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Reinventing yourself is certainly not an easy task. Even if you do it well, there’s no guarantee that those around you will be very receptive, nor acceptive of the new you. The same can be said of cars, with automakers having to sink in a lot of money should they decide to overhaul their vehicles, and with it, granting them a new persona, tagline or USPs.

The Toyota Innova has been around for well over a decade in Malaysia, being a replacement for the well-known Unser. Having undergone facelift upon facelift here, the MPV has always retained that utilitarian look that has served families and the transport industry for many years.

However, with the second-generation Innova, Toyota has decided to inject a healthy dose of premium-ness into its popular MPV, while giving it a fancy tagline as well: Prestige Perfected. Mighty words, and we’re here to see if the eight-seater can walk the talk.

Greeting you first is an all-new design that will make you forget all about the 2014 facelift that was introduced here. Hints of the Hilux can be seen at the front, with the upper section transplanted from the pick-up truck, albeit with a tweaked two-slat grille with an integrated badge.

The model you’re looking at here is the top-of-the-line 2.0G, which shares its halogen reflector headlamps with the 2.0E, but not its front fog lamps. Unfortunately, we do not get the fancier LED projectors as seen on the Indonesian-spec model, nor do we get LED DRLs (bulb-type used here).

Further differences include the new hood, bumper, and the new-design 16-inch aluminium wheels. Down the flanks, the variances continue, where the trim piece near the wheel arches has been done away with, and the window near the D-pillar has been reshaped to not only look sharper, but helps with visibility from the third-row seats.

Things have also been cleaned up at the rear, with the large chrome element above the number plate being done away with, making room for two-piece taillights that occupy the new, easy-close liftgate. The overall package is certainly more visually-appealing than before, even though it may not gel well with all.

If the car looks bigger than before, you are absolutely spot on. The new car measures 4,735 mm in length (+150 mm), 1,830 mm in width (+70 mm) and 1,795 mm in height (+35 mm), rides 24 mm higher (at 200 mm), but retains its 2,750 mm wheelbase. The increase in length is in the overhangs with 135 mm being added to the front, and 15 mm at the rear.

Toyota also improved the Innova’s ladder-frame skeleton in several areas to make it more rigid, starting with 66 additional spot welds, while the cross members have been strengthened and the side rails enlarged (by 20 mm). Furthermore, certain body sections also employ high-tensile strength steel in its construction (590 MPa and 440 MPa).

Accompanying the architecture is an enhanced suspension setup, featuring larger rear shock absorbers and revised damping characteristics in general. Toyota also says it changed the rear bushing structure to allow for a smaller reaction from the shock absorber stroke by up to 84%.

Has any of this worked? Well, on the move, the Innova certainly rides a whole lot better than before, while primary ride remained pretty compliant. However, secondary ride does suffer from a tad too much rebound, resulting in a pretty “floaty” feeling at times, but something expected in a vehicle this size.

The steering remains a hydraulic-type as before, with changes being found on the steering column that now has an expanded range of tilt of 20 mm from 14 mm, as well as telescopic adjustability.

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Although the feel is a little vague, the steering is pretty light and makes it easier to navigate the big MPV around. Through the corners though, the vehicle’s increased heft of up to 1,720 kg (up from 1,615 kg) becomes noticeable, although body roll is kept in check to make sure things don’t get too lairy.

To cope with the higher kerb weight, the Innova also gets a new powertrain, comprising the 2.0 litre 1TR-FE naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, which now comes with Dual VVT-i. The gains? There’s now 139 PS at 5,600 rpm (+3 PS) and 183 Nm at 4,000 rpm (+1 Nm). Additionally, fuel consumption is claimed to be 9.4 l/100 km (from 10.7 l/100 km) for the manual and 9.1 l/100 km (from 11.2 l/100 km) for the automatic.

All that newfound power is directed to the rear wheels via a new six-speed torque converter automatic transmission (with sequential shifter) that replaces the previous car’s four-speed unit. There’s a five-speed manual, but that’s only for the 2.0E, which is more aimed at fleet operators (taxi, travel companies, etc). The reasoning for this drive layout, according to Hiroki Nakajima, managing director of Toyota Motor Corporation, is for better drivability especially then climbing hills. Nakajima explained that in areas like Kota Kinabalu, the RWD approach is a lot more pracitcal.

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There are minute performance gains thanks to this new combo, with 0-50 km/h (now 5.68 seconds instead of 5.80 seconds) and 0-100 km/h (now 16.44 seconds instead of 16.90 seconds) times down by a few hundredths of a second, despite the added weight. However, the new powertrain does get a shorter gear kick-down response time, and enhancements to ensure optimum fuel consumption and low engine noise.

On the move, the new powertrain certainly does respond quickly, but the sheer bulk of the Innova means you’ll have to listen to the engine working hard before you see the speed. Unlike the Indonesian-spec model, there are no diesel engine options to help provide the grunt here.

However, if there’s no need for the engine to be pushed, life inside the Innova is wonderfully pleasant, as there’s plenty of sound insulation material and expansion foam added to create a pretty silent cabin (with a hint of wind noise). Toyota claims the new car is up to 2.1 dB quieter than its predecessor while travelling between 60-80 km/h (commonly travelled speeds).

As a result, this gives you the time to appreciate the work Toyota has done to make the new cabin unrecognisable from the one found in the outgoing model. The dashboard is entirely new here, and abandons the monotone scheme used in the past. Instead, you get a curvaceous upper deck that peaks above the instrument binnacle, meeting up with new air-con vents along the way.

While the majority of the dash is devoid of any soft-touch material, there is plenty of elements that add a bit of contrast to proceedings. For instance, you’ll find faux wood trim bits running across the dash (including on the Hilux-esque steering wheel, Alcantara-like materials on the door cards, as well as various trim finished in what can only be described as “satin gold.”

As you can see in this photo, the elegant-looking trim also frames the RM3,169.40 optional eight-inch capacitive touchscreen display for the DVD-AVN system, which has all the usual connectivity features (Bluetooth, HDMI, USB, etc.) with the addition of navigation on this particular car. Alternatively you can opt for the DVD-AVX system that is devoid of navigation for RM2,109.40.

The system itself is a real treat to use, with crisp and clear graphics displayed on a high-definition screen, along with a touch interface that feels tablet-like. A safety nanny means you can’t access certain features while the car’s moving, so you’ll have to tell your passenger not to fiddle with it on your behalf.

Drivers will also get to enjoy the new Optitron instrument cluster with its 4.2-inch colour TFT-LCD display. Not only does it look a bit like Iron Man’s palladium-powered arc reactor, it comes with “mini games” like trying to score the highest possible “Eco points,” and the usual driving info.

Manually adjustable fabric seats are standard here regardless of variant type, although the 2.0G has a “tiger stripes” motif (2.0E gets a honeycomb one instead). The seats themselves offer good support, and are pretty cozy to be nestled in, including those seated in the second-row.

For those in the latter, there’s plenty of legroom despite the generous seat base size, and the (60:40 split-folding) seats themselves are slide- and tilt-adjustable to your liking, via an easier one-touch operation.

That simplifies loading humans into the third-row, who will get to enjoy almost the same generous accommodation as those in the second-row. Provided you don’t slide the second-row seats all the way back, legroom for those at the far back is pretty decent, with a fairly sizeable seat base.

In total, the Innova offers seating of up to eight people (2-3-3 layout), with three-point seat belts available for all, and they are kept cool thanks to air-conditioning for all three rows via ceiling-mounted vents, controlled through an automatic climate control on the roof of the second row (2.0G only).

If that isn’t enough, things get even more premium with dual-zone ambient lighting, adjustable via the ceiling-mounted controls at the front and second-row. You don’t get to control the colour here, which remains blue, but the brightness is adjustable to help create the best ambience in the MPV.

Additionally, those in the second row will have access to seatback tables capable of supporting up to 10 kg of weight, so the 13-inch MacBook Air you see here, or an iPad are certainly not an issue here. If there’s one complaint I’d make, it’ll be the lack of USB charging ports, which will have the millennials up in arms again. However, there is a 12 V power socket for rear passengers to plug in a charger if it’s any consolation.

As premium as things have become, the Innova hasn’t lost sight of its practical capabilities, and has even introduced several enhancements. For starters, the (50:50 split-folding) third-row seats now get a spring lifter, making it easier to lift them up and tether them in place for more cargo space.

Combined with the one-touch tilt-and-tumble mechanism of the second-row, there’s plenty of seating arrangements to choose from, so the Innova’s role as a cargo carrier is pretty much intact, and even better this time.

Safety-wise, the Innova is a major step up from before, with seven airbags (dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee) being fitted to this top-spec variant (2.0E gets just three). There’s also brake assist, VSC, hill-start assist, but again, only for the 2.0G, although both will get ABS with EBD, plus parking sensors at the front and rear.

However, keep in mind that many of the features (including keyless operation) this writer enjoyed can only be found in the top-spec 2.0G, making it the variant to buy, tentatively priced (without options) at RM126k (on-the-road with insurance).

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So, is the second-generation Innova the prestigious MPV that Toyota claims it is? Put simply, yes. The new car is a giant leap forward from before, and certainly a wonderful reinvention of the nameplate. At the end of the day, this car brings welcomed new features, and remains significantly more affordable (prices here are OTR without insurance) than the Nissan Serena S-Hybrid (from RM143,063) and Mazda Biante (from RM145,718), while being comparatively, if not, larger.

More comfortable and better riding than before, while boasting an interior that screams premium, the overall experience is only hampered by an engine that lacks the punch to get the heavier Innova up to speed quicker. Aside from that, it is definitely an MPV to consider for those in the market for an eight-seater.