The Toyota Avensis has long been the byword for unexciting dependability. Has the latest version acquired a charisma injection? Jonathan Crouch looks at the entry-level 1.8-litre V-matic petrol variant.
Ten Second Review
Smarter looking, better built, more efficient and with some mouthwateringly high-tech options available, the much improved Toyota Avensis strives to shuck off its rather workaday image. Give it a chance and you might well conclude that it succeeds. Even in apparently humble 1.8-litre V-matic entry-level petrol form.
Stick with this, it's worth it. Granted, most people's reactions to a Toyota Avensis are much the same as their reaction to magnolia paint or a medium white sliced loaf but in its revised third generation guise, it's time to leave the preconceived ideas behind. The Avensis has quietly become something to contend with. Approach it with an open mind and you'll appreciate its qualities.
It builds on some solid if unspectacular foundations. The first generation car arrived in 1998 and made some respectable figures. The second generation car landed in dealers in 2003 and quickly garnered a reputation for offering near-Lexus build quality at Toyota prices. The third Avensis made landfall in 2009 and served up sharper styling and was better looking, better to drive and smartly equipped. Now Lexus has further tidied up the styling, improved the interior and, like every other manufacturer, promised better efficiency. We decided to look at an entry-level 1.8 V-matic petrol model to assess the changes.
The bar for driving dynamics in this sector is set extremely high and the Avensis has been playing catch up with a fast-moving target. Opting for this 1.8-litre V-Matic petrol model rather than one of the more popular diesel versions means you don't get as much mid-range pulling power, but this variant is still respectably rapid by class standards, taking 9.4s to accelerate from rest to 62mph on the way to a 124mph maximum. Expect those figures to be diminished fractionally if you opt for the MDS automatic gearbox with its steering wheel change paddles.
And on the move? Well, 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 helps the Avensis stand out a bit more.
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
Choosing the 1.8 V-Matic petrol unit is the least expensive way into Avensis ownership. Prices start at around £18,000 for the entry-level 'Active'-spec saloon variant, with a premium of around £1,200 if you want the 'Touring Sports' estate version. Another premium of around £1,200 gets you the MDS automatic gearbox with its steering wheel change paddles. Further up the range, there are 'Business Edition' and 'Business Edition Plus' options. Even entry-level versions are pretty well equipped, with a smart black and grey interior colour scheme, manual air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, LED daytime running lights, a stereo with Bluetooth and USB and 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.
Cost of Ownership
In this petrol 1.8, you'll manage 42.8mpg and 138g/km, these figures being for saloon variants, with the Touring Sports estate version's returns being only marginally worse. To help owners get somewhere close to these kinds of returns on an everyday basis and get the maximum range from the 60-litre fuel tank, there's everything from a gearshift change indicator to an 'Eco-route' option on the sat nav system that guides you towards the most economical route, as well as the fastest or the most direct one. All of which should lead to an efficiency standard able to significantly impact your motoring costs.
This kind of showing has been of inestimable help in cementing this car's reputation as a cost-effective car to run, the issue upon which most sales battles are won and lost in the medium range marketplace. It also helps that maintenance costs for this car are lower than nearly all its competitors. As a result, respected residual experts CAP expect that after the usual three years and 36,000 miles, this Avensis will be worth more than rivals from Vauxhall, Peugeot and Ford, holding on to as much as 40% of its original value. What else? Well there's the peace of mind of a five year warranty that puts the cover provided by some rivals to shame.
The Toyota Avensis is well worth a fresh look - even in this 1.8-litre petrol guise. It's almost like that girl you'd known since you were a kid and thought was a bit of a plain Jane, only to arrive at college with her to find the guys falling over themselves. Forget the fact that it's an Avensis and you'll see it for what it is; one of the better-looking cars in its class, backed up by superb quality, low running costs and a surprisingly broad dynamic repertoire.
The latest set of revisions do a little to burnish what was already a very smart package and one that now makes many of its rivals seem a little dated. By improving efficiency and incorporating some seriously impressive technology on board, Toyota has created something that's at the same time sensible yet surprisingly covetable. Did I just say that about a Toyota Avensis? Either I'm getting old or Toyota has smartened up its act. Possibly a bit of both.