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Etios Liva review: Living La Liva Loca!

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Aug 17, 2011
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Though the question has played over in my mind and slipped out of my mouth during interactions many times over in the past, it still was the first thing that popped up when I first saw the Etios Liva. Why so late?

Surely it is a case of better late than… even later (it was never going to be never). But, with its vast global research capabilities and wide product portfolio, Toyota is one company that could have made a serious dent in the small car market share pie if it could have launched a hatch five years ago.

Now that the Liva is here, Toyota's plans for riding the wave of demand for premium hatchbacks finally has the right weapon.

Design

The Etios Liva comes after the fairly successful introduction of the Etios sedan. Toyota has shrewdly chosen to launch the hatch later, in a reversal of what could be called a traditional strategy of launching the small car first and then developing a sedan based on the same platform.

But, one look at the Etios Liva and it is clear that Toyota actually followed just that in the development cycle for the two cars. The Liva looks more complete and less like an afterthought compared to the Etios sedan. Though it doesn't feature a cab-forward design, the design of the front still has a strong hatchback flavour.

For all of you who complained of the Etios sedan's backside being bland and dated, and worse, reminding you of another sedan already in the market, the Liva's rear won't give you fodder for such gossip. The Liva's rear is unique and stands out when compared to other small cars, though it continues to be straight and simplistic.

Viewed head-on at the front, the Liva looks almost identical to the sedan. In fact, if you look at one on the road from your rear view mirror you would mistake it to be the sedan. Except for the small differences in the bonnet grille, the front half (till the B-pillar) of the Liva is a straight lift from the sedan.

At the rear, the Liva gets a fairly flat hatch door with the only interesting bit being the cut and design that has been done to match the boot lid of the sedan. The tail-lamps are large and dominate the rear with a cluster that seems to have been chosen to improve visibility. The rear and side profile of the Liva are the best angles. Despite the overall simplicity, the design of the Liva is clean. It is very evident in the way all the lines meet and merge – like the rising shoulder line that merges into the tail-lamps and the rear glass.

The flared wheel arches that were lost and weak in the sedan, acquire more prominence in the Liva. In the pictures you see in these pages, the Liva's design looks even more squat and powerful because I was driving the VX variant which comes fitted with bumper skirts, side skirts and a spoiler. Body coloured bumpers are standard.

Interiors

I get into the test car that I was handed over and the Liva's interior is immediately familiar, with the dashboard layout and colour theme being identical to the Etios sedan. In fact, the Liva VX that I was driving almost has the exact same dash as the sedan. The striking bits of course, are the centrally mounted instrument cluster, the uniquely positioned air-conditioner vents and their design, the number of storage options offered, including the large, cooled glove box and the cut-away bottom of the chunky steering wheel, which is meant to lend the interior a sporty touch, but I won't put it past Toyota designers to have thought of that to accommodate expansive Indian paunches.

The seats are also carry forwards, and though the front seats offer some thigh and lumbar support, the rear bench is rather flat. Seat squabs are thin, but firm. But the highlight of the rear seat in the Liva is of course, the amount of legroom and kneeroom that it offers – amongst the best in the class.

Test drive

The Liva leverages its design well to maximise space inside the cabin. However, what is not as convincing at times is some of the ways by which Toyota designers and engineers have chosen to keep its kerb weight down to a low of about 900 kgs. Thin, straight doors are extremely light and close with a weak thud. Being in the hatch segment, weight savings go hand-in-hand in the Etios Liva with cost savings.

Of course, some of the effect of keeping the weight low would translate into better performance on the road, with fuel efficiency being the most tangible, but there is also a sense of uneasy lightness when you are pushing the Liva hard on good roads. There is no lack of confidence or poise on the straights in the Liva, but there is sense of hesitancy I had felt when attempting to take on corners and test the car's abilities.

Despite the light weight construction, Toyota has achieved quite a bit of redemption with its ideal suspension set up, which soaks up every bump and pothole that the road could throw at it. The simple McPherson struts and torsion beam set up also manages to be adequately firm to make sure that the ride is not too ‘wallowy'.

The steering is not perfectly tuned, but for a car in this segment, this is one of the more well weighted units that I have seen. Easy to manage within city traffic, the steering is pretty precise at high speeds too. Electric power steering and tilt adjustment are not available in the base ‘J' variant.

The quality of the plastic used in the interiors continues to be one irksome bit in the Liva too. Large swathes of plastic on the dashboard can be quite a distraction on a sunny day. Fit and finish are however, of acceptable quality.

Performance

The gem in the Etios Liva, just like in the sedan, is the engine. This one is not a carry forward and the Liva sports a new 1.2-litre petrol engine that is the most powerful (PS per tonne) in its size class.

The 3NR-FE, 1,197cc, four-cylinder petrol engine generates a peak power of 80 PS at 5,600 rpm and a maximum torque of 104 Nm at 3,100 rpm. Driving the Liva can leave quite an impression for buyers upgrading into the premium hatch segment because, with lots of low-end torque the engine doesn't feel laboured quickly and power is delivered smoothly in the city driving cycle. The engine does get a bit ‘buzzy' during hard acceleration.

The Liva's engine is fairly refined and reminded me of the free-revving and enjoyable 1.5-litre unit in the Etios sedan. It will be a blind guess that the Liva's 1.2-litre engine too will be trouble-free and frugal for years. Mated to the engine is the smooth-shifting five-speed manual transmission.

Toyota's focus in the selection of the newly developed engine has clearly been ease-of-use in city driving conditions and frugality in terms of maintenance and fuel efficiency. The Liva gets an ARAI fuel efficiency rating of 18.3 kmpl.

Verdict

On the face of it, Toyota's assumptions about the Indian hatch buyer seems rather simplistic, some of that coming through in the design (like the smiling front side) and ultra practicality (like the seven bottle holders in the cabin) that have been loaded on to the Liva. But, considerable research into the Indian car buyer's psyche has gone into the design and selection of powertrain and trim for the Liva.

Starting at a price of Rs 3.99 lakh, the Liva is probably the most affordable Toyota in the world. And that makes it already an attractive proposition to many of the brand's fans, because, despite all the focus on cost cutting, intrinsically, the Liva should turn out to be a Toyota in every department.

muraliswamy@thehindu.co.in

Published on August 10, 2011
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