Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D diesel gets more power, torque and style in its latest guise. Impressive extra safety too. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
For more than two decades, Toyota has provided customers in the medium range Mondeo segment with a safe, conservative set of wheels. It's never been most exciting choice but it's always been up there as one of the most sensible ones. This further improved third generation version continues that tradition, but adds extra technology and a dash of much-needed style. Here, we check out the important 2.0 D-4D diesel version that Toyota needs fleet buyers to like.
Toyota has its own idea of what a medium range Mondeo-sized model should be. It isn't shared by most motoring hacks but it is appreciated by the business people who spend many miles in this car - the company's third generation Avensis model. Here, it's been substantially improved with smarter styling, a classier cabin, stronger safety, more equipment and extra efficiency. It has, in short, been rejuvenated. In this case, we're trying the 2.0-litre D-4D diesel model that most business buyers will probably want. On the move, like its range stablemates, this variant is claimed to be quieter for those long motorway trips. And, so you've something to say when talk turns to Top Gear around the water cooler, Toyota has also tweaked the ride and handling package to sharpen things up on the twisty stuff. Nothing too extreme of course. Avensis folk wouldn't appreciate that. Just enough to meet the class standard so that there's nothing to distract the attention from the sensible stuff this car does so well. But will all that really be enough in the face of fine competition from the Mondeos, Insignias and Passats of this world? Let's find out.
Here's a car designed very much for the people who will drive it. Those who have to cover long distances quickly and use the time while they do effectively. To meet those needs, this Avensis has always been primarily tuned for highway ride comfort - and it still is. As for secondary road handling, well tweaks to the suspension and steering of this revised model have brought small improvements but this still isn't the car you'd choose in this segment if you were after a dynamic drive. It's very much though, the model you'd choose for long distances: improved refinement and even more supportive seats see to that. As for engines, well Toyota still doesn't want to offer its hybrid technology in this car, but it does now provide buyers with a downsized diesel, a 110bhp 1.6-litre D-4D unit co-developed with BMW. If funds permitted, we're prefer the extra pulling power of the 141bhp 2.0-litre D-4D diesel we're trying here, a car capable of 62mph in 9.5s en route to 124mph. So, how to sum up here? This is, we think, very much a model fit for purpose - there to make your motoring life easier rather than sportier. Every aspect of the car has been very carefully considered, and the longer you spend with it, the more little details you discover that emphasise the point.
Design and Build
The Avensis has never really prioritised style and sportiness but since that's what current customers in the Mondeo medium range segment seem to want, Toyota has given its flagship model a more sharp-suited look in this revised MK3 model guise. The whole approach is based around what the brand calls 'Energetic Elegance' - the idea being to give the car a more dynamic and prestigious feel. And at the wheel? Well it's much nicer than before. In the previous version, you felt like you were in an Auris family hatch that'd been super-sized to sit in the class above. This car in contrast fees like a properly plush medium range model, particularly in the 'Business Edition' mid-range guise we tried with its part-alcantara upholstery. As usual with a car of this kind, the centre of the fascia is dominated by a colour multi-media display. Anything this set-up can't tell you will probably be covered by the smart 4.2-inch TFT screen now built into the centre of the instrument binnacle and placed between two deeply recessed gauges. Move to the rear seat and you'll find that accommodation is respectable by the standards of the Mondeo class. Out back, boot remains the same size as before, despite this revised model's increase in overall length. This means you get 509-litres of capacity in the saloon variant. That rises to 543-litres and 1,609-litres if you go for the Touring Sports estate version.
Market and Model
As with most cars in the Mondeo segment, you'll be paying from just under £20,000 to just under £30,000 for this one, with the 2.0-litre D-4D diesel we're trying here priced from around £23,000. There's a premium of around £1,100 if, like 55% of buyers, you want to move from a saloon like this to the Touring Sports estate. With the 2.0-litre D-4D, you can't have entry-level 'Active' trim, but that does mean your car will come very well specified. The mid-range 'Business Edition' trim level most will want gives you 17-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, power-folding mirrors and auto headlamps and wipers are added. Inside, there's part-alcantara seat upholstery, climate control, a colour display for the 4.2-inch TFT screen in the centre of the instrument binnacle and, most importantly, the 'Toyota Touch 2 with Go' multi-media system. Here, an 8-inch screen allows you to access a DAB stereo system, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, a reversing camera and satellite navigation, plus there's access to various connected services and a USB port along with an Aux-in socket. Plus there's impressive safety provision. All Avensis models now get the brand's clever 'Pre-Collision System with Autonomous Emergency Braking' set-up. All 2.0 D-4D variants also get 'Lane Departure Alert', a 'Road Sign Assist' system and an 'Automatic High Beam' feature.
Cost of Ownership
The figures you'll get from the 2.0-litre D-4D diesel variant we tried see it return 62.8mpg and 119g/km of CO2. That's not quite as good as some rivals but it's a significant improvement, the CO2 figure 24g/km better than that of the pre-facelfted 2.0-litre D-4D model. Of course, running costs aren't only about fuel and CO2 returns. An increase in service intervals to 12,500 miles and a reduction of about 20% in the 36,000-mile/three year servicing costs have helped to make this car cheaper to run. Plus the five year, 100,000-mile warranty, though not quite a match for Kia's seven year deal, is a notable improvement on the limiting three year, 60,000 mile packages you get from brands like Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. It all helps to explain why residual values for this car actually stack up very well. Respected industry experts CAP expect that after the usual three year / 60,000 mile period, this Avensis will be worth significantly more than a comparable Insignia, Mondeo or Peugeot 508, holding on to as much as 40% of its original value. What else? Well insurance groupings should be relatively affordable. You're looking at group 15E or 16E for this 2.0-litre D-4D variant.
I'll cut straight to the chase here: the Avensis is well worth a fresh look. Toyota has spent £26 million, commissioned 368,000 man hours and changed more than 1,000 parts in its efforts to force this MK3 model back into class contention. Could it be more exciting, both to look at and to drive? Well yes of course, but you can see why Toyota weren't keen to go too far and upset the legions of customers attracted by the sensible charms of previous Avensis models. The brand knows that the medium range market is closely fought and highly populated, with buying decisions often coming down to the smallest detail. This much improved third generation model gets more of these kinds of details right - the quality cabin, the extra refinement, the slicker multi-media system. Which makes it a lot harder to ignore when you know that it comes at a price that's either going to save you money up-front or enable you to afford a plusher, more up-market level of trim than you thought you were going to have. In short, it may not be the car in this class you might have dreamed about but tick all the boxes and you could well find yourself deciding it to be the one... you actually need.