The Toyota Innova and Fifty Shades of Grey

toyota_innova_07When Akio Toyoda, a self-proclaimed car guy, assumed the leadership of Toyota a few years ago, he outlined a path of renewal for the world’s largest auto maker, promising cars that look more appealing and also more pleasurable to drive. Somehow, I wonder if the Toyota Innova was on the top of Toyoda-san’s mind when he said that.

After 12 long years of service, which isn’t abnormally lengthy for a generation of ladder frame-based models (including the Hilux and Fortuner) to exist, the Toyota Innova is once again all new for Malaysia. It goes without saying that version 2.0 brings a raft of changes and improvements. The question then is, how much better will the new one be?

Sensuous to the touch: this view could be a Camry, or even a Lexus.
Feeling is believing

If UMW Toyota is going to sell lots of these (the target is 400 units per month), I would suggest a sales ploy inspired by the movie Fifty Shades of Grey where customers are led blindfolded into the Innova’s cabin for an intimate touch-and-feel session (with the car, not the sales person). The Toyota designers must have figured that it was near impossible to make a truck-based MPV to look sleek and fetching, so they’ve gone out of their way to put together a rather premium habitat.

Innova gets the nicest interior among three new frame-based Toyota models.

Door armrests aren’t necessarily the sexiest items you’d find in a car, but the ones on the Innova’s front door cards are worthy of close scrutiny. Not only are they curvaceous and tightly skinned in an alcantara-like fabric, they also double up pleasingly as door handles too. And then there’s the dashboard; a mix of high-touch textured surfaces and contrasting layers that would make a Lexus owner pull envious glances.

Access to third row is easy, but second row needs to slide forward to make room for legs behind.

I could go on about how expensive the instrument cluster look, or how well thought out the seat benches are, requiring only a light touch to fold or stow them. For families with a high head count (up to eight if you must), the many useful cubby spaces and overhead air-conditioning blowers are simply heaven-sent. And Toyota even added ambient illumination for a touch of class. Suffice to say, this new Innova interior is quite the revelation.

Mood lighting nice to have, air-con ventilation for the second and third rows critical for Malaysian weather.
Wagon on stilts

If the Toyota sales person plays his/her cards right, the customer should be signing on the dotted line right after the cabin tour. This isn’t to say that the new Innova is charmless on the outside, but the hike in ground clearance (to an SUV-challenging 200mm) coupled with a longer, squarer body shell with increased overhangs make for a silhouette that’s unusually gangly, like a large station wagon on stilts. The Innova’s credentials as an indestructible people carrier for the ASEAN region may have been raised a few notches too with this new robust look, but pretty it isn’t.


Wagon-esque: wheelbase is unchanged but new Innova is taller, wider, squarer and longer.

I’m guessing that Toyota intended for the occupants to have a more elevated sensation when driving and riding in the new Innova. Seated behind the wheel, it is (hand to heart) a surprisingly pleasant ride and painlessly easy to steer. The Innova can now hold its ground against other monocoque-based rivals as its mechanical refinement is no longer truck-like as before. The reworked frame probably has a lot to do with it, but I reckon it’s the new six-speed automatic that’s making all the difference.

Well earned retirement: first generation Innova was launched back in 2005, it sold for 12 years.

It is however still rather slow in building speeds (0-100km/h in 16.4 seconds), with the marginal powertrain gains pegged back by a higher kerb weight. But because the automatic is always on point, the subjective sensation is much more flattering than the bald numbers suggest, and it’ll now do a refined cruise at 110km/h with the engine ticking over at no more than 2300 revs per minute. Toyota also claims an 18% improvement in fuel efficiency for the automatic variants (10.8km/l), and 12% for the five-speed manual (10.6km/l). Not exactly a frugal MPV on paper, and your mileage will vary.

Will Toyoda-san approve of this?

Large MPVs are bought for specific purposes, and the second generation Innova doesn’t reinvent the wheel in that respect. It may be mundane-looking to many, but last-gen Innova owners and new MPV shoppers now have reasons beyond just Toyota’s reputation for reliability to be enthused about this new eight-seater – the standout cabin, newfound refinement and strong safety specs (seven airbags and electronic stability control for the top variant) are as good a motivation as any. Even car guys need to ferry their families, right?

Toyota Innova
Price: RM109,000 (2.0E MT) to RM126,000 (2.0G AT) (incl. insurance and GST)
Engine: 2.0-litre, inline-4, RWD
Output: 139hp @ 5,600rpm, 183Nm @ 4,000rpm
Transmission: 6-sp automatic w/ manual mode
Performance: 0-100km/h in 16.4 seconds, top speed N/A
Wheels/tyres: 16in alloys, 205/65 R16
Safety: 7-airbags, Electronic Stability Control (2.0G)
Warranty: 5-year / unlimited mileage