm pressure to shake off speed. You cannot expect a sporty ride from an extra heavy, extra high hatch-sized car, but it was an enjoyable drive. It does a great job of driving like a car rather than a van which is rare in this category.

Interior materials don't match the quality of the VW, but looks are much less bland. The five rear seats are extremely easy to adjust.

This car oozes practicality. One moment it was carrying my mountain bike on its flat rear layout and the next, my family including great grandparents, who climbed easily on board.

I found the Verso versatile, practical and safe, but I still won't swap our slightly larger, sturdier Touran just yet.

- Dr Sam Holden is a GP in Staffordshire.

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