For a new car, the British-built new Toyota Avensis looks and feels remarkably similar to the old one. The Avensis faithful will see this as a good thing. In much the same way that you’d worry if a BBC newsreader arrived on your screen one day with a pink mohican and LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles, you don’t look to the Avensis for innovation and novelty value. It’s safe, reassuring and reliable.
Designed in the south of France, the third-generation Avensis is available in saloon and estate forms (but no hatchback), with a choice of new petrol engines and revised diesels. It has a slightly sharper look, with a hint of Cadillac or Saab around the nose, although mostly it looks like an old Avensis that’s been gently squashed. It’s actually the same height as before, but 50mm longer and 50mm wider.
So the new Toyota Avensis has ballooned like the Mondeo?
Not really, it still feels like a regular family car, whereas the once class-defining Ford has moved into an altogether chubbier, harder-to-park place. The Toyota also weighs more than the car it replaces, but only by 10kg.
There’s good room for four adults inside, plus a good-size child in the middle at the back. The doors are all big and open wide, so even a dodgy hip won’t stop you getting in and out easily. The long, shallow boot has a decent 509 litres of space, although the forwardmost parts take quite a stretch to reach. There’s a full-size spare under the boot floor. So far, so sensible.
>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Toyota Avensis first drive
Have they packed the new Avensis with pollution-busting gadgets and gimmicks?
No. The engines, all labelled Optimal Drive, are more efficient in terms of fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than the old ones.
In the case of the 148bhp 2.2 turbodiesel tested here, the maximum torque of 251lb ft (available from 2000 to 2800rpm) is up by 10%, while CO2 output is down by 6%. Toyota has achieved this by smart use of new injectors, running at a higher pressure.
But Optimal Drive isn’t the all-out assault on waste mounted by BMW with Efficient Dynamics. There’s no stop-start technology or radiators made of soya beans – it’s just cleaner engines and shift lights to encourage you to move into a higher gear. In this case, that means the ‘up’ arrow illuminates the moment you hit 2000rpm. And if you follow that advice, shifting up through the slick six-speed manual (an automatic is also available), you won’t be missing out on much in the way of excitement higher up the rev range.
So it’s not exactly a thrillseeker’s rocketship?
Of course not; no Avensis ever was or ever will be. But bury your right foot in the floor and you’ll be able to overtake with a pleasing briskness as the Polish-built engine gets to stretch its legs.
The engine and gearbox are smooth and capable, and the brakes are more than up to the job, but the suspension gets rattled if you try to lark about on B-roads, and your passengers will start to complain about feeling seasick. The steering is reassuringly heavy, but doesn’t offer any interesting feedback at all. It’s not an involving car.
You’re far better off treating it as the sensible family transport it’s designed to be, and enjoying the feeling of solidity: this is a car that will go on for hundreds of thousands of miles. Even the basic version is well equipped, while the leather that comes on the T4-spec car makes it feel quite classy, if not exactly German. We wish the interior design had some interest; it's an over-achingly neutral, characterless place to sit.
It’s a well built, well packaged, grown-up car that offers decent value for money and precisely no excitement. Perhaps Toyota knows its target, middle-of-the-road market too well, but we rue the total conservatism that governs this car's design.
A smart new saloon with Lexus IS looks, or another dull and dreary family Toyota? Click 'Add your comment' below and let us know what you think of the new Avensis