Clobbered by rivals who punched its share of the three-row minivan market down to 35 percent from 60 percent in 1997, Toyota has bounced back off the ropes to launch what it hopes will be a comeback in the form of the second-generation Ipsum.

Like its predecessor, this model will be exported but the previous Picnic export badge has been changed to Avensis Verso for Europe where Toyota also fields a sedan, hatchback and wagon range called Avensis and a Yaris Verso mini-minivan. Avensis Verso shipments start this summer.


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Toyota


The latest Toyota Ipsum/Avensis Verso is a little longer than its predecessor to provide more passenger legroom and has a new, larger, 2.4-litre petrol engine with variable valve timing. In Japan, that is attached to a four-speed electronic control automatic and four-wheel drive is optional. European buyers can expect five-speed manual models to make up the bulk of shipments.

Japanese buyers can choose between six and seven seat standard models or opt for wheelchair-friendly variants with a slide-out front passenger seating.

Reflecting the competitiveness of the market and the success of rivals such as Honda's Odyssey and swoopy-styled new Stream (also a seven-seater and holding a ticket for Europe), the new Japanese market Toyota Ipsum line-up ranges in price between $US16,500 to US$23,000 - the same as the old one.

Naturally, Japan's clever gadget inventors have had a hand in the new minivan. Reversing cameras - rare in export markets - are now passé in Japan so there's a new twist to that trick called the blind corner monitor.

Roll up to a crossing at less than about 5mph and a camera behind the grille about a metre ahead of the driver's eyes sweeps a 180-degree view. Nifty.

Other electronic devices operate numerous safety features like anti-lock brakes and anti-skid control, minimise body roll to counter motion sickness and fettle suspension settings according to load.

DVD-based satellite navigation is optional along with a variety of passenger entertainment and audio systems.


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