Let’s make a list of things you don’t like on the current Innova: plain-Jane styling; the engine is strained after 120kmph and begs for a sixth gear; the ride could be better; and third row access isn’t a breeze. Anything else? How about its ubiquitousness as a taxi. And that, at 17 lakh rupees, it is rather expensive. I’ll save you the bother of reading through this story and tell you, straight up, that the Innova Crysta addresses all those shortcomings. Okay, maybe not the pricing and that taxi bit, but otherwise the new one marks a huge step up from its decade old predecessor; a predecessor that, might I remind you, still doesn’t have a genuine rival.
Let’s start with the styling that is the complete opposite of boring. They might even have gone overboard but that is the new Toyota – have you seen the new Prius, and all those Lexus cars and SUVs that have massive cheese graters for grilles? The Innova Crysta gets this gaping new grille with thick chrome bars on the top that continue through the narrow headlamps. These horizontal elements stretch the Innova Crysta out making it seem visually wider and lower. The headlamps have separate elements for low and high beams and smart-looking DRLs. In profile it continues to remain slab-sided but there are a little more slashes to break the monotony while the wide boomerang-shaped tail lights are an interesting touch. I wouldn’t call the new Innova Crysta handsome but it won’t induce yawns and that’s a far cry from every Toyota we’ve had till now.
The bigger changes are on the inside with a heavily styled new dash that boasts of better materials, fit and finish. There’s a huge one-piece silver trim element that runs from edge to edge which the engineers claim was a huge task to do properly but Toyota engineers, being Toyota engineers, just got on with it. On this top-end variant, there’s a neatly integrated 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with the now ubiquitous navigation, reverse parking camera and all the connectivity options (though no Apple CarPlay yet). There’s also a 4.2-inch TFT screen between the dials that shows navigation directions and other trip computer readouts. There’s climate control but in tilting the screen at a jaunty angle, it has become unreadable with polarised sunglasses during the day.
Toyota claims their customers (apparently 80 per cent of Innova customers are repeat buyers) want more luxury and they’ve turned this into a genuine luxury MPV, particularly at the back. Quite a few of my friends have had their Innovas sent to DC design to put in those big business class seats at the back; with the new one I don’t think they will bother. The seats have become wider, so much so that the seat belt buckle is now integrated into the seat base. Widening the seats is a smart move – in the current Innova the space between the rear captain’s chairs are all wasted. There is a tray that folds out from the back of the front seats, intensity of the ambient lighting in the roof can be adjusted, there are cup holders between the seats, leg room has gone up and there’s now climate control for the rear passengers. The rear doors even get wood inserts (the front’s don’t) to make the guy at the back feel special (and let’s face it most of us will spend more time in the back of an Innova than behind the wheel).
Access to the third row is improved by the lever that flips and tumbles the middle seats in one go, no more grunting and struggling. It still requires one to crouch into the back but the space has become slightly better. You could do long distances in it, though you won’t be very comfortable. But you do get space for your bottles. In fact, there is space for 20 bottles, one of the two glove boxes is cooled, and the cup holders also open up in front of the air-con vents to cool your drinks. The rear door pockets can take three bottles each. Luggage space with the third row up is limited to your airline carry-on bags but the third row folds up easily enough and there’s a new hook in the D-pillar to hold the seat; you don’t hang it from the grab rail.
Mechanically, the IMV platform has been beefed up with increased plate thickness and the beams have a larger cross-section but the consequent weight increase has been offset by use of more high tensile steels to tip the scales at 1870kg. The additional reinforcement members have increased overall rigidity while sheer toughness of the frame has also gone up. The refinements to the frame also make the Innova Crysta safer and Toyota claim it will perform well in Euro NCAP crash tests. On the safety front I must add that the Innova Crysta can now be equipped with seven airbags while ABS is standard.
Ride has been improved by larger shock absorbers and fine-tuning of the spring settings to also account for the larger 17-inch wheels. There has even been an attempt to improve aerodynamic performance (yes, really!) with stabilising fins integrated in the front door sills and tail lights.
Even bigger news are the new engines. The Innova Crysta has finally got an automatic transmission and that is only available with the new 2.7-litre diesel that makes 171.5bhp of power and 360Nm of torque. The manual is mated to a new 2.4-litre engine that displaces 100cc less than the current motor but has an upgraded variable nozzle turbo, higher pressure common-rail to boost power by 50bhp, pilot injection for more silent operation, and thermal efficiency is 44 per cent which is claimed to be amongst the highest in the world in this class. Both GD units though fall foul of Delhi-NCR’s current ban on diesels above 2-litres and that’s why our media drive was from Pune to Goa.
First impressions are of a heightened sense of luxury. With the all-black dash, high-quality kit and genuinely more accommodating seats (8-way power assist for the driver) you feel like you’re in a luxury car, not a taxi. In the presentation, an engineer – stethoscope round his neck!– talked about sensory evaluation and he wasn’t fooling around: the Innova Crysta definitely is more silent than the current one. In fact, at a steady 120kmph cruise there’s very little road and tyre noise; and very little engine noise too. That’s the big difference from the current 2.4-litre motor; at 120kmph you don’t involuntarily reach out for a sixth gear and she can easily cruise at 140kmph and stretch out to 160kmph. With 148bhp and 343Nm of torque there’s now enough power to keep up with all the Fortuners on the highway while her stability at speed is considerably better. In fact the stability is better than most ladder-frame equipped SUVs and you feel safe and confident driving her hard and fast. There is virtually no pitching and bouncing at the nose and body movements, especially for a body-on-frame construction, are kept surprisingly in check.
The Khambatki ghat, 60km out of Pune has been newly resurfaced and the Innova can be hustled with scarcely believable speed through the bends. There’s body roll – how can there not be? – but the grip levels are very high, there’s strong resistance to understeer and the suspension stays planted over bumps and undulations. It does feel bigger from behind the wheel (it is wider and the front and rear overhangs have increased). The steering is a little more heavy and needs some more effort but if you’re in a tearing hurry the Innova can stay ahead of fast moving traffic. There’s also a new Power mode that makes the engine very responsive to even a slight tap on the throttle and gives you an added surge of acceleration when you’re taking off. It’s actually well judged, with the Eco mode (the default more for all the taxis) not sucking all the life out of the engine.
While dynamically the Innova is better in every respect to the outgoing MPV, the steering feels strangely heavy and rather vague and imprecise round the straight-ahead position. Loaded up in a corner it does tell you enough of what’s happening to push her safely and confidently to the limits but in traffic it feels a little ponderous and slightly less agile. And there are a lot of turns lock-to-lock making three point turns quite a task.
At the halfway mark in Kholapur I switch to the 2.7-litre automatic and you get an added sense of luxury thanks to the brown leather upholstery that contrasts very well with the black dash. The steering too is a wood-and-leather affair with meaty grips at the 10-to-2 position and a plethora of controls including a nice touchpad. The thing to focus on here is the automatic transmission which makes full use of the increased power and torque of the 2.7 GD engine to feel as quick as the manual. The shifts are quick enough and there’s a manual mode (no steering wheel mounted shift paddles, if you’re asking) which we used quite extensively while charging up the Amboli ghat that spits you out at Sawantwadi on the Maharasthra-Goa border. It’s again a very refined transmission, mated to a very refined engine and anybody who is used to the current Innova will appreciate how effortless the package now feels. You maintain higher speeds and yet are more relaxed.
As we enter Goa, I jump into the back seat – after all that’s where we will spend most of our time – and I’m genuinely surprised by how much better it is. The wider seats make it considerably more comfortable, there is more legroom, not only is the engine more refined but there’s better sound deadening so very little noise filters into the cabin, the ride is a big improvement… it all feels genuinely luxurious and a big step up from the Innova I got chauffeured in this morning. If there’s a problem it is that all this will come at a price, a `1.5 premium at the very least, which makes an already expensive MPV even more so (a decade ago the Innova was launched at around `8 lakh!). Of course there will be some sticker price shock but there has never been and there still isn’t a genuine rival to the Innova. It means, sooner rather than later, you and I will be sitting in the back of one on the airport run. And that makes me very happy.