REVIEW DATE: 20 Sep 2007
Toyota's revised Avensis still looks to be a class act in the Mondeo-dominated medium range sector. Jonathan Crouch explains why.
Toyota's Avensis has proved to be a hit right across Europe, an even greater sales success than even Toyota could have expected. Some experts are puzzled as to why. It doesn't sell on image. There's no sporty version. No V6 petrols or diesels. Instead, Toyota have concentrated on quality and value and it's worked. At least it has so far. The British importers hope sales will continue in a similar vein with the recently improved version we're looking at here.
The car received a mild facelift in 2006 and, more importantly, was given two advanced new diesel engines, the 2.0-litre D-4D 130 unit and 2.2-litre D-4D 180, to supplement the 2.2-litre D4-D 150 option carried over from the pre-facelift range. At the same time, the suspension and steering systems were sharpened up, sorting out the previously rather woolly handling.
That only left equipment, more recently tweaked to suit a largely business-orientated market that these days prioritises clever satellite navigation systems. Hence the fact that sat nav is now standard on TR, T Spirit and T180 grades - and not just any sat nav. This is Toyota's full-map, touch-screen system borrowed from top Lexus models, recently improved and able to guide you automatically around traffic hold-ups. As a bonus, it can also play MP3 and WMA digital music files stored on disc. Other trim tweaks across the range include smarter alloy wheel designs, with the wheels themselves up from 16 to 17 inches on D-4D models. Plus there's also smarter interior fabric and extra metallic colours on key models.
Enough of the trim detail - back to the basics. Prices start at £14,545 and, as before, two petrol engines are on offer. Customers can choose either a 129bhp 1.8-litre VVT-i engine or a 147bhp 2.0-litre direct injection VVT-i powerplant. The VVT-i set-up is Toyota's variable valve timing system which offers decent torque and fuel economy at low revs and a hefty slug of power at full throttle. All models come with vehicle stability control (VSC), traction control (TRC) and brake assist (BA) to boost the already impressive Avensis safety credentials. Safety has been prioritised with all models continuing to be equipped with 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.
"Soft touch plastics, neat metallic finishes and a huge cabin make the Avensis feel a class up"
What really sells this car however, is its inherent quality. 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 make the Avensis feel a class up.
Effective sound insulation has reduced weight and decreased noise and 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 this Avensis. Instead they chose the super-luxury Lexus LS430 saloon as a benchmark and, as a result, can claim that even at 124mph, there is zero wind noise from the door mirrors.
Toyota's efforts on the handling front are not quite as effective. This never feels like a car that you want to drive just for the fun of it. Still, that's not what it's about. This is something you can sink back into at the end of a hard day and enjoy, the refinement and, particularly, the ride quality being highlights of the driving experience. 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.
Despite the recent tweaks, the neat exterior styling remains a little forgettable. The nose features the Toyota family face and the bonnet is very compact. Viewed in profile, the stub nose and boot are dominated by the huge sleekly domed cabin, the high waistline giving an impression of rigid solidity. It's almost as if Toyota were overanxious to underline the Avensis' new-found gravitas.
On the road, the 1.8-litre saloon will sprint to 60mph in 10.1 seconds and return 39.2mpg, making it quicker, more powerful and more economical than equivalent 1.8-litre variants of the Mazda6, the Renault Laguna, the Ford Mondeo and the Vauxhall Vectra. Couple that with one of the biggest cabins in class and competitive pricing and you have to wonder whether maybe Toyota's strong sales showing in this sector isn't set to continue.
All of which leaves only a few practical points. Like its predecessor, this car is the cheapest car in its class to run - for all kinds of reasons. Take residual values: at around 35%, they're around 7-8% better than Ford, Vauxhall or even VW. Take insurance: in some cases, you'll find you're two groups better off. Take servicing: over 70,000 miles this car will spend only half the amount of time in the workshop that a Mondeo or a Passat would. Take accident repair: in a front-end shunt, this car will be 55% less costly to fix and 65% less costly in a rear-end shunt. Take company car tax: an Avensis driver will be between £300 and £1,000 a year better off than with any other rivals. Take fuel economy: no other car in the class can beat it. Even the tyre choice makes the rubber 23% cheaper to replace.
Undertake an extended back-to-back drive against best in class rivals and you can form your own opinions as to whether Toyota have hit their marks on chassis dynamics, engine characteristics and overall ergonomics. Whatever your perspective, you'll probably have to agree that they're not far off. Whether you view the purchase of a car like this practically or passionately, the Avensis still looks a class act.
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|
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|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
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