Cars > Encounter

The Toyota Zenix is senior-friendly with a punch

The seven-seater MPV is a lot more exciting than you think it is

The Zenix is not for the automotive enthusiast looking for a sporty people-mover. PHOTO BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

I’m not the Toyota Zenix’s target market. For starters, I don’t have P1.953 million (for the hybrid) to get one. If I did, I’d be looking at pickup trucks.

The Zenix, as you know, is the new Innova-that-is-not-named-as-such. That’s because it’s not completely replacing the Innova that we all know and love because Toyota Motor Philippines is still selling the old body alongside the Zenix.

And for a good reason: There’s a diesel, and people in the boondocks still prefer the traditional body-on-frame chassis. It’s also cheaper, but not by much.

Both trims are conservatively designed, perfect for buyers who don't want to stand out. PHOTOS BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

To my jaded eye, the Zenix appeals more to older folks. Dyed-in-the-wool customers with money to spend, but who don’t like it too flashy and like their comforts.

There are easily half a dozen Chinese crossovers you could get for significantly less than the Zenix—some are even hybrid—but it would be a cold day in hell if they ever bought from the People’s Republic of China. Our EIC wrote about this a while ago, too. The Zenix is a Toyota, meaning it’ll last you for years and get the job done without calling attention to itself.

The Zenix is as exciting to look at as a loaf of Gardenia. There’s some hint of the 2010s Sequoia in the front fascia, and the flanks have this understated musculature by the rear fenders. But on the whole, it blends in the background. It wears 18-inch wheels, but the body is long enough that it still looks under-tired.

Unlike most modern Chinese cars, the Zenix has a sensibly laid-out interface with physical buttons. PHOTOS BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

The interior is sensibly designed, but far from setting any new design trends. The center stack is neatly laid out; there are physical buttons for the climate control (yay!); and the infotainment screen isn’t overflowing with menus and submenus like your typical Chinese supercomputer.

You will be inclined to believe that the Zenix is for the people occupying the two rows behind the driver. PHOTOS BY RED SANTIAGO AND LEANDRO MANGUBAT

Captain’s chairs take up the second row, and they’ve got ottomans, too. The last is what will excite people like my mom, who fits the Zenix demographic better. People who buy the Zenix will spend more time lazing in the back than actually driving it.

Can’t afford an Alphard? The Zenix isn’t a half-bad alternative. Ingress and egress are easy with the wide door openings and the low floor height. Settling into the captain’s chairs is a treat since you get power controls for the seat back and the ottoman.

You can see the author's genuine reaction to how well the car drives. PHOTO BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

With the Zenix’s unibody construction and buttery-smooth hybrid drivetrain, road trips will be a relaxing exercise. If my mother got one, she’d waste no time calling me up to drive her around, and I’d grumble at first but eventually, I’d come around.

Why? First, because she’s my mom, and that’s what good sons do. Second is because that means she pays for lunch. Finally, I would not actually mind because, of all the hybrids Toyota sells in the Philippines, the Zenix is actually fun to hustle around.

No kidding. I was ready to write off the Zenix as another snoozer like the hybrid versions of the Corolla Altis and the Corolla Cross, but a hurry-up climb to Tagaytay up my favorite back road revealed the wolf underneath its sheep’s clothing.

The hybrid system gets you the best of both worlds in power and fuel efficiency. PHOTOS BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

The combined system output from the hybrid drivetrain is 184hp and 188Nm. It’s matched to a CVT, which is normally just about the most unexciting transmission you can put on a car. But the Zenix’s is tuned for actual happiness.

There’s enough torque on tap that brisk overtaking is easily done with just one-third throttle. Floor it and the electric motor works like a small turbo, working in concert with the ICE to send the Zenix hurtling forward with uncharacteristic urgency. It also has a cheerful snarl at wide-open throttle. There are paddle shifters aside from the manual gate on the console, and working the “gears” is fun and intuitive.

A car-like ride and the Toyota Safety Sense are the biggest improvements to this model. PHOTOS BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT AND RED SANTIAGO

Toyota has also tuned the Zenix suspension for a good balance between comfort and suppleness. Not mushy like most Chinese setups, and not too harsh to upset your retiree passengers.

The steering-wheel diameter is also on the sporty side of small, speeding up the ratio so turn-in is responsive. The brake feel from the all-disc setup is also confident and linear.

The Innova has always had better-than-average handling among MPVs, but the Zenix turns it up a notch—and that’s down to the superior rigidity of the monocoque design. Braking and steering input just feel more linear and immediate.

Couple all of this with the advanced safety suite like a pre-collision system, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control, and it’s possible to set a brisk pace and be perfectly in control of your Zenix.

The Zenix has shown that it can provide an enjoyable experience to both the driver and the passengers. PHOTO BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

Walking away from the Zenix during our morning session, I had a newfound respect for Toyota’s newest MPV. The styling is as flat as a dead fish, but it’s what’s inside that counts. Buy it for the ride and get around in practically invisible luxury.

Aside from giving better-than-average fuel efficiency compared to a regular ICE when you’re not flooring it, this vehicle is a Q-ship you can also have fun with. Driver duty will be something to look forward to with this one.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.