The estate version of the Toyota Avensis looks far too sensible to be charming. Has the latest version acquired a charisma injection? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
There's never been much wrong with the practical, workaday aspects of Toyota's Mondeo-rivalling Avensis, but neither has there been anything to really make it stand out, especially in estate form. So, faced with an image problem and tough competition, what do you do? Build a smarter looking, more efficient, classier load-lugging Avensis model, give it a snappier 'Touring Sports' badge and offer up some mouthwateringly high-tech options, that's what. All Toyota wants is for you to give it a chance. Has it earned it?
With other brands in the medium range Mondeo-sector, it's reached the point where estate variants sell better than the standard saloon or five-door models. That has yet to happen in Toyota's Avensis line-up, but the brand is hoping that things could change with this Touring Sports station wagon model. It features all the hi-tech changes lately made to the current third generation Avensis, a car now established with a reputation for offering only slightly sub-Lexus build quality at Toyota prices. With the exterior and interior styling handed to Lexus for tidying up and the promise of better efficiency, principally through a new 1.6-litre diesel engine option, this car is starting to look a very smart pick in its sector - and it's a practical one in Touring Sports guise. Cars like this one should be able to fight the traditionalist's corner with some conviction against the invading hoards of trendy compact MPVs.
Touring Sports buyers get exactly the same driving dynamics common to the rest of the range. The bar for driving dynamics in this sector is set extremely high and the Avensis has been playing catch up with a fast-moving target, with the most recent engineering changes concentrated on improving efficiency. The engine range comprises 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels with 110PS and 141PS respectively and the petrol options range from 1.6 to 2.0-litres, with power outputs between 130PS and 150PS. The old 2.0-litre D4-D that was the mainstay of the range is now Euro6 compliant and the 1.6-litre D4-D now takes up the heavy hauling. This Euro 6-compliant engine, working with a six-speed manual transmission, is 20kg lighter than its predecessor. It develops 110bhp at 4,00rpm and 270Nm of torque from 1,750 to 2,250rpm. This gives 0-62mph acceleration in 11.4 seconds and a top speed of 112mph. The suspension basics remain much the same, with a MacPherson strut up front and slick double wishbones at the back, but both elements have been tweaked to improve ride and handling. Steering feel and responsiveness have been improved by the use of a new intermediate shaft, a revised anti-roll bar and an increase in body shell rigidity through the use of a powerful urethane to bond the windscreen. Toyota has also put more sound insulation into the Avensis, as well as fitting thicker rubber seals. The air conditioning has even been made quieter.
Design and Build
The Avensis Touring Sports is as spacious as you'd expect a medium range estate model to be, with 543-litres of boot space, extendable to 1609-litres if you activate the neat one-touch folding mechanism and flatten the split-folding rear seats. Take a seat inside and it's not the most eye-catching cabin in the class but we'd wager it'll prove to be one of the most durable. As before, there's plenty of space inside. The generously proportioned cabin features decent front and rear leg room. As for the most recent changes to this updated model, well, the first thing you'll probably notice is fresh face with its neater headlight and tail light pods. Overall vehicle length has been increased by 40mm and the Toyota emblem is set more prominently with a smaller but sharper-styled upper grille. The grille itself has a chrome trim bar, while the lower grille has been made significantly larger and the fog lamp housings have been pushed out to the extremities of the bumper, making the vehicle appear broader. The cabin has been treated to some brightening up, with uprated trim finishes and colour schemes. Toyota hasn't done things by halves here, with a redesigned instrument binnacle, the tacho and speedo being separated by a 4.2-inch colour TFT screen on some models. The steering wheel, gear lever and switchgear have also been updated.
Market and Model
Prices are of course directly comparable to those of obvious rivals like Ford's Mondeo, Vauxhall's Insignia and Renault's Laguna. They start at around £19,000 and there's a premium of around £1,200 if you want this Touring Sports estate over the saloon. These are competitive figures for the medium range Mondeo-class segment. Buyers get a choice of 'Active', 'Business Edition', 'Business Edition Plus' and 'Excel' trim levels. Toyota has long striven to go beyond the class norm when it comes to the Avensis' equipment provision so entry-level models feature a black and grey interior colour scheme and are equipped as standard with manual air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, LED daytime running lights, a stereo with Bluetooth and USB and there's also the peace of mind afforded by Toyota Safety Sense system. At the top of the range, the Avensis gets features such as smart entry, full-leather upholstery and Toyota Touch 2 with Go Plus, incorporating satellite navigation. Customers will be able to extend this specification with a premium pack, adding 18-inch wheels, LED headlamps with an Adaptive Front Lighting system, power-adjustable front seats with a memory function and a Skyview panoramic roof.
Cost of Ownership
Most British customers will doubtless turn to the diesel engines, drawn by their excellent fuel economy and low emissions. The 1.6 D-4D generates CO2 emissions of just 108g/km and even if you step up to the 2.0-litre engine, you'll still only be faced with 119g/km to tax - a 24g/km reduction on the performance of the outgoing 2.2-litre unit. An increase in service intervals to 12,500 miles and a reduction of about 20% in the 56,000 mile/three-year servicing costs for both units have helped make the diesels cheaper to run. The petrol engines have seen their fuel injection systems revised for better efficiency, while lower friction has been achieved through the uses of Teflon components and auto-tensioning the accessory belt. A further 4% improvement in fuel economy has been realised through extensive revisions to the Multidrive S continuously variable transmission available with the 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines. Figures for the 1.6-litre manual improve from 43.5 to 46.3mpg; for the 1.8-litre manual from 43.5 to 47.1mpg; and for the 2.0-litre Multidrive S from 40.9 to 46.3mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions improve too. The 1.6-litre manual falls by 8g/km to 142g/km, the 1.8 manual sees figures drop 14g/km to 139g/km while the 2.0-litre Multidrive S reduces by a whopping 19g/km to 142g/km.
The Toyota Avensis Touring Sports isn't going to be one of the stronger selling estate cars in the medium range Mondeo segment. Estate versions of the Avensis never have been. Previously, to be frank, that was because they weren't that good. Today though, this car has cleaned up its act. It's more efficient, better equipped, has a higher feeling of quality inside and out and is still just as practical as ever, without being frumpily box-shaped. A thinking family's man's choice then. And one you can believe in.