The new Avanza represents a comprehensive cosmetic upgrade. Though based on the same platform, it uses sharper, all-new sheet metal. There are more curves in the flanks, and the dynamic front and rear bring the model’s looks fully into the 21st Century. Only the old fashioned keyholes underneath the door handles reveal the car’s rather plebeian roots. Our 1.5 G tester also comes with extra kit in the form of neat asymmetric alloy wheels and a roof-lip spoiler.
The interior also gets a good reworking. The silver-on-beige dashboard and door cards are much better than before. While the plastics are still hard and shiny, they at least attempt to look appealing. Build quality has also improved. No buzzes and rattles this time around, though sound insulation is still lacking. The seats are still flat and thin, but better cushioned. The narrow cabin and plastic seat hinges make life uncomfortable for the middleman in the second row, but legroom is decent all around. Even the third row works for short trips. The easy-fold seats make for good cargo space, but it’d be better if the third row were removable.
There aren’t many luxuries in here besides an integrated stereo system with steering wheel controls. It doesn’t sound all that great, but it features an auxiliary jack and a USB slot. It’s strange having USB but not a 12v power socket. There’s a plastic blank where the socket goes, but nothing behind it. It isn’t even a dealership option. At least the Avanza has the most important utility vehicle utility... rear air conditioning. The roof-mounted system is more than adequate for the task, but you can feel the engine strain when you first turn it on.
That 102 hp 1.5 liter engine inherited from the previous car is punchy enough, but the automatic transmission is reluctant to kick down when overtaking. The four-speed could also use another gear on the highway, as the engine spins at well over 3,000 rpm at 100 km/h. This unit was still pretty “green” (just 1,013 kms on the odometer), so our economy figure of 9.3 km/l in mixed driving should improve. Experience with the previous Avanza suggests 11 to 13 km/l is possible, and 0 to 100 km/h should take around 13 seconds when the engine is fully broken-in.
So how does it go? The old Avanza rode softly, but was somewhat wayward and alarmingly... pointy... thanks to a tall rear end. The new Avanza is still somewhat soft, but the rear feels somewhat better planted. Though the front tires flutter a bit over uneven roads, straight line stability is decent enough. Despite the same 185/65R15 Dunlop Sport SP10 tires and the same overly-eager steering, the Avanza is now actually fun (rather than frightening) to drive.
Then again, this narrow MPV’s tippy handling limits are best explored... never. It’s better enjoyed in city traffic, where the short gearing, sharp handling and small footprint allow you to thread through traffic like a tricycle. The quick-geared steering, with an amazing 3.7 turns of steering lock, gives it a tricycle-like turning circle, too. While back-up sensors would be appreciated, the Avanza’s tall windows and near panoramic view make them less necessary than on bigger utility vehicles.
Worth the Price?
The Avanza competes in a very crowded MPV market. The base 1.3 matches up to the spacious Suzuki APV, whereas this top-of-the-line 1.5G knocks heads with the more car-like Nissan Grand Livina. The Avanza is more economical than either, but it’s probably best to stay away from the automatic-equipped 1.3E variant (P743,000) if you’re planning to carry heavy loads. Pick of the litter would be the manual 1.3 E (P703,000), the lowest model with power windows.
Perhaps the Avanza’s biggest problem is the one brooding over it in the showroom. For the exact same amount of money as this 1.5 G (P 868,000), you can drive home an Innova Diesel. Granted, this is the stripped down, manual “J” variant, but the extra space and diesel frugality make it a very appealing proposition. Even better, it has a 12v power socket. Like the can opener on a Swiss Army Knife, it’s something some of us can’t live without.