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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Toyota's New Picnic Targets Families

Make way for a new market niche -- the Family Fun Vehicle, otherwise known as FFV. The new tag was created by Toyota to highlight the strengths of its new Picnic.

"The Picnic aims to offer families the practicality and flexibility they need," explains Toyota chief engineer Noboru Kato.

The new Picnichas six individual seats, a significant advantage over a five-at-a-squeeze hatchback.

Not only can you walk freely between the seats, but with movement backwards and forwards on every seat and the ability to convert the rear seats to picnic trays or even a double bed, up to 17 different arrangements are possible. Luggage space is fair with all the seats in place, better with the rearmost ones removed and wagon-beating with all four rear seats out.

With each seat separate, there is enough room for adults to spread out. but Toyota reckons that the Picnic's main market will be families with children. The individual seats not only mean traveling is more comfortable, they also give restless youngsters less opportunity to squabble on the move, something that can prove both distracting and dangerous.

One of Toyota's aims from the start was to produce a multi-purpose vehicle that presented no great challenge to those drivers used to traditional cars.

While no manufacturer has managed to produce a mini-van that drives exactly like a car -- their height counts against them for a start -- several have nearly reached the mark, and the Picnic joins the likes of the Ford Galaxy, Mitsubishi Space Wagon and Honda Shuttle in being less of a driving culture shock.

Like all of Toyota's family-oriented cars, the Picnic is undemanding to drive, with no bad handling traits and a well-judged, comfortable ride.

The driver environment will be familiar to Carina drivers, with similar instruments, switches and controls throughout. You sit higher up, though, and one unacceptable example of cost-cutting is non-adjustable steering column that may spoil the driving position for some people.

With the lively 2.0-liter engine used already in the Carina and RAV4, the Picnic has a decent turn of speed if you use the upper end of the rev range. The less passengers, the better, but the Toyota is not slow regardless.

The top speed is about 180 kilometers an hour, and the Picnic boasts brisk acceleration to 62 kilometers an hour in under 11 seconds. An automatic transmission, complete with steering column-mounted change lever, has a good spread of ratios. It's not the slickest changer, being lazy rather than razor-sharp, but it suits the Picnic. A five-speed manual gearshift is also available.

A good mix of all-round ability, decent interior space and comfort and the fact it's easy to drive will win the Picnic friends. Sales start on the European continent this month. Prices are expected to be between $24,000 and $35,000. Equipment levels are generous in all three versions, with plenty of electrically operated convenience features backing up the essential safety and security package.

Whether or not the Picnic is actually "fun" and lives up to its name is open to debate, but truth be told, it doesn't really matter. The Picnic is bound to appeal to the vast family market. It is already on sale in Japan as the Ipsum, and is selling at almost the same rate as the hugely successful Corolla.

Paul Chadderton is motoring editor of Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this article to The Moscow Times.