Since its launch in 2006, the Avanza has been a steady seller for Toyota. Catering to the ‘Asian utility vehicle’ market that the brand left behind when it ditched the boxy Tamaraw Revo for the more upscale—and expensive—Innova, the Avanza has become a common fixture on local roads. Over the next two generations and through several facelifts, it hasn’t changed all that much. Then again, why fix what ain’t broken? The Avanza is the last real AUV on the market, and therein lies its primary appeal.
The ‘edgy’ styling, introduced with the Prius-aping 2015 facelift, has been taken up a notch with bold new split-level headlights and a more Lexus-like grille. Out back, changes to the sheet metal are less drastic—indeed, the new taillights would slot right into the older 2012 car—but the inclusion of a chrome garnish and reflectors on the trunk allow it to mirror the split-level theme up front nicely.
Elsewhere, there are few surprises. There are only so many ways you can dress the Avanza’s squarish flanks. A new ‘Dark Blue SE’ paint supersedes the previous ‘Nebula Blue.’ While it provides more contrast with the brightwork, the deep color is a bit more difficult to capture in photographs. The new split-spoke wheels are still just 15-inchers, but they’re one spoke up from the old ones, and do look quite nice.
Interior updates are much subtler. The instrument cluster gets blue accents instead of red, there’s a neater and more modern-looking factory touchscreen, and new electronic HVAC controls replace the big clunky dials of old. The Avanza loses the chocolate-brown seats and color accents, gaining an all-black interior with a smattering of metallic and red in the process. I do feel the old chocolate color palette had more personality, but black will probably be easier to clean down the road.
The thin contrast-stitched seats are pretty basic, but they provide adequate support, Isofix compatibility, and shoulder belts for all passengers. Slim seatbacks, along with the Avanza’s unibody construction, provide much better space utilization than in many ladder-frame PPVs a class up. Upright doors make third-row access quite easy—as long as you have space to open them fully. Trunk space is limited with all rows in place, but tumble the split-fold third row forward and there’s a good amount of storage. While the Avanza still lacks in usable cubby holes, there’s plenty of bottle and cup storage this time around.
The carried-over 1.5-liter 2NR engine gives decent poke, and the four-speed automatic, though lacking a true manual shift function, responds well enough when you kick down out of Drive to overtake. While the short fourth gear limits the fuel economy to around 14-16km/L on the expressway, we achieved a surpisingly decent 11-13km/L in mixed use. This is due in part, likely, to the 185/65 R15 Dunlop Enasave ‘eco’ tires, which boast less rolling resistance than the Dunlop Sports on the previous G variant.
Thankfully, the tires don’t seem any less capable than the Sports in terms of handling. There’s sufficient grip, and body roll will convince you to back off long before the tires start complaining. The suspension feels better damped than before, but still choppy compared to front-wheel-drive competitors. The vehicle also feels a bit wayward at speed due to the overlight steering. Around town, that steering, along with the big windows and the slim pillars, makes the Avanza ridiculously easy to maneuver in heavy traffic and parking lots.
Aside from the electronic climate control, the biggest update to the Avanza is a touchscreen shared with the recently updated Camry. Boasting clearer menus and a slim bezel, it’s a nice touch, but the sound quality from the Avanza’s speakers still leaves something to be desired. There’s Bluetooth and a USB-based smartphone mirroring feature, but it’s a fiddly one, requiring an app and developer access on Android. Despite having all the necessary tools, I never managed to get it working. Hopefully, the next update will bring the full-fat Android Auto and Apple CarPlay experience.
So, the smattering veneer of modernity can’t disguise the fact that this is still basically the same Avanza that we’ve been getting for the past several years. That isn’t such a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with the Avanza’s 21st-century AUV formula, and it has the sales numbers to back it up. While it doesn’t quite boast the depreciation-proof residual value of the Innova, in part due to the lack of diesel, it promises worry-free family motoring for years to come.
SPECS: Toyota Avanza 1.5 G AT
Engine: 1.5-liter gasoline I4
Power: 103hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 136Nm @ 4,200rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Drive layout: RWD