REVIEW DATE: 04 May 2007
There's no better way of getting acquainted with a long term test car than to put some miles on the clock. With that in mind, we gave our Toyota Avensis T180 2,000 miles to chew on in a week to see how it fared. Andy Enright reports
Some of our long term cars get more action than others. I remember we once had a luxury saloon with a petrol engine so thirsty that every time you filled it up it felt as if you would shortly get a call from your credit card company questioning the unusually large transactions on your account. I used the train a lot instead. Then there are cars like the Toyota Avensis T180. Spot the keys to this car in the office key locker and you need to be very quick on the draw.
There really is no substitute for putting miles on the clock to really get to know a car. Only extended use will throw up its quirks, its character and fix in your mind its strengths and weaknesses. Yes, experienced road testers can form quick and often accurate assessments of vehicles based on just a short blat up and down a familiar piece of road but in order to really discover what the car's like to live with, you'll need to get some long hours of seat time. Our Avensis T180 was aimed at the French Alps and then given the treatment.
French autoroutes tell you a lot about a car's nature. Although you'll often see advertisements for used cars where the owners attempt to explain away intergalactic mileages by dismissing them as simply motorway miles as if they don't count, extending a car for long periods at high speeds remains mechanically stressful. The Avensis T180 is a car built for this particular task, a long sixth gear dropping the revs down to a point where high-speed cruising is possible without taking the engine out of its comfort zone. We averaged 85mph between two toll gates some 150 miles apart and the Toyota's trip computer informed us that we had also averaged a consumption figure of 37.8mpg.
"The Avensis T180 is discreet and dependable"
This trip computer is so good it can be distracting. Prod the 'display' button on the multi function steering wheel and the LCD readout shows average fuel economy for your trip, instant economy and average speed. There's also a handy outside temperature gauge that warns you of icy roads ahead. At one point, I started trying to maximise economy and found myself coasting downhills and so on before reminding myself that the traffic ahead was a more pressing concern than getting a high score on a digital readout.
The specification of the T180 is slightly unusual. There are some upmarket touches like an in-dash satellite navigation system, leather and alcantara trim, smoked alloy wheels, a six-disc CD autochanger, dusk-sensing headlamps and electrically multi-adjustable front seats - and then there are some rather odd omissions. There's no auxiliary input to connect an iPod or mp3 player to the stereo system, no heated seats and no parking sensors either. The satellite navigation system is fairly easy to use, although it gave so many eccentric route instructions that we eventually resorted to a good old-fashioned paper map instead. At one point it diverted us off a main road, through a mazy industrial estate and then back onto the main road at the junction we'd left.
There can be very few complaints about that diesel engine though. If I was to grumble, it would be to say that pulling into fast flowing traffic or onto a busy roundabout can be a little unnerving, the power delivery pausing before the turbocharger gets going, but you'll soon take into account that, if you have some sympathy for your clutch, the T180 isn't the quickest off the mark. Once it's rolling and the turbo comes on stream, there's a big dollop of torque at your disposal. Toyota claims a sprint to 60mph of just 8.3 seconds with a top speed of 136mph attainable. The six-speed manual gearbox is precise without possessing the sort of shift you'd flick up and down the box just for the fun of it, while the brakes are solid and confidence-inspiring.
The handling of the Avensis has improved in its latest incarnation but to be honest, the car was so weighed down with gear on this trip that it wasn't really thrown into any corners. More important was the ride quality and this was very well judged, isolating the expansion-joint thuds on autoroute bridges and dealing capably with scabby, ice damaged Alpine roads. The steering is accurate and feels well-oiled in that expensive manner usually the preserve of executive cars. The dashboard is clear although the orange colour scheme of the main dials can appear a little garish. Likewise, some of the minor instruments are haphazardly located, the heated rear window and the windscreen demist buttons being on completely different parts of the fascia.
All round practicality was extremely good. It was easy to find a decent driving position with a reach and rake adjustable wheel and the electrically-adjustable seat. Fold the rear seats down and 190cm long skis will sit lengthwise in the cabin. The rear seats don't fold totally flat and you'll need to ditch the parcel shelf, but when you've done this, it's apparent that the Avensis is a very capable load carrier.
There are a lot of very competent cars in this class and £22,055 remains a fair slug of cash for a mainstream family car but the Avensis T180 makes a compelling case. It's by no means an exciting car but what it lacks in charisma it more than makes up in depth of engineering. Trying to imagine one of these by the side of the road with its bonnet up just does not compute. Whether you warm to the Avensis T180 very much depends on what you want from the car. If it's a quick fix, spend your money on a Ford, a SEAT or an Alfa Romeo. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a model that will last the long term, I can think of nothing better for the money.
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