Toyota Noah – the thinking person’s minivan 23

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.


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.


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.


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


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23 thoughts on “Toyota Noah – the thinking person’s minivan

  • Chris Smith

    Just wandered how you are finding the Noah. Ive been looking at them as they seem good value for money and roomy enough for a camping trip with a couple of bikes inside. Did you buy from Japan or get it over here.

    • Andrew

      Hi Chris

      I’ve sold the Noah now, only because I fancied a change! It was a great car, and was excellent value for money as you say. Many of the features of the Alphard, in a slightly smaller and slightly less luxurious package. There would definitely be enough room for 2 bikes and camping gear. You’d probably need to take the front wheels off the bikes, but this would depend on how much other stuff you were carrying and whether you had more than 1 passenger.

      I imported the car from Japan myself.


  • Rob pearce

    This was most helpful. I was about to purchase a Toyota Alphard converted to a motor caravan priced at £10000. But when I saw your mpg figures, I’ve had second thoughts. Not happy but welcomed your info.

    • Andrew

      Hi Rob

      Glad you found the information useful, even if it wasn’t exactly what you wanted to read! The Alphard is a fantastic vehicle but it is big and heavy so this takes its toll on fuel consumption. The Noah is slightly better on fuel, but narrower, shorter and a little less luxurious.

      Another option might be to look into the costs and potential savings of LPG conversion for an Alphard.


  • Cec

    Interesting write up, thanks. Can the seats be configured to fold flat to make a rear double bed, by any chance?

    • Andrew


      In the Noahs I’ve seen, the middle and rear or front and middle seats can be folded flat to form a bed. Probably not as flat as a bed, but reasonably comfortable when I tested it!


  • Chris PB

    Hi ANdrew,

    I live in Asia and have had a 2011 Noah for the last 2 years, and agree it’s a great car. I am considering whether to ship it back to the UK when I return this summer. My main concern is spare parts and therefore running costs as it is not sold by Toyota in Europe. I know the engine is the same as the Rav4 and Avensis but how easy will it be to get routine spare parts for brakes, exhaust, etc? Do you think this could be a problem?


    • Andrew

      Hi Chris

      Service and brake consumables should be readily available over here. I haven’t had an exhaust go on a car in a long while, but there are a lot of places over here now that can fabricate exhaust parts for the car if required. If you wanted something completely standard, I’ve found my local Toyota main dealers very helpful in sourcing parts. They usually just need the chassis number to look up the part. The prices vary from surprisingly cheap to fairly expensive!

      Your main expense will likely be getting the car through the IVA test, although at least you won’t be charged import duty and VAT if it meets the personal import rules.

      Good luck with the move.

  • Mr A Broad

    Hi Andrew. i am looking at buying a 2004 noah which has already been in this country for sometime and is registered here. Do you have any recommended insurance companies because most of the well known ones dont appear to no what a Noah is and wont give a quote. Thanks in advance.

    • Andrew

      Hi Andrew

      This is often a problem with insuring imported vehicles. Many of the price comparison sites and volume insurers only have a database with UK vehicles so cannot find imported cars and default to a ‘computer says no’ approach.

      I have seen imported car owners have success (and reasonable quotes) from the following (I have no affiliation with any of them):

      • Churchill
      • Liverpool Victoria
      • Direct Line
      • Sky insurance
      • Adrian Flux (sometimes reasonable, sometimes expensive!)

      I hope you manage to get a competitive quote.


  • Aguinaldo

    Hi… am so great to have a Noah model of Toyota. Its so funny for…
    But am facing some problem with my right sliding door. Its open but cant slice…i think its craved at upper coner. How to solute this problem…
    Other thing is the dificult to manage the door button. I ever have to assist the left side when need to open. Plz help

  • Anthony Wells

    Hey Andrew.

    I was looking at a 2005 Nissan Serena but after reading your review I may have changed my mind and go for the Noah. Is there much difference in size and equipment between the two? With 3 children under 3 I need to be able to fit 3 car seats in, I take it one would have to go in the 3rd row. I live in Jersey and there isn’t anyone who imports them here so would have to look on the mainland any dealer recommendations?

    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Anthony

      The Noah / Voxy and Serena are direct competitors so as far as I understand, they are very similar. There are a huge range of trim levels and options for both cars, but I’m sure you could find comparable equipment levels in both vehicles with a bit of searching. The passenger compartment in the Noah is a bit longer.

      Regarding the car seats, yes I think one would need to go on the 3rd row. Most of them have 2 sets of isofix mounts on the outer seats on the middle row, but none on the rear row. So one of your seats would need to be attached by the belt on the 3rd row. Also, please don’t rely on every Noah or Serena having isofix – check before you buy.

      Sorry I don’t have any recommendations for dealers in the South. This post might give some useful pointers for you when checking vehicles.


  • Nav

    Hi guys
    My Noah 2004 is on it’s way and just wondering if any one can tell me in regards to parts and how and where I can Find them as I want to change the all filters, oil etc?

    Btw is there a big diffErence in noah c and l-g?

    • Nav

      Hi guys
      My Noah 2004 is on it’s way and just wondering if any one can tell me in regards to parts and how and where I can Find them as I want to change the all filters, oil etc?

      Btw is there a big diffErence in noah x and l-g?

      • Andrew

        Hi Nav

        I’ve written about parts and servicing here.

        Not a huge difference between the Noah X and L-G selection. The L-G selection was the higher specification when new, so may have things like HID headlights, better alloys, better AV/navigation system, wood trim, sunroof (this was optional though) over the X.


  • Nena Houston

    Hi Andrew, thanks for posting this (and other incredibly useful info on here). Out of interest, what did you replace the Noah with? I’m considering a Noah, Serena or Stepwagon (having ruled-out those in the class above — such as the Alphard and Elgrand — largely due to running costs). Also, how did you find the Noah on motorways at speed (e.g. 70mph)? Did it feel lively due to the height and width (the latter being rather narrow)?

    • Andrew


      The Noah was fine at motorway speeds – I did a couple of 200 mile journeys in it and it was a very relaxing place to be on the motorway. It was quite susceptible to crosswinds, but no more so than anything else of a similar size and definitely nothing approaching lively! The only time I really noticed the impact of the height vs width ratio was when going round corners on country A / B roads.


  • Sabrina

    Thanks for this great article! I’m considering buying a used 2008 Toyota Noah imported from Japan to Hong Kong. It is the 7/8 seater one where the middle seat can be lifted to make way for someone to pass through to the 3rd row or can be pushed into place to make the car 8 seats. Since it’s an older model and not the version with the 2 captain seats, do you know if car has ISOFIX or Latch child car seat mounts? If it doesn’t, this would rule out the car for us. Do you know when ISOFIX would have been made standard in the Noah? Thanks so much for your help!

    • Andrew

      Hi Sabrina

      I’m pretty sure that Noah will have ISOFIX/LATCH mounts, but the only way to know for sure is to ask your export agent to check or send a picture of the seats. There are usually small fabric labels indicating the presence of ISOFIX mounts on the seats.


    • Andrew Post author

      Hi Peter

      The Noah doesn’t exist in 3 litre V6 format! In any case, I’ve written an article about towing with Japanese import vehicles here. Have a good read of the comments underneath too, because there are some very helpful contributions from other readers.