What is it?
The current Toyota Innova is over a decade old, but through that time, it has found many happy owners. When it was first introduced to replace the boxy Qualis, many found the hike in price too great and unjustified. However, soon enough, the Innova won Indian buyers over with its space, comfort and, above all, its rock-solid and hassle-free reliability. And, though its prices rose by as much as 60 percent over the years, it never seemed to deter buyers, who kept flocking to the big MPV. Now, history is about to repeat itself, as Toyota is finally replacing the Innova with a new-generation model, and, as expected, it is a good deal more expensive than the outgoing car. But is it worth it? We have driven the India-spec car in Goa to find out just that.
For starters, its name has a new suffix – Crysta – which, as Toyota did with ‘Altis’ for the Corolla years ago, is meant to signify just how new this car is. The first thing you notice is that it’s clearly larger than the outgoing car, both in length and width. And though it has the typical MPV shape overall, the new styling is very dramatic. There’s a huge grille with black slats in its lower section and two chrome bars at the top that really grabs your attention. Flowing out from the chrome bars is a pair of large swept-back headlamps that contain LED running lights and projector elements. 17-inch wheels are standard now (they are alloys on high-spec cars), and what really gives character to the sides of this MPV are the flared wheel arches and the rearmost window glass that kinks up sharply towards the D-pillar. At the back too, the Innova Crysta looks quite attractive with its ‘inverted L-shaped’ tail-lamps.
What’s it like inside?
Space and comfort were hallmarks of the old Innova and the new one simply takes things a step further. The front seats are wide and very well-shaped to offer good support and, crucially, great long-distance comfort. Impressively, the second row’s captain chairs are almost the same, but they aren’t electrically adjustable like the driver’s seat. Toyota knows that many of the MPV’s owners are chauffeur-driven, and has made sure to give utmost prominence to the second row; even the doors here are fancier, with wood trim, unlike the front doors. These chairs can slide back and forth and recline, there are small fold-out tables in the rear of the front seats, and with just one pull of a single lever the seats fold down and tumble forward, giving access the third row. Once you’re in the back, yes, you will find your knees folded up almost to chest height as with most third-row seats, but it’s more comfortable and spacious than the previous Innova, and that itself was better than most of the competition. There’s even a third, three-point seat belt that spools out of a slot in the roof, in case you can fit a third passenger back here. What’s more, luggage space with all seats in place is also better than before (you could get one full-size suitcase in) and it’s easy to split, flip and fold away the third row when it’s not needed. It’s very practical too, with as many as 20 bottle holders spread around the cabin, not to mention several other cubbyholes to stash away small stuff. Our only grouse is that because the car has two separate gloveboxes (one is cooled), they both feel a little small; a single, larger glovebox would have been more useful. The Innova’s main use is long-distance travel for the whole family, and Toyota has made sure the cabin is well-suited to it.
What Toyota's also done, is upped the luxury quotient of the Innova. The cabin no longer looks utilitarian, and the dashboard feels like it’s been plucked out of a Corolla or a Camry. The design is truly unique, featuring one continuous band of silver trim that runs the length of the dash. The dials are big and clear, and in front of them sits a large, thick-rimmed, leather and wood-trimmed steering wheel, with loads of controls, including one stalk for cruise control. There’s a thick slab of dark, glossy wood in the middle of the dash that looks really rich, and the central console, with its two vertical pieces of silver trim, houses the electronic AC controls and a big 7.0-inch touchscreen. This new infotainment system feels modern and has a lot of features, including satellite navigation, various audio and video input options, a detailed fuel and trip computer and a rear-view camera for which it is the display. There are a number of unique touches around the cabin, like the strips of cool-white LED ambient lighting on the ceiling, and the felt-lined door pads to rest your elbows on. There are, of course, dedicated air vents for the second and third rows, but this time, they too have electronic control, like at the front.
This top-spec ‘Z’ variant of the Innova Crysta has a lot of equipment. Aside from the aforementioned stuff, you also get electric folding mirrors, one-touch-operated power windows on all four doors, keyless entry and go, rear parking sensors, electric adjustment for the driver’s seat and automatic headlamps. It’s a shame that for a car with seven seats, there’s just one USB port and only two 12v charging ports; a setback if many want to charge their phones simultaneously, when on the move.
What’s it like to drive?
So the updates to the exterior and interior are both huge improvements, but there’s even more good news in store. The Innova Crysta comes with two entirely new diesel engines, a 2.4-litre with a five-speed manual gearbox, and a 2.8-litre with a six-speed automatic gearbox. The 2.4 manual first, and when compared to the old 2.5-litre engine, there are some similarities. This one too is not very refined, sounding a bit gravelly at start-up and then again at higher revs, and it also doesn’t enjoy being revved a lot, making you want to shift up well before the redline. However, both these aspects are slightly improved from the old car. The Crysta settles into a smooth and relatively silent hum at low to medium revs, and though you’ll still want to shift up early, you get more out of each gear now. The rest is all positive. For one, there’s more power – 150hp is a significant jump in power over the old 102hp, and at 13.1sec, the Crysta is a full 4.4sec faster from 0-100kph than the previous car! It even feels much stronger when you’re overtaking, which is essential when you’re out on the highway with a fully loaded-up car; this is helped by its solid 343Nm of pulling power that’s made as low as 1,400rpm. The old Innova was geared very short, so cruising in fifth on the highway was a noisy affair and the engine sounded strained. The newer car has a much broader torque spread and relatively taller gearing, so it feels a lot more comfortable loping along at high speeds, although we feel a sixth ratio would have made it more effortless still. So it’s a great highway cruiser, but if you find yourself in traffic, you will notice the clutch pedal is on the heavy side and that the short gear lever needs a little more effort. It’s also got three drive modes – Eco, Normal and Power. Eco is best for when you’re in town and want to stretch every last litre of diesel, while Power yields the quickest responses to accelerator inputs. But Normal mode is the best for everyday driving, delivering a good mix of power and efficiency.
What really tells you that the Innova is now a seriously premium car is the availability of an automatic gearbox. The six-speed unit also comes with a larger, even more powerful diesel engine – 2.8 litres with 174hp at 3,400rpm and 360Nm at 1,200-3,400rpm. This car is properly quick, being able to cross 100kph in just 11.5sec, and this is despite the fact it weighs almost 1.9 tonnes! The automatic gear shifts themselves are smooth, but we feel the system is too eager to change gears sometimes, even when not necessary. And while there are no paddle shifters for manual gear control, you can change gears manually with the gear lever itself.
The good news just keeps coming, as the other great strength of the Innova – its comfortable and all-conquering ride – has not been tampered with either. At just about any and all speeds, the big MPV just punishes bumps and potholes into submission. The suspension is tuned a little on the soft side and absorbs all sorts of road irregularities well, and if there is a slight jittery feeling, it’s more down to the relatively large 17-inch wheels than the suspension. In a straight line on the highway, the Innova Crysta stays superbly flat and composed, keeping cabin occupants comfortable throughout. The only disappointment is the steering. Of course, one cannot expect sportscar precision in an MPV, but the Crysta’s wheel feels too heavy at low speeds and requires too many turns, lock to lock, to make a U-turn. Conversely, at higher speeds, it starts to feel loose and inconsistent, and this can get a little disconcerting. You'll also feel a bit of steering shock through the wheel as you drive over sharper bumps. And, expectedly, there’s loads of body roll around corners, and combined with the slow, heavy and mushy steering, this is really not a car you want to drive enthusiastically.
Should I buy one?
The Innova Crysta has gone on sale at a price range of Rs 13.84-20.78 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai). Yes, that puts it out of the realm of conventional MPVs from Maruti, Honda, Chevrolet, Mahindra and Renault and almost into the territory of seven-seat SUVs and even executive sedans. When you’re paying this much money, you have certain expectations of space, quality, luxury and comfort, and the good news is the Innova Crysta delivers on just about all of them. Sure, refinement is still not the greatest, and the steering, clutch and gearbox can get a bit tiresome in traffic, but these are minor setbacks in the scheme of things. The Crysta takes all the old Innova’s strengths that customers just love, and amplifies them. Yes, you will have to pay a premium for it, but as most owners of the previous car will tell you, it will be worth it.