REVIEW DATE: 04 May 2007
Toyota's Avensis Is A Very Under-Rated Car. But Is The 1.8-Litre Car Most Customers Will Buy Good Enough To Meet And Beat The Class Best? Andy Enright Reports
There's a strange rule in car buying behaviour that dictates quite how big a country's wares can become before we stop buying them. Small French and Italian cars are good, some medium ones tolerable but large ones are usually a joke. The same used to apply to Japanese cars until Toyota's luxury division Lexus shook up the hierarchy. Toyota is now aiming to deliver a strident wake up call to the medium range family saloon sector in the bluff shape of the latest Avensis.
In order to get a true picture of how good the car is, we've taken a look at it in its entry level 1.8-litre guise. With fewer bells, whistles and mechanical whiz-bangs to distract the buyer, perhaps this is where the merits of the Avensis are easiest to assess. Or perhaps not. One glance at the technical specification reveals that even on first rung of the Avensis ladder there's quite a bit to contend with. Not that Toyota will punish you for the privilege. The T2 variant starts at £15,655 which is competitive against directly comparable rivals from Ford, Vauxhall and Renault.
What's more the Toyota looks so much more substantial than any of the others. It really does appear at first glance to be half a class bigger again, but the tape measure doesn't lie and shows the Avensis to be a mite smaller in most key dimensions than a Mondeo. Still, to compete with the best Europe can offer, Toyota have realised that a dodgy Japanese translation rarely cuts it. Hence this Avensis is designed in France and being marketed solely on this continent.
At present there are just two petrol engines on offer, this 129bhp 1.8-litre and a 147bhp 2.0-litre unit. Both, including this 1.8, are sophisticated VVT-i set-ups, Toyota speak for variable valve timing system which offers decent torque and fuel economy at low revs and a hefty slug of power at full throttle. No fewer than three bodystyles are available, a saloon, a liftback and an estate. With more power than most rivals, the Avensis is surprisingly quick, feeling not only brisk off the mark, but also pleasantly punchy at the top end. Despite its apparent size, the Avensis weighs some 120kg less than a 1.8-litre Mondeo and as a result will nudge an average of 40mpg. Its 171g/km CO2 emission is also the best in class and makes the Avensis a tempting choice for company car drivers, even those who have yet to be headhunted or earmarked for the board.
Trim levels in 1.8-litre guise depend on your choice between three options: Colour Collection, T2 and the TR. All come with air conditioning, an alarm immobiliser, power windows and mirrors, ABS and an excellent quality stereo system. The TR model gets satellite navigation with a full colour display as standard.
"The Toyota looks so much more substantial than any of its rivals"
Safety has been prioritised with all models getting no fewer than nine airbags as standard, including a driver knee airbag. Secreted beneath the steering column, this system protects the driver's knees and lower legs from injury. Step from an old MK1 Avensis into the cabin of the current car and you'll spot no significant family resemblance. 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 huge cabin again make the Avensis feel a class up.
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. 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 407 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.
Even Toyota anoraks may have trouble recognising the latest facelifted Avensis from its post-2003 predecessor but peer closely at the revised front and rear ends and improvements begin to become apparent. The engineers have also been hard at work on improving the suspension and steering systems used across the range, improving the ride (which didn't need much enhancement) and the handling (which really did). Otherwise, it's pretty much as you were.
Toyota have made a very fine job of transforming the Avensis 1.8 from a middleweight snoozemobile into one of the category's real heavy hitters. Any car that can marry lowest in class running costs with best in class practicality and mix in a healthy amount of dynamic competence and sheer road presence is usually good enough to claim the number one spot. It's probably not rocket science to predict that the Avensis 1.8 will fail to outsell the Ford Mondeo or the Vauxhall Vectra but make no mistake - it's a better all round car. Alongside the Mazda6 and the Honda Accord, the Toyota Avensis now shows the Japanese have finally got to grips with what was always something of a home banker for the Europeans.
The results below show the top AVENSIS deals on buyacar
|Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D Icon 5dr [Leather/Alc] diesel tourer|
|Price £18,741||Save £5,604|
|Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D Active 5dr diesel tourer|
|Price £16,331||Save £4,874|
|Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D Excel 4dr diesel saloon|
|Price £20,122||Save £6,023|
|Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D Excel 5dr diesel tourer|
|Price £21,389||Save £6,406|
|Toyota Avensis 2.2 D-CAT Excel 5dr Auto diesel tourer|
|Price £23,065||Save £6,830|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT AVENSIS DEALS|
|For AVENSIS 1.8 RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||9|
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