By Andy Enright
Although Wayne Rooney might disagree, old people just aren't sexy. Well, not to advertisers at least, who seem to overlook the fact that older car buyers often have more disposable income and time than many other demographics and need cars that suit their needs. Watch car ads on television and it seems that if you're anything over 35 you're invisible to car manufacturers. Toyota's Verso-S bucked this particular trend, aimed fairly and squarely at what they call 'empty-nester; those whose kids had left home and who wanted a car that was practical, reliable, easy to drive and which didn't draw a whole lot of attention to itself. These are all solid justifications for bringing the Verso-S to market, but its chances were torpedoed by some hugely optimistic pricing on Toyota's part. Still, the secondhand market makes its own assessment of a car's inherent worth. Does the Verso-S redeem itself second time round?
Marketing people aren't short of terms designed to describe our age group and buyer profiles. Generation Xers, baby boomers, DINKYs, boomerangers; you're probably on a database somewhere labelled as some such. The Toyota Verso-S was aimed at empty-nesters but if there's one thing that unites senior citizens with money it's that they probably didn't get to that position by blowing their hard-earned on overpriced products and when the Verso-S appeared it opened at around £14,500 for a 1.3-litre petrol model which seemed a lot of money. By contrast a Kia Venga was retailing at around £11,500 which was enough to asphyxiate sales of the Verso-S before it ever had a chance.
Its predecessor, the Yaris Verso, carved out a profitable niche amongst customers who needed space and reliability but didn't hanker for horsepower or, for that matter, sassy styling. The Verso-S looked a good deal more conventional than the old Yaris Verso but was a whole lot smarter. Unlike the Yaris Verso, it couldn't be cheaply and easily converted for wheelchair users which capped off that niche a little. The Verso-S's dismal sales convinced Toyota to do the humane thing and withdraw it in 2013 with no replacement in the immediate offing.
What You Get
Given that the Verso-S measures a mere 399cm from stem to stern, it's incredible what Toyota has managed to cram into it. To put that figure into perspective a Ford Fiesta is a mere 4cm shorter. With the rear seats and parcel shelf in place, there's 429 litres of luggage space on offer, which dwarfs the Ford's 295 litre hatch. The rear seats of the Verso can be folded from the luggage bay by using levers on each side and once the seats go down, there's up to 1388 litres of space available. The luggage bay features a concealed floor where valuables can be kept. The floor itself can be raised level with the hatch lip for sliding heavy items in or with a tip and a flip can be lowered for ultimate carrying capacity.
There's a decent amount of space inside the car, with rear legroom better than most supermini hatches. The impression of space is helped by the vast full length panoramic glass roof fitted to the T Spirit model which really does add to the experience of travel. Passengers will be able to take in city architecture, indulge in amateur ornithology or just gaze at the passing sky. It's a feature that sets the Verso-S apart from virtually all its rivals. As you would expect from Toyota, build quality is strong without being showy. The central feature of the dash is a big 6.1 inch touch screen display which again gives the Verso-S the feel of something a little removed from the mainstream norm.
Equipment levels are strong, as you might reasonably expect. Two trim levels were offered, TR and upspec T-Spirit, with most buyers paying the £1,100 premium for the better-equipped version. For that, customers receive 16-inch alloy wheels, rear electric windows, rear privacy glass and the panoramic glass roof. The TR isn't at all badly appointed, with the Toyota Touch multimedia system, Bluetooth, air conditioning, a reversing camera and leather trim for the steering wheel and gear knob.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Verso-S has proven extremely reliable. The 1.33-litre petrol engine is a tried and tested campaigner and both the six-speed manual transmission and the Multidrive CVT gearbox are bombproof. The suspension is straight out of Toyota's parts bin with a MacPherson-strut front end and a torsion-beam rear and the steering rack is electrically assisted rather than hydraulic. It's all simple stuff. What's more Verso-S owners usually drive the cars sedately and get them serviced on the button. In short, you'd do well to find a less troublesome used car than this.
(approx based on a 1.3 Verso-S) Toyota spares are by no means as cheap as those offered by Ford or Vauxhall but a realignment of pricing has eased costs significantly. A clutch assembly will cost in the region of £130, whilst an exhaust is around £330. A new starter motor retails for around £150, although a replacement headlamp will be in the region of £200. Repair costs have been kept manageable with a consequent effect on insurance premiums.
On the Road
If you can live with the fact that the Verso-S is by no means quick, then there's precious little reason to dislike the way it drives. It's no entertainer, its 98bhp 1.33-litre petrol engine shoving it to 60mph in 13.3 seconds but a racy drive is usually fairly low down the priority list of its target customers. If you base your car buying decision on how easy a car is to drive, there aren't many that can hold a candle to this Toyota, especially when its specified with the Multidrive S gearbox. This continuously variable transmission dispenses with a clutch pedal and makes city driving effortless. A fair degree of body roll discourages enthusiastic progress but ride quality is admirable for a car with such a short wheelbase.
The seating position is fairly elevated, which means a good view of the road and easy access to the cabin. The control weights are all very modest, so you won't get worn out manoeuvring the Verso-S into tight spots. A diesel model was offered in other European markets but it was decided that the pound versus yen exchange rate would have made it even more prohibitively expensive and given the modest mileages of the typical Verso-S driver, it never justified itself financially against the petrol model.
The Toyota Verso-S never really caught on, but that wasn't through any significant and inherent fault of the car itself. In fact, it probably owes more to an unfavourable exchange rate with the yen and no EU build facilities for the car than anything else. So while it was an undoubted damp squib on the new car market, the Verso-S comes into its own as a used buy. There's virtually no public recognition of this car so people don't tend to casually decide upon one. As a result some real bargains fly under the popular radar and paying £7,000 for a car that's only just been run-in and which is as reliable, practical and easy to use as a Verso-S has a lot to be said for it. Just don't tell anyone we told you.