The Toyota Avensis continues to punch above its weight. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the latest model.
Ten Second Review
The Toyota Avensis gets another facelift, but this time the effects go deeper than superficial styling updates. The engines have been updated, the suspension and steering improved and there's a redesign for the interior. It cements the Avensis' position as one of the classiest cars in its sector.
If we were to nominate a list of ten cars on sale in the UK that deserve to sell a whole lot more than they actually do, there would be a few contenders that come to mind but right up there in one of the podium positions would be the Toyota Avensis. If ever a car could benefit from a name change, this is it. The first generation Avensis models were a bit lightweight and unexceptional and this very much set the template for people's expectations.
The second-gen cars were a whole lot better, with really strong build quality and gutsy diesel engines but weren't much fun to drive. Toyota got things right with the third-gen Avensis, which really did feel like a little Lexus. That car appeared back in 2009, was facelifted in early 2012 and has been given the once-over again for the 2015 model year. What do buyers get this time round?
As you probably guessed, the engine changes haven't focused on making the Avensis more dynamic or exciting to drive, instead concentrating on improving efficiency. The engine range comprises 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels with 110PS and 141PS respectively and the petrol options range from 1.6 to 2.0-litres, with power outputs between 130PS and 150PS. The old 2.0-litre D4-D that was the mainstay of the range is now Euro6 compliant and the 1.6-litre D4-D now takes up the heavy hauling. This Euro 6-compliant engine, working with a six-speed manual transmission, is 20kg lighter than its predecessor. It develops 110bhp at 4,00rpm and 270Nm of torque from 1,750 to 2,250rpm. This gives 0-62mph acceleration in 11.4 seconds and a top speed of 112mph.
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
Prices start at around £18,000 and there's a premium of around £1,200 if you want the Touring Sports estate bodystyle over the saloon. These are competitive figures for the medium range Mondeo-class segment. Buyers get a choice of 'Active', 'Business Edition', 'Business Edition Plus' and 'Excel' trim levels.
Toyota has long striven to go beyond the class norm when it comes to the Avensis' equipment provision so 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
Most British customers will doubtless turn to the diesel engines, drawn by their excellent fuel economy and low emissions. The 1.6 D-4D generates CO2 emissions of just 108g/km and even if you step up to the 2.0-litre engine, you'll still only be faced with 119g/km to tax - a 24g/km reduction on the performance of the outgoing 2.2-litre unit. An increase in service intervals to 12,500 miles and a reduction of about 20% in the 56,000 mile/three-year servicing costs for both units have helped make the diesels cheaper to run.
The petrol engines have seen their fuel injection systems revised for better efficiency, while lower friction has been achieved through the uses of Teflon components and auto-tensioning the accessory belt. A further 4% improvement in fuel economy has been realised through extensive revisions to the Multidrive S continuously variable transmission available with the 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines. Figures for the 1.6-litre manual improve from 43.5 to 46.3mpg; for the 1.8-litre manual from 43.5 to 47.1mpg; and for the 2.0-litre Multidrive S from 40.9 to 46.3mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions improve too. The 1.6-litre manual falls by 8g/km to 142g/km, the 1.8 manual sees figures drop 14g/km to 139g/km while the 2.0-litre Multidrive S reduces by a whopping 19g/km to 142g/km.
We'll cut straight to the chase here: the Avensis is well worth a fresh look. By improving efficiency and incorporating some seriously impressive technology on board, Toyota has forced it back into class contention. When you have a car efficient enough to be able to put tax benefit-in-kind cash back in your pay packet. And one clever enough to enable you to email, tweet and text on the move, you have one that's going to endear itself to plenty of people, especially as it's British-built.
Could it be more exciting, both to look at and to drive? Well probably, but you can see why Toyota weren't keen to go too far and upset the legions of customers attracted by the sensible charms of previous Avensis models. The brand 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.