The Toyota Avensis returns with sharper styling, even better quality and a much more efficient entry-level 1.6-litre D-4D diesel engine. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The Toyota Avensis has long been a sensible choice but it's never really have an especially sensible diesel engine. Now it has. The Japanese brand has developed a 110bhp 1.6-litre unit with BMW and it's been installed into this car as part of a wide-range update. The result for many target business and family users will be a much more credible Mondeo-segment contender.
Toyota's Avensis has established a reputation as a beautifully built and, in recent years, rather good-looking family car but it faces two big issues. The first is that the market for mainstream family cars is shrinking. The second is that as the Avensis gets ever better, it treads increasingly uncomfortably onto the toes of its cousin, the Lexus IS.
Therefore it's perhaps understandable that Toyota hasn't given the latest Avensis a massive build up. It deserves it though, not least because the range now offers a far more credible portfolio of diesel options. Gone is the old inefficient 2.2-litre unit, replaced with a 2.0-litre powerplant with power upped to 141PS. Slotting in beneath that is the unit we're going to look at here, the 1.6-litre D-4D diesel with 110PS. This is the engine the Avensis range has always needed to make meaningful headway in this segment.
Although much of the emphasis on this latest car is on the styling, quality and equipment, the real story here is the installation of the BMW-derived 1.6-litre 110PS D-4D diesel engine beneath the bonnet of entry-level variants. It's an efficient and quite acceptably rapid thing, making 62mph from rest in 11.4s en route to 112mph.
And on the road? Well this still isn't the sharpest handler in the Mondeo class but it's a lot more responsive through the bends than it used to be. The suspension basics remain much the same, with a MacPherson strut up front and slick double wishbones at the back, but both elements have been tweaked to improve ride and handling. Steering feel and responsiveness have been improved by the use of a new intermediate shaft, a revised anti-roll bar and an increase in body shell rigidity through the use of a powerful urethane to bond the windscreen. Toyota has also put more sound insulation into the Avensis, as well as fitting thicker rubber seals. The air conditioning has even been made quieter.
Design and Build
The first thing you'll probably notice is that the Avensis has a fresh face. It's not the most sweeping of restyles, that's for sure, but there are neater headlight and tail light pods. Overall vehicle length has been increased by 40mm and the Toyota emblem is set more prominently with a smaller but sharper-styled upper grille. The grille itself has a chrome trim bar, while the lower grille has been made significantly larger and the fog lamp housings have been pushed out to the extremities of the bumper, making the vehicle appear broader. Revised designs for the alloy wheels and added brightwork on the sill help this model stand out a bit more too.
The cabin has been treated to some brightening up, with uprated trim finishes and colour schemes. Toyota hasn't done things by halves here, with a redesigned instrument binnacle, the tacho and speedo being separated by a 4.2-inch colour TFT screen on some models. The steering wheel, gear lever and switchgear have also been updated. Better consistency of typefaces and lighting are complemented by satin chrome highlights. Higher-grade seating fabrics also feature, with a revised front seat design that offers improved comfort. Build quality is a testament to the workers at the Burnaston plant near Derby, this facility routinely achieving some of the best ratings of any Toyota assembly facility. Remember, there's also a Touring Sports estate version on offer if you need a bit more hauling space.
Market and Model
There's a premium of around £1,000 to own this 1.6-litre D-4D diesel Avensis rather than its directly-comparable 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol-powered stablemate. That means pricing that starts from around the £19,000 mark, with a model-for-model premium f around £1,200 if you want the Touring Sports estate model rather than the standard saloon. There's a choice of three trim levels - 'Active', 'Business Edition' and 'Business Edition Plus'.
Entry-level models feature a black and grey interior colour scheme and are equipped as standard with manual air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, LED daytime running lights, a stereo with Bluetooth and USB and there's also the peace of mind afforded by Toyota Safety Sense system.
Step up a grade and there's some rather pleasant Alcantara upholstery and a Dual Ambient colour scheme giving a choice of Terracotta or Light Grey interior finishes. Equipment includes automatic air conditioning, a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information screen, Automatic High Beam and dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, combination fabric and Alcantara seat upholstery, an enhanced version of the Toyota Safety Sense system and the Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system, incorporating a rear-view camera.
At the top of the range, the Avensis gets features such as smart entry, full-leather upholstery and Toyota Touch 2 with Go Plus, incorporating satellite navigation. Customers will be able to extend this specification with a premium pack, adding 18-inch wheels, LED headlamps with an Adaptive Front Lighting system, power-adjustable front seats with a memory function and a Skyview panoramic roof.
Cost of Ownership
It almost goes without saying that the running cost figures for this 1.6-litre D-4D Avensis are very class-competitive. They couldn't afford not to be. Expect 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 108g/km of CO2, the kinds of figures you'd have expected from a little supermini until quite recently.
An increase in service intervals to 12,500 miles and a reduction of about 20% in the 56,000 mile/three-year servicing costs have helped make all Avensis diesel models cheaper to run.
Designed and engineered in Europe and built exclusively at Toyota's Burnaston factory in the UK, this much-improved Avensis should continue to be quietly successful in its tough market sector. It's one of those cars that makes more and more sense the more homework you put into your family car or business conveyance buying decision - although its job looks set to get ever tougher in the face of rapidly improving Korean rivals. This is where this efficient 1.6-litre D-4D diesel engine option should help.
The Avensis used to be a car that had a beauty about its sheer understated pragmatism. These days it's a little more of an attention seeker but it remains a car that constantly betrays evidence of deep contemplation in the design phase. The entry-level diesel versions will tend to be chosen by those not reliant on a premium badge to prop up a secure ego and that has to be admired. Not a common choice then, but potentially a very good one for the right kind of medium range segment buyer.