Toyota's popular entry-level MPV, the Avanza, has recently received a host of improvements.  The second generation Avanza went on sale earlier this year and has a newly designed interior and exterior.  It is more sophisticated and spacious than its predecessor and has improved safety features, fuel economy and CO2 emissions.  In a move to keep the Avanza up-to-date with what customers require from an entry-level MPV, Toyota has in fact given this car a more upmarket feel at a slightly higher price bracket.

The new Avanza has grown in length by 20 mm and in width by 25 mm.  Its side windows are now elongated which gives a single pane of glass look and makes the car seem bigger than what it already is.  It has a Yaris-like front snout, a body-coloured grille and arrow-shaped headlights.  There is a prominent muscular character-line running along the side of the car with flared wheel-arches housing 14 inch steel wheels (in the S and SX models) and 15 inch alloys (in the TX model).  Re-styled brakelamps at the back together with a tail spoiler bearing a third brake light and a flared-out tail door completes the picture.

Inside, the 'utility vehicle' theme of the past has been replaced with a more upmarket and car-like feel.  The new Avanza has a lowered instrument panel giving better driver visibility and a centrally located car-like cluster housing air vents, audio and ventilation controls.  With the focus being on creating more space inside, Toyota has installed thinner seatbacks and slightly revised door trimmings to achieve more leg and knee room in the second and third rows and in so doing, also delivering a boot area that is 18mm bigger than the old Avanza.  The designers have also focused on the second row of seats in the higher-spec models, offering passengers a sliding function for more legroom.  The Avanza range encompasses the S model, which features remote central locking, power steering, immobiliser and electric windows.  The SX model adds electric mirrors, air-conditioning and the already mentioned sliding second-row seats while the TX brings in roof-mounted vents for the rear passengers, a 4-speaker sound system with USB input and dual-zone climate control.

The new Avanza's specifications come with a choice of either a 1.3 or 1.5 litre VVT-I petrol engine.  These are the same engines carried over from the outgoing model, however, the new Avanza's lighter construction (20 kg less), improved air conditioning management system, new electric power steering module and low rolling resistance tyres all help to reduce fuel consumption and engine performance significantly.  The 1,5 litre unit powers at 76 kW and 136 Nm of torque while the 1,3 is maxed at 67 kW and 117 Nm.  In terms of engine upgrades, the biggest new development in the new Avanza range is the addition of a four-speed automatic SX model.  When it comes to economy the 1.3 litre engine clocks in at around 7.7 litres/100km with the 1.5 automatic netting 7.6 litres/100km and the 1.5 manual netting 7.2 litres/100km.

With safety in mind, all models come standard with ABS with EBD, remote central locking, immobiliser and dual airbags.  Toyota has reportedly improved shock absorber rebound rates, increased the tyre tread widths and increased the caster angle and trail rates to give the new Avanza a more sure-footed, sticks-on-the-road ability.

If you're looking at buying a vehicle in this class, the new Toyota Avanza is well worth a test drive.  All models come with a 4 year/60 000 km service plan and a 3 year/100 000 km warranty. Pricing has stepped up to R155 900 for the 1.3 and R202 200 for the top of the range TX model.  More demanding on the wallet when compared to the old range it replaces, but more aesthetically pleasing this time - inside and out.  (Prices are subject to change according to various factors so please consult your dealer for the latest price.)

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