Toyota Noah – the thinking person’s minivan

How I chose the Toyota Noah

Front left view of a black 2004 Toyota NoahThe impending arrival of my first child was a great excuse to buy another car.  I wanted something  more suited to family life than my bulletproof Toyota Hiace van.  Why do I own a Hiace van?  It is such a useful vehicle, be it for going mountain biking, taking rubbish to the tip, transporting motorbikes, going to builder’s merchants and so on.  I can transport almost anything with no worries about damaging the interior as there would be in a car.

However, whilst there would be no problem fitting the full catalogue of my Son’s acoutrements in the Hiace, transporting the child himself, his mother and me would be less comfortable.  I wanted to retain as much load carrying usefulness as possible, but in something with 2 rows of seats and generally more suited to long journeys and child carrying than the Hiace.  I considered the options available to me on the UK market:

  • Vauxhall Zafira – not my bag, please don’t ask me to elaborate.
  • Any VW/Seat (Audi and Skoda don’t have anything suitable) – no, see comments here about me falling out of love with VAG cars.
  • Mercedes Vito/Viano – propensity to rust and large repair bills.
  • Vauxhall Vivaro crew cab – eats gearboxes.
  • VW Transporter – Fits the bill very well but requires a mortgage to get anything half decent.  I feel the value of these is inflated substantially beyond what they deliver.
  • Toyota Hiace crew cab – rare, unrefined, rear wheel drive.  The one fly in the Hiace’s ointment is that unladen it can get stuck on almost anything that isn’t decent tarmac.
  • Hyundai i800 – rear wheel drive, not old enough yet to fall into my price range.
  • Any of the wide range of uninspiring estate cars – not enough load space.
  • Renault Espace – No, having had numerous conversations with a friend about his, most of which involved him swearing about its latest ‘trick’…you know, just little things like refusing to lock, losing power on a motorway slip road.
  • Toyota Land Cruiser – I’d love one of these but I suspect the running costs would be high and I don’t really need this level of off road ability.

You may notice I’m quite particular about cars I will and won’t buy.  You might even say blinkered.  The thing is, this car choosing ‘system’ has served me well so far, so I tend to continue with it.  Before fatherhood, there were times when I’d even contemplated deliberately buying something a bit more edgy and unreliable because I enjoy fixing cars.  I’ve got over that now!

Obviously none of the UK offerings were up to the mark so importing a car was, as always, the only sensible option.

I considered the Nissan Elgrand and Toyota Alphard first of all.  I nearly bought an Alphard, but was concerned about fuel consumption and felt it would probably need an LPG conversion to make it suitable for long term ownership.  I really liked the look of the Nissan Elgrand but my friends in Japan expressed concerns about reliability.  Also it has a 3.5 litre V6 engine (same as in the 350Z) so the same comments about fuel consumption applied.

Enter the Noah!  The majority of the space and features of an Alphard in a smaller package.  In this post I’ll share information about the Noah, my reasons for choosing it and my experiences of ownership.

Introducing the Toyota Noah

Launched in 2001, the Toyota Noah is an extremely flexible 8 seater (I think transporting its full complement of 8 would be a little ‘cosy’) MPV / minivan with loads of space and gadgets to make the family driving experience as comfortable and relaxing as possible.  It feels supremely well thought out, with useful storage space wherever you look and plenty of space for front and rear seat passengers.

Dimensions

View of the right hand side of a Toyota NoahWhilst I’m not about to convince you this is a small car, it really isn’t that big either for the amount of space and equipment on offer.  I hope to demonstrate this by comparison with the ubiquitous Ford Focus.

The Noah is only 20 cm longer and 37 cm higher than a Focus.  It is also 20 cm narrower than a Focus.  It copes very well with the ever shrinking parking spaces and the parking sensors and reversing camera make manoeuvering in and out of these spaces really easy.

Equipment

There is lots of it!.  This list is based on a 2004 Toyota Noah L-G Selection.  I think this is about in the middle of the range in terms of equipment.

  • Parking sensors.
  • Reversing camera, front blind spot cameras.
  • HID headlights.
  • Front driving/fog lights.
  • Rear privacy glass.
  • Electric rear door (left, with remote opening), electric door close assist (right).
  • Remote central locking.
  • Electrically adjustable mirrors with electric folding.
  • Dual zone climate control.
  • Outside temperature display.
  • CD and Minidisc player as standard, although unfortunately the voice operated navigation doesn’t work over here in the UK.  The head unit is a standard double DIN size and there are numerous other options available.

Seating and Interior Space

Picture of the 3 rows of seats in a Toyota NoahThe front seats are typically Toyota: by this I mean not quite your favourite armchair but perfectly comfortable for long journeys.   They both have arm rests, if these are important to you, and are adjustable…  The steering wheel is adjustable for height but not reach.

The middle row of seats is available in 2 options:

Option 1 – This car has a row of 3 seats with a 2:1 split.  The seats can be moved fore and aft independently to adjust leg room options.  They also flip forwards to allow access to the 3rd row of seats and to maximise load space when the rear seats are folded to the side.  Each of the outer seats on the middle row has an ISOFIX child seat mount.

Option 2 – In this configuration the middle row comprises 2 main seats on the outside and a central table between them.  The advantage with this configuration is that the seats can be rotated to face the back of the car to create a cafe booth arrangement.

The 3rd row of seats splits in the middle, with each half folding up to its respective side.  They also move fore and aft independently to adjust boot space and leg room options.  This leaves an enormous boot space, especially with the large storage cubby below floor level.  I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to pick up my Son’s pushchair and put it in the back with room to spare and without any dismantling.  The same goes for my bike.

The outer 2nd and 3rd row seats have full 3 point seat belts and the centre seats have lap belts.

Driving the Toyota Noah

The Noah has surprisingly good acceleration for a 1500 kg car.  The brakes won’t have anyone raving but they won’t annoy you either.  They are light and more than adequate.  The steering is light and predictable.  It doesn’t like to be pushed through the corners, but I hope you’re not buying a car like this with the intention of pushing it through lots of corners!  If you are, may I suggest you look elsewhere – perhaps a Subaru Forester STi?

Its all fairly obvious stuff really.  It is a relaxing drive, with more than adequate performance in all areas.  If you’re used to proper sportscar handling and performance, and are expecting it from a Noah, you’ll be disappointed.  But you probably knew that by looking at it!

Do I sound a bit negative here?  The drive really is excellent, but I always compare to the best driving experience I’ve had overall, rather than to others in the same class.

Engine and drivetrain

Picture of the engine bay of a Toyota NoahThe engine is Toyota’s 2 litre 1AZ-FSE direct injection variable valve timing engine, producing 148 bhp and 148 lb.ft torque.  In the UK, this also features in the Avensis and RAV4.  The only gearbox option is a 4 speed automatic, coupled to front or 4 wheel drive.

Running costs

I found this car always returned 30 mpg (=10.7 km/l) no matter what type of driving.  Most of this was with the air conditioning off.

Road tax in the UK for a car of this age with this engine size is £230 per year.  Insurance cost me about £460.  This was slightly more expensive than the usual cost of a policy for this car because I needed cover for the car based on the chassis number for a short time before I’d registered it with the DVLA.

Servicing is straightforward: you could change the oil without a jack or ramps.  Oil changes are required every 15,000 km (9300 miles).  The engine has a timing chain so there is no timing belt to worry about.  Have a look at my post about parts availability if you’re concerned about this.

Summary

A brilliant, well thought out car.  Very well suited to family life, flexible and relaxing to drive.  Highly recommended!

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