BY JONATHAN CROUCH
Toyota's Avensis has always provided customers in the medium range Mondeo segment with a safe, conservative set of wheels. The third generation version continued that tradition when it was first launched in 2008, but it lacked a little in terms of style and technology. Toyota aimed to put that right when the time came for this design's first facelift in 2011 and the changes made were enough to sustain this car until further more far-reaching changes could be made in 2015. So, does an Avensis from this era make secondhand sense? Let's find out.
Toyota has its own idea of what a medium range Mondeo-sized car should be. It isn't shared by most motoring hacks but it is appreciated by business people who spend many miles in the company's Avensis model. For these drivers - and the family buyers like them - cutting edge handling and fancy design are all very nice. But they'd cheerfully swap that final tenth of turn-in and that avant garde dashboard for more practical virtues. Running costs that equal a lower benefit-in-kind tax rating and more in their pay packet. Technology that keeps them in communication on the move and gets them home quicker. These are the people that the third generation Avensis was created for in 2008. They weren't quite satisfied by that car but they responded much better to this facelifted version, first introduced in 2011.
It featured greater efficiency, more technology and a smarter look. Just enough to meet the class standard so that there was nothing to distract the attention from the sensible stuff this car has always done so well. It was just enough to keep this Toyota competitive in the face of fine competition from the Mondeos, Insignias and Passats it was up against in the medium range segment and this version of the car sold until a more far-reaching facelift was announced in mid-2015.
What You Get
The 2011 Avensis facelift introduced Toyota's so-called 'keen look' for this car's front end, supposed to give this model a more dynamic feel. This made this post-2011 Avensis model 15mm longer but the overall effect isn't markedly different from what went before, though park this version alongside the original MK3 design and the changes are clear. At the front, narrower headlamps are fitted with de rigeur daytime running lights and flank a trapezoidal grille that's large and wide with deeper blades. It sits above a sculpted bumper with a protruding centre section housing a large air intake, intended to emphasise the car's wide stance. The effect is to give this car a more assertive look.
This post-2011 model also got re-designed alloy wheels and a re-styled rear bumper too - plus revised lamp clusters that incorporate strips of red LEDs. A chrome strip above the licence plate aimed to add a further flash of quality. Nothing too dramatic then, but beautifully understated in a way that doesn't make the look of this car seem re-hashed.
And inside? Well, there are plenty of trendier and smarter-looking cabins in this sector, but subject any of them to a couple of hundred thousand miles of hard work and we'd doubt whether any would stand the test of time as well as this one. The team at the British Burnaston factory in Derbyshire have done their work well here. That said, Toyota has recognised the need to add a little extra 'showroom wow' factor, so for this revised model, the appearance, touch and feel of the dashboard were all improved and the layout of the centre console re-designed so that the switchgear is easier to locate and use.
If you're familiar with the original post-2008 version of this car, you might notice that the air vents are smarter on this updated model and those parts that are touched most often - the door grips, the switchgear and the front console - all feature higher quality soft-touch detailing. Behind a leather-covered steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and rake, owners of the earlier car might also notice the smarter white instrument backlighting and the more supportive seats. But the main highlight will be the 'Toyota Touch & Go' multimedia system with its 6.1-inch colour touchscreen.
At the back, rear seat accommodation is respectable by the standards of the Mondeo class. There are wider cabins in this sector but one of the advantages of this one if you do have to accommodate a third adult across the back seat is that the centre part of the floor is pretty flat, so legroom is not restricted. Out back, there's a 509-litre boot in the saloon variant, extendable by the usual split-folding rear seatback, though when you do push it all forward, it doesn't go quite flat. Of course, if luggage room is going to be an issue, you'll be wanting to consider the Tourer estate version, where there's 543-litres of boot capacity, rising to 1609-litres with the rear seats flat.
What to Look For
The Avensis has built an enviable reputation for reliability and this third generation car builds on it. Only a few very minor issues have surfaced that are covered under warranty. Our research has uncovered very few issues, some have had issues with EGR valves getting stuck and leading to an occasional loss of engine power (clean it with WD40 and problem is solved). In case you want to replace it, the price is £270. Otherwise, we found a report of a failed gearbox bearing after 40,000 miles (replacement cost £550) - and that's about it.
(approx based on a 2012 Avensis 1.8 Valvematic T2) You'll find Toyota spares a bit pricier than typical Ford or Vauxhall parts but less than many French rivals. A clutch assembly will cost in the region of £185, while an exhaust is around £375. A new starter motor retails for around £175, although a replacement headlamp will be in the region of £250. Repair costs have been kept down with a consequent effect on insurance premiums.
On the Road
Here's a car designed very much for the people who will drive it. Those who have to cover long distances quickly and use the time while they do effectively. Little point then, in the range providing us with a 'sporty' model. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of punch across the engine line-up. Most are satisfied with the volume unit, the 124bhp 2.0-litre D-4D diesel, which on the post-2011 model offered a beefier 310Nm torque figure that delivered 20% more pulling power. And it's that pulling power that makes this Toyota feel a good bit faster than the ten second rest to sixty figure might suggest. You hardly have to stir the six-speed manual gearbox at all for instant poke in almost every gear. For those who are in search of a little more performance, there's a 148bhp 2.2-litre version of this unit, the main virtue of which is that it also offers an automatic gearbox option.
Petrol people are becoming a little thin on the ground in the Mondeo market segment, but those who do want to fuel from the green pump have the option of a 145bhp 1.8-litre Valvematic variant, with drive either by 6-speed manual or Multidrive S auto transmission with steering wheel mounted paddle shifts. All of which is much as it was on the original post-2008 version of this third generation Avensis - as is the driving experience on offer, though those owners well familiar with earlier versions of this MK3 model will be the first to appreciate the changes made to improve it. The suspension tweaks for example - though we can't help feeling that these actually made the ride a touch less settled over the poorest surfaces. It's still great on the major routes though, an environment in which you'll appreciate the useful strides forward Toyota made with the Avensis in this form when it comes to refinement.
Every aspect of this car has been thought about - then thought about again to see if it could function a little more quietly. Toyota's Chief Engineer Takashi Yamamoto apparently drove 3000 miles across Europe to help tailor this car for the challenges of European roads and we can be pretty sure that most of that trip was conducted on the highway. It's where this car feels most at home. But that's not to say that it can't handle the twisty stuff if the occasion calls for it. The more rigid bodyshell, the thicker anti-roll bar and a range of suspension changes combine to make the car feel more assured through tight bends, something further helped by the more feelsome power steering and front seats re-shaped to give greater lateral cornering support.
As for town work, well the steering gear ratio was changed for this model, reducing the number of turns needed lock to lock. And I was pleased to see that the electronic parking brake - not normally a feature I'm a fan of - has been fitted with a useful 'auto apply' function if you forget to use it so that it automatically activates when the ignition is switched off. Neat.
We'll cut straight to the chase here: the Avensis is well worth a look if you're buying in the Mondeo medium range segment. If you can stretch to the improved 2011 to 2015-era version of the MK3 model that we've been looking at here, you'll get a strong and sensible package.
By improving efficiency and incorporating some seriously impressive technology on board, Toyota forced this car back into class contention at its launch in 2011. True, it could still be more exciting, both to look at and to drive, but you can see why the Japanese brand wasn't keen to go too far and upset the legions of customers attracted by the sensible charms of previous Avensis models. The company knows that the medium range market is closely fought and highly populated, with buying decisions often coming down to the smallest detail. And worryingly for some of its rivals, this car seems to have got many of the details that really matter just about right.