There is something quite exceptional about the Toyota Innova as a product. It has been around for 13 years now and in that time, it has emerged as something that would not miss a step on the sales chart even if Toyota spun it off as a standalone product. In a part of the market where even 1000-1500 units a month is considered a special achievement, the Innova stands like a juggernaut with an average monthly sale of over 5000 units!
The obvious question, in the context of the title then, is, what makes the Innova such a success? Well what better way to find out than to hit the highway on a lengthy road trip. Well in our case, it was for an epic 2600km return journey from Mumbai to Delhi to cover the Auto Expo 2018.
We drove an Innova Touring Sport. It gets a multi-tone paint job, powder coated wheels and slightly more exciting interiors as compared to the standard car. Lastly, the Touring Sport diesel AT model that we used is priced Rs 1.16 lakhs more than the equivalent 2.8 ZX AT Crysta.
Is it practical?
Normally, this would have been a bit of a challenge and was a big one here as we had to look at the Touring Sport in a different light. That’s because this car is a people mover. That means you get all the door storage, cup/bottle holders and useful spaces that one would expect in normal cars and some more.
Take, for example, cup holders. In a normal car you get maybe four or five depending on which part of the market the car is in. But because this Innova Touring Sport has three rows- you get nine and of these two are present on the rear tray tables while the ones attached to the dashboard double up as cooling units.
The boot with the third row folded offers you 983-litres which might not seem like a lot but thanks to the high roofline, it is easy to stack cargo at the back. This high roofline plays a big role even when the third row is down as you still get sufficient storage space to stack up your luggage despite the puny 300-litre capacity.
But what set the Touring Sport/Crysta aside are the little touches. Take for example the fact that most of these cup holders are wide enough to accommodate bottles of various sizes thus taking their total numbers to 22! The second row seats have a one touch tumble function and you can even move the front passenger seat from there thanks to latch on its right shoulder.
However, the ones that really caught my attention was the angle in which the climate control switches have been placed as well as little clips for holding the second rows seats belts when the seats are folded up. In the case of the former, it looks odd but once you start using the system, its spot-on ergonomics are quite visible.
How is it for a weekend with the gang?
When we created this property a year ago, our idea of this labour was to understand and convey if the car was capable of helping its occupants get away for a weekend. It was the same here albeit the weekend extended to the rest of the week and then into the next weekend too.
The Innova is a people carrier and that means this is pretty much its true calling. Since luggage storage was never an issue we packed whatever we felt like and it all fitted in. Thanks to the captain seats in the second row, each of the four occupants got their individual space, so much so that we were able to plug in a car inverter, start up our laptops and conduct business while out on the highway. We were able to comfortably carry out conversations for sustained periods at triple digit speeds and the only thing we found lacking was any kind of lumbar support.
What is it like to commute with?
At 4.7-meters, the Innova is not just big by Indian standards but by global standards too. It means that in our sea of hatchbacks and compact sedans, the Innova is massive and makes a sizeable footprint. However, because it is longer than it is wider, slinking between other vehicles is surprisingly easy. The six-speed box has been tuned in such a way that you get a significant amount of the 360Nm under 2000rpm, thus allowing you to easily lug the car’s 1.88-tonne mass without much effort. The ride is on the stiffer side and not very well masked and this you tend to feel and notice when the car is unloaded and going through the multitude of potholes that define our roads.
However, what you appear to gain in moving, you lose in parking thanks to the Innova Crysta’s dimensions. Blame it on the size of the car or the lack of forethought by our urban planners with regard to inner city parking spaces; it’s a tough job parking the Innova. You are always going to have some part of the car sticking out onto the road if you aren’t parallel parked and even to do the latter, it takes quite a bit of effort as the steering requires four turns to go from lock to lock. You get all the necessary parking aids like a colour reverse camera with a dynamic grid as well as parking sensors but even that will only take you so far if you haven’t developed the skills to park in tight spaces.
Is it fun to drive?
Fun is a relative term when talking about the Innova. Driving a hot hatchback or a fast rear wheel drive sedan is a rush but for a car like the Innova it is about putting in the kilometers as quickly as possible in decent comfort. The 2.8-litre diesel mill produces a 174bhp/360Nm whereas the latter is available from 1200rpm to 3400rpm. That's a rather narrow band for the six-speed automatic gearbox to work the engine. This means you have to drive the car the way it is meant to be driven rather than forcing it to perform at higher rpms. Within the torque band it’s quite easy to maintain triple digit speeds and eat up the kilometers as you go.
Save for certain places in Rajasthan; most of our route from Mumbai to Delhi was on flat roads with very little change in terms of gradient. On these bits the Innova demonstrated really good straight line stability, a fact no doubt helped along by load we were placing on the suspension. Around the big bends, it did roll but not as much as we expected and again if you prep yourself for the turn rather than react to it, the Innova will do just fine. Because the NVH insulation managed to mask a lot of stuff from the outside, we didn’t feel the fatigue hit us even after spending a good part of 14 hours out on the road in the blazing sun.
Is it good with features?
At Rs 26.43 lakhs (on-road Delhi) The Innova Touring has been fitted with climate control, touch screen infotainment system, leather upholstery, powered driver’s seat, seven airbags, ABS with EBD, ESP and traction control as standard. These are standard at this price range and we would expect no less of Toyota.
The extras that they have given this car include intensity adjustable mood lighting, vents for row 3 with fan speed adjustment, tray tables for the second row and of course, faux wood inserts on the dashboard.
Now all this is good and as we said before, the ergonomics which are a consequence of more than 15 years of MPV making, is spot on. But there is one major flaw. The infotainment system once again feels like an after-thought. The graphics are not crisp and it is not as intuitive to use as something the Germans would offer in a similar price range. It lacks Android Auto/Apple CarPlay and given how the Innova is sold as a chauffeur driven vehicle, we would have expected Toyota to develop a mobile app of some kind to allow the rear passengers to control the system through their smart phones.
There is no doubt that Innova, be it in the Touring Sport or Crysta guise, is a damn good product. It’s Toyota’s cash cow and performs at a level unheard of in this part of the market. Sure, there are flaws but these have been outweighed by the good stuff, thus giving the car credibility.
In terms of our labours, it has managed to crack all five of the tests we put it through. This combined with the reputation that Toyota holds in terms of after sales and service gives us an idea of why the car is so successful. At the time of writing this story, the Innova Touring Sport 2.8 diesel AT was priced at Rs 26.43 lakhs (on-road Delhi).
Photos: Kaustubh Gandhi