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After a smaller 2022 Kia Carnival? The Toyota Noah and Honda Step WGN would be cool alternatives - if only they were sold in Australia

Toyota’s Noah and Voxy (above) MPV twins are a huge deal in Japan.

Japanese roads are filled with boxy, quirky compact MPVs. But could these models work in the Australian market?

Two of Japan’s biggest automotive brands have just uncovered new versions of their small people movers.

Toyota this month revealed the fourth-generation versions of the Noah and Voxy twins, while Honda ripped the covers from its facelifted Step WGN.

These are just a couple of examples of models in the compact MPV segment that is enormous in Japan.

Eight of the top 20 best-selling models in Japan in 2021 are compact or mid-size MPVs. The third most popular car in Japan last year was the Toyota Roomy, a twin of the Daihatsu Thor, with tiny dimensions – at 3700mm long it’s shorter than a Mini three-door hatch – and a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine.

Other top sellers include the smaller Honda Freed and Toyota Sienta, while larger fare like the Nissan Serena and Toyota Alphard are also huge sellers in Japan.

But is there an appetite for these models in Australia?

In Japan the Toyota Noah is offered as an assisted mobility vehicle. In Japan the Toyota Noah is offered as an assisted mobility vehicle.

Models like the Alphard and related Vellfire are already imported to Australia by private importers and are quite popular. But there are far fewer examples of the compact models that Japanese buyers love.

It’s not like they haven’t been sold here before. Remember the Suzuki Wagon R +? Or the Daihatsu Move or Pyzar? Sure, they didn’t last long, but surely there is a niche market for them in Australia.

Those tiny models, known as kei cars in Japan, are unlikely to be sold in Australia – or anywhere outside of Japan for that matter – as they would struggle to pass Australian Design Rules or achieve an appropriate ANCAP safety rating.

Models like the Step WGN and Noah/Voxy are about 4600mm to 4700mm long, which is about the length of a Hyundai Tucson, although the MPVs have a longer wheelbase. They are also just as high-tech as other models from the carmakers.

The boxy and cool new-generation Honda Step WGN has just been revealed. The boxy and cool new-generation Honda Step WGN has just been revealed.

Take the Toyota Noah and Voxy for example. The new-gen versions are built using Toyota’s TNGA global architecture and feature a choice of a 1.5-litre parallel hybrid or 2.0-litre petrol powertrain.

They are also offered in Japan in Welcab guise, which is an assisted mobility vehicle designed to carry wheelchairs.

It’s a seven-seater with two captain’s chairs in the second row and three seats in the third row, but an eight-seat option is available.

They feature handy gear such as hands-free power sliding doors, a retractable passenger step, a 104-litre cargo box under the rear cargo area, and the rear hatch door can be stopped at any angle. Plus, they look super cool!

Japanese pricing starts at the equivalent of just over $32,000, which means it would also be affordable family transport.

Look at all that space in the Honda Step WGN. Look at all that space in the Honda Step WGN.

Similarly, the updated sixth-generation Honda Step WGN has adopted a cleaner, more minimal design that anyone interested in modernist architecture would almost certainly vibe on.

It too has a hybrid option and like the Toyota is fitted with the latest safety gear and in-cabin technology that buyers expect.

While Australia lacks a compact MPV market, large people mover sales have hit a high gear. In 2021, sub-$60,000 people mover sales increased by 51.6 per cent to just over 10,000 units.

Much of that volume came from the dominant Kia Carnival (5862 units) which went on sale in fourth-generation guise in early 2021. The LDV G10 is also popular (1064), as is the Volkswagen Multivan (936).

Despite increasing its sales by 4.8 per cent last year, the Honda Odyssey is in run-out after being discontinued by Honda Australia. The recently facelifted people mover found 1143 homes last year and there is still some stock left in dealerships.

Given Honda has dropped the Odyssey and trimmed its line-up, it’s incredibly unlikely the company would consider a model like the Step WGN.

Similarly, Toyota wouldn’t consider something like the Noah/Voxy twins given the expected low volume. Toyota’s last experiment with a boxy model, the Rukus, only lasted five years.