The MPV – multi-purpose vehicle – is not an entirely new concept; even back in the 1980s, there were vehicles which served different purposes, for work, for personal transportation and for recreation. UMW Toyota Motor was one of the first companies to introduce the concept of the MPV with the Toyota Liteace Wagon, basically a window van with lots of passenger car features.

Back then, window vans were originally designed for commercial use so even though the interior could be appointed comfortably, the driving dynamics left a lot to be desired and the choppy ride could be rather unpleasant. But the Liteace started a trend (UMW Toyota Motor even created a customer activity called the ‘Toyota Lifestyle’ to promote its multi-purpose capability) and many other companies also began to offer vans configured for personal use.

In the late 1990s, a new type of MPV arrived in the form of the Unser. This was Toyota’s best-selling model in Indonesia (where it was known as the Kijang) and had actually been specially developed for that market. It was a cross between a window van and a large stationwagon with three rows of seating. The driving dynamics were closer to a car’s and it was so appealing to Malaysians that it became UMW Toyota Motor’s best-seller, out-selling even the Corolla (the Vios had not been introduced yet). The Unser made ‘MPV’ a household word, an ideal vehicle for large families who could not afford two cars. It was durable, having been engineered for the rougher Indonesian roads and it was affordable.

Liteace Wagon (left) of 1980s was first Toyota MPV, followed by the Unser (right) in 1998 which made
‘MPV’ a household term and accelerated sales to make this type of vehicle the second most popular
Second generation of Avanza retains strong points of original (inset top right) with a sleeker style

In 2001, Kaoru Hosokawa, a chief engineer in Toyota, began work on a massive industrial project by the company which would create a range of new Innovative International Multi-purpose Vehicles (IMV). The IMV project saw three models being developed and manufactured on a global scale never before attempted by the company. The models – the Hilux pick-up, Innova MPV and Fortuner SUV – were engineered on a different cost base and offered at more competitive price points, primarily for customers in developing countries and emerging markets.

While developing the IMV models, Mr. Hosokawa also had a parallel project that was internally referred to as ‘Under-IMV’. It was a project that was well hidden and competitors were largely unaware of it, instead focussing their attention on the Innova which was to be a new generation of the Kijang. The ‘Under-IMV’ project was for a smaller MPV and used a lot of the experience from the larger IMV process. Because it was expected that Indonesia would be the main market, the needs of Indonesia customers were studied more closely although conditions and requirements of other markets were also studied and considered, according to Mr. Hosokawa.

The smaller IMV, launched in Malaysia in 2005, was an instant hit with the right combination of versatility, 7-seater capability and the right price points. Called the Avanza (derived from the Italian word “Avanzato” which means “Advance”), it zoomed to near the top of the sales charts and would become the best-selling Toyota for the next few years.

The Avanza spurred demand for MPVs, making such vehicles the second largest segment in Malaysia. The size was substantial enough that both Proton and Perodua began work on MPV models (the Alza and Exora) which would later appear and displace the Avanza. The decrease in Avanza sales after the Alza appeared, and then the Exora, forced Toyota to re-think its model strategy for Malaysia. Unable to challenge Proton and Perodua head-on because of their national brand advantage, Toyota realized that the large volumes necessary for local assembly would no longer be possible for the Avanza so for the second generation launched today, it has decided to import the model completely built-up (CBU) from Indonesia. 

The move was also necessitated by Perodua’s need for more capacity and freeing up the capacity that had been used to assemble the first generation at its factory in Rawang was helpful. However, while the Avanza is no longer assembled here, UMW Toyota Motor is bringing back the Camry for local assembly and the new generation will be launched sometime this year.

The situation in Malaysia did not affect the development of the second generation of the Avanza. Almost a million had been sold, largely in ASEAN (about 140,000 in Malaysia) and with so many owners, Mr. Hosokawa had lots of feedback to review as he began to look for improvements to make. The overall size was still acceptable but luggage space was found to be limited; the vehicles were often driven at high speeds so better stability was important; more comfort was expected; and better fuel economy would always be welcome.

As for the rear-wheel drive platform, it would remain unchanged. “The cornerstone of the Avanza’s characteristics is the FR – front engine/rear drive – platform. This platform is a great strength for the model and makes its compact size, maneuverability and driveability possible,” explained Mr. Hosokawa.

Another reason why front-wheel drive was not adopted: that rear-wheel drive allows for a much smaller turning circle. Considering that the vehicle is used in many places with a lot of traffic congestion or narrow roads, maneuverability is very important. Mr. Hosokawa said this requirement was a major point that had to be maintained and proudly declared that the 4.7-metre radius is class-leading.

The styling is evolutionary and at a glance, the changes might not be immediately evident. But if you park the old and new next to each other, you will see that the new model is less bulbous. The dimensions are not much different from the previous one but flowing character lines on the sides together with the glass area make the new Avanza look sleeker and longer. The windscreen angle is also shallower, giving a sportier profile and also enhancing aerodynamics. 

Of note is the change in the door handle design from the lift-up type to the grip type which is more popular today and gives a more upmarket image. Also revised is the design of the door mirrors which are more streamlined and incorporate turn signals in their housings. The windscreen washer nozzles have also been relocated to the area just below the windscreen glass from their traditional position on top of the bonnet.

The Avanza 1.5S, which is the sporty variant, gets different bumpers and radiator grille with side skirts fitted under the door sills. Besides enhancing aerodynamic efficiency, they also make the car look lower.

The new Avanza is lighter by 15 to 20 kgs (compared to the previous generation). Measures taken for weight-reduction include the use of more high-tensile steel and polypropylene material for the bumpers. Structural rigidity is not compromised and rust-resistance has also been enhanced.

Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) are also claimed to be lower. This was achieved not just by increasing the damping and insulation materials but the engineers also eliminated noise and vibrations at their source where possible.

Avanza 1.3E dashboard on the left and the better equipped Avanza 1.5S on the right

Spaciousness has been one of the strong points of this MPV and besides the airy feeling provided by the generous glass areas, the new cabin’s interior has a relaxing and sophisticated ambience. The new black interior theme combined with the distinctive surface textures present a more passenger car-like feel..

The new dashboard design is lower to give a wider and more open feel for the front occupants. Complementing the two-tone theme of the dashboard is a textured surface which highlights the area for the audio system. Certain variants have a new audio head system with 6 speakers strategically located for optimum sound reproduction. Those who wish to connect their portable music devices can use the USB/AUX point provided. For ease of operation and reach, all user interfaces are located in the centre area and the rotary knobs for the air-conditioning system are now less confusing.

Sporty-looking 3-spoke steering wheels are now fitted to all variants, giving a more passenger car-like feel. The steering column can now be adjusted for tilt (except for Avanza 1.3E) to provide a more comfortable driving position and on the Avanza 1.5S/1.5G, there is the convenience of audio control switches on the steering wheel. The Avanza 1.5S/1.5G also come with a LCD display incorporated in the instrument panel to keep the driver informed of the average fuel consumption and range remaining on the fuel available.

Being a MPV, versatility is expected of this vehicle and the Avanza fully meets this expectation. Depending on needs, the second and third row can be folded flat to increase cargo volume and carry long items. Likewise, the third row is also divided into two sections, increasing flexibility. Access to the third row is now more convenient with the new one-touch tumble feature of the second row. 

There’s plenty of storage space provided around the cabin (12 cupholders for seven people!) and the cargo area is slightly larger. Providing an example that people can more easily relate to, Toyota says that the cargo area behind the third row can accommodate more than one 5-gallon container of the type that people use for fresh water supply in office. Additional volume is available by folding the third row and tumbling it forward against the second row. For convenience, the saddle-type headrests do not need to be removed when folding the backrests.

With the third row quite far from the dashboard vents, the additional blower on the ceiling sends cool air further back. It is said to have improved performance, enhanced by the addition of an additional vent on top of the dashboard which directs cool air towards the intake ceiling blower. Incidentally, the ceiling blower has its own set of controls and can be switched off when not needed.

The engines are also the same as before, with 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre displacements. Both have variable valve timing (VVT-i) and use a chain for the camshaft drive, instead of a rubberized belt. Given that the engineers are always improving the engines, the ones in the new Avanza would have many detail changes though they are not described but it is known that a lot of attention was given to reducing engine noise. For the smaller engine, there is claimed to be a 2dB reduction in engine booming in the 3000 rpm range.

The outputs are 103 ps/136 Nm and 91 ps/117 Nm for the 1.5-litre and 1.3-litre engines, respectively. If you compare these numbers to those for the previous generation’s engines, you’ll see that they are lower. This change was due to the upgrading of the engine to meet the more stringent Euro-4 emission standards. Though Malaysia is still only at Euro-2, Toyota had to make a decision to upgrade to Euro-4 for all engines because some markets (Singapore, Thailand and soon, South Africa) are already at that level. From the manufacturing point of view, it would be added cost to make the same engine to meet different emission standards so the highest one had to be adopted.

A reduction in output affects performance and the engineers worked hard to ensure that the overall driving performance would not be reduced. Making the vehicle lighter was one way and improving the aerodynamic efficiency of the body helped. Switching to an electric motor for the steering assistance (EPS) also makes a difference because there is no conventional hydraulic pump to ‘rob’ the engine of some power. 

Only the Avanza 1.3E is available with a 5-speed manual transmission (and no automatic) while the other three 1.5-litre versions are only available with a 4-speed hydraulic automatic transmission with electronic controls and a lock-up mechanism to reduce power losses at cruising speeds and improve fuel efficiency. The gear ratios have also been revised following extensive studies of actual conditions experienced by owners.

As mentioned earlier, the platform is basically the same as before, though this is not unusual as Toyota normally uses a platform for at least two generations before making a complete change. So you see the same suspension layout underneath with a live axle and coil springs at the rear, this being good for handling heavy loads – which the Avanza would often be subjected to when 7 people are on board. In places where regulations are not strictly enforced, even more people might be crammed inside…

Ride comfort and handling have been improved through revisions in the front suspension geometry and shock absorber and coil spring characteristics. For improved stability at high speeds, the tracks have been widened. Depending on the version, the new Avanza comes with 14-inch or 15-inch alloy rims with an 8-spoke design. The Avanza 1.3E is fitted with 14-inch steel rims. For all versions, the original fitment tyres are said to have 10% less rolling resistance, enhancing fuel economy. 

Though an entry-level model, the Avanza still offers a high level of Passive Safety, especially with respect to collision impacts. Its design has passed GOA, Toyota’s tough in-house crash standards referred to as ‘Global Outstanding Assessment’. All new Toyota models must pass meet these standards before they are allowed for sale. With a GOA bodyshell, impact energy is dissipated throughout the structure so as to minimize its dangerous effects on the occupants.

Other safety features like airbags, collapsible steering column and a laminated windscreen are also fitted with the 1.5G/1,5S versions having ABS as standard. Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) is also incorporated with the ABS to enhance stopping performance whatever the load carried.

The new Avanza also comes with a selection of customized accessories that include reverse sensors, body stripes, luggage tray, bag hook, emergency kit and scuff plates on the door sills.

Customers who choose the Avanza 1.5G, 1.5E and 1.3E can also order their vehicles with a sporty aerokit and standard solar film.

Up till yesterday, UMW Toyota Motor has received over 710 orders from customers who were convinced enough to place their booking when order-taking began last month. The company is looking at a volume of 8,800 units for 2012 which will be about 9.5% of total Toyota sales in Malaysia. It’s a contrast from the days when the model was a top-seller in the line-up but back then, there was no Alza and Exora to compete with.

Click on links to view PDF images of the Avanza leaflet: Front PageBack Page

To locate a Toyota showroom where you test the new Avanza, visit

Looking for secondhand Avanzas? Check out the MTM Used Car Listings for advertisements, updated daily so you don’t call someone who has already sold off their vehicle

Find after-market accessories for the Avanza and other MPVs at MaxPower

Ordered a new Avanza and need to sell off your present vehicle? Use Motor Trader!


One Comment

  1. took a brand spanking new avanza for a test drive — it broke down—go figure

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