REVIEW DATE: 27 Jun 2007
You're unlikely to go far wrong with the purchase of a Toyota Avensis and the TR models ensure the value proposition is a bit of all right. Steve Walker reports
Well, built, refined and comfortable to drive, the Toyota Avensis may not be the most involving of driver's cars or the most endearing thing to look at but there's no doubt that it gets the basics right. The TR derivatives chuck the kitchen sink at the car in terms of equipment but without bumping up the price too violently. The result? An overwhelmingly sensible destination for your family car budget.
It's common knowledge that the medium range family car sector where the likes of Ford's Mondeo, Vauxhall's Vectra and Toyota's Avensis compete is underpinned by fleet sales. Business buys these vehicles in bulk so its massed ranks of sales reps and area managers can get out on the roads and keep the balance sheets ticking over. Sales to fleets are integral to the fortunes of cars like the Toyota Avensis but that isn't to say that manufacturers aren't keen to add as many private buyers as they can to their order books. That's why we see ventures like the Avensis TR, a well specified, keenly-priced model that's been created to give Toyota's medium ranger extra lustre under the showroom lights.
The nation's fleet managers buy in bulk and they don't pay list price. They run the cars for two or three years then they sell them on. Their primary concerns as they sit behind their desks feverishly tapping away at their calculator key pads are costs - purchase costs, running costs, depreciation costs. Fleet customers will take the most cost-effective car on the table every time. Private buyers are different. Spending their own money, they want a car that's affordable and reliable but they are more likely to prioritise performance, comfort and luxury. They want a car with the surprise and delight features that make it feel special and render it enjoyable to use and live with. Models like the Avensis TR are packed with this kind of stuff.
Toyota offer up a choice of three engines with the Avensis TR. The 129bhp 1.8-litre VVT-i unit turns in modest performance figures (0-60mph in 10.3s and a 124mph top speed) and needs to be revved quite hard to achieve brisk progress. It is a smooth and quiet powerplant that makes sense if you like to cruise along enjoying the impressive ride and refinement of the Avensis. The diesels are better if you can afford them. The 130bhp 2.0-litre D4-D (0-60mph in 10.6s and 124mph top speed) is slower than the petrol but its performance is more accessible, the powerful torque giving punchy responses low down in the rev range. The range-topper is the 150bhp 2.2-litre D-4D (9.3s 0-60mph and 130mph top speed) and this unit is stronger still with real urge for overtaking.
"A well specified, keenly-priced model that's been created to give Toyota's medium ranger extra lustre under the showroom lights.."
The D-4D diesel engines aren't the most refined in the sector but the sound insulation on the Avensis is out of the top draw. Toyota didn't choose the most refined car in the class as a comparison when developing this Avensis. Instead they chose the Lexus LS luxury 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.
Despite some recent tweaks, the neat exterior styling of the Avensis 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.
What really sells this car 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. Factor in the lofty equipment levels of the TR models and the upmarket impression is magnified.
Specification is the nuts and bolts of the Avensis TR's compelling value proposition. Buyers get the basics like alloy wheels, front fog lamps, cruise control, climate control, rain-sensing wipers and a leather trimmed steering wheel. You also get the intriguingly-named dusk-sensing headlamps but thankfully, the implication that these automatic lights can't identify dawn has no basis. On top of all this, the TR model adds an advanced full map satellite navigation system with a 6.5" touch screen display.
There's the choice of three bodystyles with the Avensis TR and Toyota is keen to emphasise the fact that whether you go for the saloon, hatch or tourer estate, you'll be getting one of the sector's best choices on grounds of sheer value for money. Take the 2.0-litre D-4D TR model. Its £18,545 asking price is slightly up on equivalent versions of Volkswagen's Passat, Vauxhall's Vectra and Renault's Laguna but only the Laguna has sat nav and it lacks cruise and climate control while all the others do without the automatic wipers and headlamps. The equivalent Ford Mondeo misses out on the wipers and headlamps as well but it's more expensive than the Avensis TR and once again, there's no sat nav. Although the Peugeot 407 has the full complement of features, it comes in at £300 more than the Avensis.
The D-4D diesels do the fuel economy thing very effectively with the more powerful 2.2-litre car capable of averaging 48mpg and the 2.0-litre alternative upping that figure to 51mpg. With CO2 emissions for the two at 156g/km and 146g/km respectively, the running costs should be pleasantly low. The 1.8-litre alternative returns 39mpg on the combined cycle and produces a less impressive 171g/km so it will be less cost effective but there is this car's lower purchase price to be taken account of.
Residual values for medium range models tend to be fairly catastrophic primarily because of the regular influx of discarded fleet vehicles that emerge on to the market annually to push prices down. High equipment levels like those on the Avensis TR will make it a more desirable used purchase compared to the poverty spec fleet contingent but don't expect the car's clutch of extras to protect it from some spectacular depreciation.
Private buyers who may previously have overlooked the Avensis have reason to give the car far more careful consideration now that the TR models are installed in the range. The value for money angle is sewn up comprehensively by the inclusion of satellite navigation on top of the generous standard specification for a modest increase in price. With the refinement and comfort of the basic Avensis package plus some capable engine choices, the TR has plenty to recommend it.
There's no doubt that the Avensis lags behind the class best if you value excitement. Both in the way it looks and the way it drives, Toyota's medium ranger lacks the charisma of some of its key rivals. That said, the smooth ride, and hushed noise levels in the cabin give the Avensis a very different kind of appeal with excellent build quality and Toyota's famed reliability ensuring that this is a car you can have faith in over the long term.
The results below show the top AVENSIS deals on buyacar
|Toyota Avensis 1.8 V-matic Icon+ 4dr M-Drive S saloon|
|Price £18,742||Save £5,553|
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|Price £17,936||Save £5,309|
|Toyota Avensis 2.2 D-CAT Excel 4dr Auto [Safety Pack] diesel saloon|
|Price £22,950||Save £6,795|
|Toyota Avensis 2.2 D-CAT Icon+ 4dr Auto diesel saloon|
|Price £20,316||Save £6,029|
|Toyota Avensis 2.2 D-4D Icon+ 4dr diesel saloon|
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|For AVENSIS TR RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||9|
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