BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Medium range estate cars have staged something of a comeback in the last few years. One of the lower key but higher quality offerings is Toyota's Avensis Tourer. Once a rather lightweight and compact estate, the Avensis Tourer completely changed its focus in 2003 when it was relaunched. Bigger, better equipped and aimed at a more premium sector of the market, this car took aim at the best in the class. Cars like the Ford Mondeo estate and the Honda Accord Tourer both had to be on top of their game to fend off the threat from the big Toyota. As a used proposition it's as close to bullet proof as it's possible to get.
Models Covered: (5dr estate 1.8, 2.0, 2.4 petrol, 2.0 diesel [T2, T3-S, T3-X, T-Spirit])
The 2003 Avensis Tourer is a fascinating car, reflecting the changes that have hit the estate car middle market. This sector was dying on its feet as mini-MPV style vehicles and small 4x4s stole most of its sales. A resurgence in the upper end of the market in the early Noughties saw many manufacturers having to reprofile and relaunch their products. The Avensis Tourer was a case in point. Toyota took the gamble and pitched the Avensis Tourer at the quality end of the medium range estate market, powered by decent 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol engines. In November 2003, Toyota expanded the range with a clean D-CAT diesel engined version that used a revolutionary catalyst system to lower emissions still further but unfortunately wasn't offered in Tourer guise. This initially sold alongside the less high-tech D4-D diesel engine that had been introduced to the range a few months earlier. A flagship 2.4-litre petrol model also joined the range at the end of 2003. A 2.2-litre diesel engine of 148bhp was unveiled in Spring 2005. The 2006 facelift brought a variety of changes to the Avensis although the styling remained fairly nondescript. Ride and handling issues were addressed through revised suspension and steering settings while D4-D 130 and D4-D 180 diesels were also introduced.
What You Get
It's no fashion icon, but there is a quality look and feel to the product which, for the first time in a Toyota of this size, will please Mondeo and Vectra customers as well as possibly appealing to a few of the BMW and Audi buyers shopping in the next class up. The doors thunk shut like a Lexus and it was to their luxury division that Toyota looked to imbue the Avensis interior with a genuinely upmarket feel. It seems to have worked. Soft touch plastics, neat metallic finishes and a well appointed cabin make the car feel a class up. Indeed, you could put Lexus logos on the thing and, although you might not be that excited by the product, you probably wouldn't think the badge out of place in terms of quality of engineering. With that achieved, it might now be fair for Toyota to expect that some of their more traditionally practical virtues would begin to come into their own. So what are these? Well, since despite the trendy name, this is an estate car, we'd better start at the sharp end. Hearing that this latest generation Avensis is longer and wider than its predecessor isn't something you should get too excited about: the old model was in danger of getting rivalled by cars from the next class down. It's more significant to point out that this latest Toyota is still shorter than its rivals - around 100mm shorter than a Mondeo for example. Which leads one to worry as to whether the Tourer's carrying capacity is going to be up to very much. As it happens, it's not bad. There's 520 litres of space on offer with the rear seats in place, rising to 1500 litres when they're folded flat: good enough to get close to the class leaders in other words, if not quite to match them. A section of the load floor can be lifted to reveal a hidden storage tray, big enough to accommodate the luggage cover when not in use. An integrated partition net can be added to this cover to stop shopping bags crashing into garden centre produce and vice versa. Moreover, the luggage floor itself can be folded to create separate storage compartments, while tie-downs and shopping hooks are there to ensure that with loads both large and small, delicate items can be carried safely.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Avensis has forged a reputation for monotonous reliability and while drivers of old Corollas may well have hoped in vain for a broken timing chain or an electrical fire to interrupt the car's clockwork tedium, there's no such issue with this version. As long as the service records have been properly adhered to, it's difficult to imagine a more trouble-free car in its class - a testament to both Toyota and the British workers. A 1.8-litre long term car we ran performed virtually faultlessly during a six month spell, the only minor complaint being a slight rattle from the rear tailgate.
(approx based on a 1.8 T3) Although pitched a little above what you'd expect to fork out for Vauxhall or Ford spares, Toyota's parts pricing policy has come under the microscope of late with the result that many prices have been frozen or reduced. A clutch assembly will cost in the region of £160, whilst an exhaust is around £350. A new starter motor retails for around £175, although a replacement headlamp will be in the region of £220. Repair costs have been kept down with a consequent effect on insurance premiums.
On the Road
Better sound insulation has reduced weight and decreased noise, but to give some illustration as to how seriously Toyota took refinement, they didn't choose the most refined car in the class - let's say the Vauxhall Vectra - as a comparison when developing the post-2003 Avensis. Instead they chose the Lexus LS430 as a benchmark and claim that even at 124mph, there is zero wind noise from the door mirrors. The Mondeo and the Peugeot 406 were identified as class leaders in the area of steering feel, handling and ride and Toyota have tuned the steering for better feedback. The compact strut front suspension is similar to that of the Corolla, but the rear is a modified version of the Celica's multilink system. One advantage of this is that it reduces intrusion into the luggage bay, the saloon version featuring a 520-litre boot.
Although it's still difficult to get passionate about an Avensis Tourer, you'll no longer have to make excuses. Well built and imbued with a certain gravitas, it's very practical and supremely reliable. If you're buying a used estate car for pragmatic reasons, it's difficult to buy better.