Toyota Aqua is a front-wheel-drive five-door hybrid hatchback and was launched by Toyota Japan in December of 2011. The Aqua is known as Prius C in the western market, and it was brought in the direct competition of Honda Fit Hybrid. Both have almost identical dimensions. The car was launched with a 1.5-liter internal combustion engine mated to a CVT gearbox and is a full-time hybrid vehicle. The car I had is a 2013 model S package. Initially, Aqua was launched in 3 packages,
Later, Toyota added more packages to the list, like Black Soft Leather Selection Package, X Urban, and G GS, etc. Most of the Aqua cars we have in Pakistan are either, L, S or G package. And in these three, S package is most abundant compared to other two. G is far less in numbers compared to the rest. G is top of the line version and has cruise control along with a couple of other features that are missing in other two variants.
Toyota Aqua became the most successful in Japan after its launch in the last 20 years. After Toyota Prius, the Aqua is the second most sold hybrid vehicle by the Japanese automaker. From 2013 to 2015, Toyota Aqua became the top-selling new car in Japan.
Before I begin, I must thank Executive Car Bank in G8 Markaz Islamabad for providing us this 2013 Toyota Aqua. They were kind enough to lend us a PKR 1.7 million car for the rest ride. If you reside in twin cities and are looking for a used imported Japanese cars, do check their showroom. I am sure you will find the car of your desire. And I must also thank Muhammad Iftekhar of ECB, who joined me for the test drive of the car.
The Aqua feels like a stretched out 2nd generation Toyota Vitz. But overall, the car has very distinctive Toyota styling. The car does look related to 3rd gen Prius and 2nd gen Vitz. It is however slightly longer than the 2nd gen Vitz. Aqua’s wheelbase measures at 2550 mm compared to 2460 mm of Vitz. The car is otherwise 3995 mm long, 1695 mm wide and is 1445 mm in height. To give you a comparison, the 2nd generation Toyota Vitz is 3785 mm long. Simply put, Aqua is around 8.25 inches longer than the second gen Vitz. On the other hand, Honda Fit Hybrid is 3955 mm long, a little shorter than Aqua and its wheelbase measures at 2530 mm compared to Aqua’s 2550 mm.
You get a typical modern Toyota front face in the Aqua with bulging front bumper and massive cuts and edges. You get an impression of a wide face due to that massive mouth with black grilles in the bottom and the top. Similarly, you have big gaps for the fog lights on the both sides of the front bumper. The front headlights are big and look very much similar to other cars by Toyota. I think even if you don’t have that Toyota monogram in the front, it is very easy to judge that the car is from Toyota. The hood of the car resembles the hood of 2nd gen Vitz. The whole front including the fenders gives the similar bubble-type appearance the 2nd gen Vitz has, especially that hump right over the Toyota emblem.
The drama ends as soon you move to the sides of the car. The front doors are pretty eventless, and it feels like the designers had no interest in that general area. Even the side mirrors are fairly simple. You do get side turn signals in the side mirrors, though. Things once again start to change when you reach the rear of the car. The rear doors have nice and smooth curves that make the profile of the car look streamlined. And all the curves and edges go to the back and join the rear end design of the car. You once again get massive lights in the rear and a bumper that has taken almost half of the rear fenders on both sides (one way to save the metal for the body of the car).
The car looks kind of hunched at the back when looking from a side. And that slanting roofline has also had its effect on the rear door windows of the car. The doors form a shape of a boomerang if you notice its window frame lines from the start of the front door to all the way to the end of the rear door. On the rear hatch, you get a narrow rear windshield and during my driving, I didn’t find the rear screen to be adequate. You miss a lot of things behind, and it has blind spots. The car comes with 175/65R15 tyres that I think are fine for this car. Increasing the wheel size and decreasing the tyre profile will hurt the drive and comfort of the car. Since the car comes with a simple Start-Stop button, there is no physical key. You get a key fob, and as long as you have the fob, the car will start. You get central looking buttons (lock/unlock) on the remote of the car.
Talking about the interior of the car, the dashboard is fairly simple. And it looks cheap. The build quality or material of the dashboard isn’t that great. The plastic felt cheap and scratchy. By the end of the test, I felt the plastic cover on the steering wheel that you press to honk the horn had started to melt with heat. It has a wavy design on it, and I have no clue that’s the point of the design. The plastic felt sticky and tacky. The dashboard has a splash of silver and other colors to at least it looks nice. It is kind of straight and drops the exterior design philosophy. You get straight edges, curves, and cuts. But it is driver-centric. So as a driver you feel everything is in your reach. On the passenger side, you get a glove compartment and a deep uncovered pocket to store your things. In the middle, you have a multimedia unit which most probably won’t work since its Japanese, and you need some kind of CD to activate it. It wasn’t working in my test car as well. And under the head unit, you have control for air conditioning. The cluster panel is all digital and is fairly simple. You get all the basic information in addition to EV mode warning, battery charging, trip meter, fuel average, etc.
You will find ECO and EV button under the handbrake. When ECO button pressed, your car favors fuel economy over everything. Your race pedal response is turned down, the A/C also slows down, and the car management system optimizes it for the best fuel economy. Simply put, the car will automatically manage fuel inputs and optimize the air conditioning system for maximum fuel efficiency.
You turn the Normal mode on when neither the ECO nor EV buttons are pressed. And you can use and abuse the car as you wish, and it won’t resist in any specific way.
And when you have pressed the EV button, at low speeds the car will switch the internal combustion engine (ICE) completely off and the car only drives on the electric motor. The feel is pretty spooky if you ask me. The car turns into a ghost on EV mode, and there is absolutely no sound to make you feel like there is something running under the car. The EV mode can help you take your Aqua out late at night without letting your parents know. Press the throttle, and the ICE will fire up.
On the gearshift, you have simple P, R, N, D and B. Only use B when you need engine braking like descending a mountainous road. Don’t switch to B at high speeds. You get simple hand brake in the car, and I am glad you do. I didn’t like all the fancy P buttons in Honda Vezel. It got confusing. You have on the lever in Aqua, yank it and you have engaged the parking brake – simple as that.
The Toyota Aqua I was driving had a light colored upholstery along with the same color of fabric panels on the doors. It does look nice to look and to touch. But as far the cabin noise is concerned, the car is pretty quiet. You don’t get any engine noise as such when driving the car with a light foot. But the moment you press it hard, you can hear the engine roar. I must admit, the engine does sound nice when it is making noises. Other than that, the cabin is pretty soundproof.
The Japanese, and especially Toyota has worked hard to provide as many storage places in the interior of a car as possible. And it was quite evident in the 2nd gen Toyota Vitz. The Aqua doesn’t have that many spaces, but still they are enough. You get pockets in the doors, on the backs of the both front seats, and the center console. You also get two cupholders in the center console right in front of the gear lever. The gear lever is the only part in the cabin of the car that has a bit of chrome attached to it.
Well, this is one place where the Aqua really takes the lead. It loves to go. There is no other way to put it. The car comes with a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder DOHC internal combustion 1NZ-FXE engine mated to Toyota’s CVT transmission. The internal combustion engine makes 74 horsepower, and 111 Nm of torque and the electric motor makes around 61 HP (combined power according to Toyota Motors is 100 HP). Bear in mind that the engine in Aqua is an updated version of the previous 1NZ-FXE that was used in the 2nd generation Toyota Prius. Since the car weighs around 1080 KG, that engine along with the electric motor has enough juice to put a grin on your face when you push the throttle hard. But you will keep a rubber band effect when you push it hard. You push the throttle, and the car takes a couple of moments to think what to do, and suddenly you feel a surge of power coming. There is a slight delay in the accelerator input and engine output. And that is typical CVT behavior, and you will find it in most cars with continuously variable transmission gearboxes.
The engine is soundless in your regular driving conditions, but the moment you push race pedal hard, the engine suddenly becomes alive, and it has a nice roar to it. I loved the way the car responded to my foot. Initially, I had a feeling that it won’t be quick, but I was pleasantly surprised. The car jumped to 150 km/h from 80 km/h effortlessly.
Toyota Hybrid vehicles like Prius or Aqua have what is known as series hybrid drivetrain compared to parallel hybrid in Honda vehicles like Vezel. In a series hybrid, you get engine mated to a gearbox and an electric motor mounted to the gearbox. This is how it is in the Toyota Aqua as well.
Throughout the time I was driving it, from cruising at 80 km/h to gunning it at 140 km/h plus, it gave me fuel average from 15.5 km/l to 17.9 km/l with A/C on all the time and two people in the car. This is what it was showing on its info display. I have heard stories of people achieving more than 20 km/l, but I can’t comment on it since I didn’t experience it myself. But even 17 or 18 km/l is pretty impressive in my opinion. The 36 liter of the fuel tank is going to last you a long time.
A/C was more than good in my experience. The good thing about the A/C was that I could run it on battery power. No need to keep the engine running. These new cars have what is known as electrically driven compressors. You don’t need your conventional belts to make the compressor spin for it to work anymore. Hence, no need of a running engine and pulleys to make it work.
As far the braking of the Aqua is concerned, I would say they are adequate. They don’t lack as such, but they aren’t extraordinary as well. You get ventilated discs in front and drums in the rear. The ABS+BA+EBD comes as standard on all Aqua models. Considering the car comes with regenerative braking since it’s a hybrid (regenerative braking is used to charge the batteries when you slowly take your foot off the race pedal), you always have the slight pulling effect. One needs to get used to it. It was also there when I test drove the Vezel. The car being pulled from behind feeling is kind of universal in all vehicles with regenerative braking.
Comfort & Handling
I want to write good things about the car, but unfortunately, I am struggling with it. A decent condition Aqua costs somewhere around PKR 1.5 million (the one I was driving was priced at PKR 1.7 million). To put it simply, a car that handles and drives like Aqua does not justify such a price tag. One word that can explain my experience with hits handling and ride quality would be ‘average.’
The overall space in the car is tighter than I would have liked. The boot is slightly bigger than Vitz, but that’s pretty much it. I had adjusted the front seats according to my heat and driving position, and I couldn’t sit comfortably in the rear after that. Neither the headroom nor the leg room in the rear was good enough. No one could ride in the rear on long journeys without stopping after every half an hour or so to stretch your legs. I had a 2006 Toyota Vitz as a comparison, and it had better leg room in the rear with front seats adjusted to my style and height compared to the space in Aqua. The car that I had come with a generic Japanese language double din player that didn’t do anything. You will see such pointless head units in almost every mid-level used imported cars.
I did however like the driving position was quite nice. I felt like sitting right in the middle of everything with everything pointing towards me. The car gives the driver a feel like everything revolves around him, and I liked that feeling. The steering wheel nice and sporty. The wheel is slightly straight from the bottom (it’s not a perfect circle as you would imagine). This gives your knees a bit more room, and aesthetically the steering looks nice as well. Since the car comes with an electronic power steering, the steering doesn’t feel alive. The input and output of steering wheel feels artificial. Toyota could have worked a little harder to make the steering feel alive. It is, however, good enough for your everyday normal city driving.
But try not to flick the car around at more than 80 km/h. The car doesn’t stick to the ground as well as one would like. On the slightly bumpy road, I felt the car was hovering over the road surface, and it lacked planted feeling. I flicked the steering wheel around at 80 km/h and the car hesitated coming back to its track. The front of the car would sway a little more than what I had like it to. I didn’t like its road feel at 100 km/h and above speeds. It doesn’t give you the confidence to maneuver the car at high speeds in the traffic.
Ride quality is just average. The suspension of the car felt subpar and inferior. I was not impressed with the ride quality of the car at all. It rode just like 2nd generation Toyota Vitz. Having short wheelbase (2550 mm) means the car is going to be bouncy anyway. To give you an idea, 2nd generation Vitz wheelbase is 2460 mm. The 90 mm almost equals to 3.5 inches.
The suspension is average as well. It couldn’t handle the humps and bumps of the road as well as I had hoped for. Once again, it only felt like a slightly bigger Toyota Vitz. As far the setup is concerned, you get MacPherson struts in the front and torsion beam in the rear – typical for many Toyota cars. This type of suspension is rugged and durable but isn’t very sophisticated. You don’t get the best ride control in such vehicles. And that is exactly the case in Aqua as well.
The ground clearance of Toyota Aqua measures at 140 mm or 5.5 inches. During my testing, I didn’t come across any speed humps that could actually test the ground clearance of the car. But the suspension travel isn’t that great. So you are safe on average speed breakers even with five people in the car. I didn’t like the turning radius of the car as such. Toyota says Aqua’s turning radius is 4.8m. As a comparison, 2ng gen Vitz has turning radius of 4.4m and Honda Fit Hybrid turns at 4.9m (worse than Aqua).
As mentioned above, the Aqua is 1695 mm wide. And unsurprisingly, the width of 2nd gen Vitz also measures at 1695 mm. Both are exactly the same. Even Honda Fit Hybrid is 1695 mm wide. The front seats (driver’s and passenger seat) of the Aqua is nice and comfy, and can easily carry an adult with a large frame. The rear is fine if you have two adults to fit in. Not so great if there are three of you. It is perfectly fine to fit a kid in the middle. But considering how less the leg space and headroom is there in the car, even two adults will get tired soon after. The seats otherwise are quite comfortable. You won’t mind sitting in the car in traffic jams as such.
Due to that rubber band effect of CVT gearbox, one good thing about the car is that there are no jerks in the car. Even throttling it hard will not cause the car to jump or jerk. Power delivery is always smooth. And that means a comfortable ride, no unnecessary jerks and shudders and jolts. The cabin stays nice and quiet, and you don’t know much about the outside while sitting in the car (the engine is very quiet). However, since the suspension of the car isn’t that great, as mentioned above, driving it on countryside roads or just bad roads isn’t a pleasant thing at all. And even on normal city speeds on good roads, I could hear the unnecessary amount of road noise inside the car. On a couple of instances, I could hear a strange howl originating from the rear of the car. It was quite disconcerting.
Japanese cars are usually always equipped with all the latest safety gadgets. Toyota Aqua has the same case. You get two airbags in the front, and all seats have seatbelts with them. The Prius C, US model of Toyota Aqua comes with Toyota Star Safety System. The features that make up the Star Safety System are Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Smart Stop Technology (SST) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). But not all of these things are available in the S or L package Aquas. You do however get Anti-lock Brake System with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution. Also, there is a crumple zone on both the front and the rear of the Aqua as well.
If you are a single adult, living a corporate lifestyle, this car will suit your lifestyle. It’s relatively small so easy to maintain and drive in the city. It’s cheap to run as well considering it’s a hybrid. And also arguably it’s a good looking car as well. Looks kind of sporty and if you want to pretend to people that you drive a ‘sporty’ car which in reality isn’t, this car is for you. But if you have a family, and want to run this car as your one and only car of the house, I don’t think it’s a suitable choice. It isn’t exactly practical, and the room inside isn’t sufficient to fit all your family members inside. Also, it can be an okay-ish second car of the house if there is already a primary vehicle in the household. You can give it to your significant other to haul the kids to schools and use it as a grocery getter. Other than that, I don’t see any point spending PKR 1.5 million on such a vehicle, and I don’t think it is value for money…at all!
Toyota could have made the material and overall built quality of Toyota Aqua a little better. And give a better suspension to make this car a little fun to drive. Its immediate competition comes in the form of Honda Fit. Since both cars have almost identical body dimensions and almost similar wheelbase, and both vehicles have hybrid technology, albeit different sort of hybrid, these cars fall in direct competition with each other. Since the appearance of a car can be a personal like or dislike, so no point talking about it. However, Honda Fit Hybrid arguably has better build quality than the Aqua.
If I have to sum this car up in a line, Toyota Aqua is an average car with a not so average price tag.