THE MAIN AVENT
Can Toyota's improved Avensis family car appeal to the heart as well as the head? June Neary finds out.
Will It Suit Me?
Most of the people who end up behind the wheel of Toyota's Avensis will be company car users and for that type of customer, the big Toyota is hard to fault. You just know it's going to be peerlessly reliable and studiously well screwed together. Economy looks like being another strong point according to the official figures and even the briefest first hand inspection reveals a roomy cabin. The problem with the Avensis is that, although it does a lot of things extremely well, one thing it doesn't do is excite. At least, that has always been the case in the past. Perhaps a stint in the latest model would reveal otherwise. I tend to like a car that's a bit different from the norm and that's why I approached the Avensis with some trepidation. I'd been through Toyota's literature on the car and it seemed highly competent in a number of areas - but where was that spark of originality or flare? Time on the road would provide the answer.
Today's improved model is instantly a more engaging thing to look at than its predecessor but that isn't saying much. Can it rival the likes of Ford's Mondeo, Vauxhall's Insignia, Mazda's 6 and the Volkswagen Passat in the fashion stakes? That's always going to be a matter of opinion but we can say that Toyota has achieved a suitably sleek shape for both saloon and Touring Sports estate models. This improved model gets neater headlight and tail light pods, a chrome-trimmed grille and an increase in overall length of 40mm. 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. In terms of practicality, this still isn't one of the sector's most spacious offerings but kids I carried were able to stretch out, there's still room for a couple of six-footers in the rear and the boot is nothing to be sniffed at. There's 543-litres of luggage capacity on offer in the Touring Sports estate and that only drops to 509-litres in the saloon.
Behind the Wheel
Toyota has wheeled out its latest engine technology to power the Avensis. 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. Many business buyers will want the 110PS 1.6-litre D-4D diesel I tried. It offers a 270Nm torque figure that gives it plenty of pulling power. And it's that pulling power that makes it feel a good bit faster than the 11.4 0-62mph sprint figure might suggest. You hardly have to stir the six-speed manual gearbox at all for instant poke in almost every gear. As for the dynamics, well this is never going to be the most inspiring steer you could choose in the Mondeo segment but it does feel a little sharper these days thanks to a revised steering system. It's quieter too. 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.
Value For Money
The Avensis is available with a sizable haul of equipment. Even 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. Step up a grade and there's some rather pleasant Alcantara upholstery and a Dual Ambient colour scheme giving a choice of Terracotta or Light Grey interior finishes. Equipment includes automatic air conditioning, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information screen, Automatic High Beam and dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, combination fabric and Alcantara seat upholstery, an enhanced version of the Toyota Safety Sense system and the Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system, incorporating a rear-view camera. My test car was a top of the range variant and really did come plushly specified, complete with features such as smart entry, full-leather upholstery and the 'Toyota Touch 2 with Go Plus' infotainment system 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. As for running costs, well they've been massaged a bit with this improved range. Most British customers will doubtless turn to the diesel engines, drawn by their excellent fuel economy and low emissions. The 1.6 D-4D I tried 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.
Could I Live With One?
The Avensis is what it is. There are certainly more exciting alternatives out there but how many of them would be as dependable and user friendly as the Avensis over the course of a long ownership period? It's easy to get bogged down with your initial impressions of a car and while the Avensis isn't the most interesting of the various medium range family car contenders, it could easily be the one that you end up being glad you chose after a few years behind the wheel.