What is it?
The Toyota Avensis has become a familiar sight in taxi ranks up and down the land. Its reputation for reliability, plus its space and decent economy have made it a popular choice for those that require a dependable workhorse above all else.
Now, Toyota has facelifted the Avensis to share the new family face and make it more appealing for those buyers after something extra from their faithful, four-wheeled friend. Not only has the exterior styling been massaged, the cabin is all-new with more equipment and the promise of improved material quality. You also get more kit for your cash.
The oily bits have also been under the microscope; the suspension has been retuned, sound insulation improved and there are a pair of new diesel engines available.
Predictably, Toyota has downsized; the 2.0 and 2.2-litre diesels have been replaced by 1.6 and 2.0-litre units respectively. As you’d expect, economy is up and emissions are down. In this instance, we’re looking at the bigger engine in mid-spec Business Edition trim.
What's it like?
Economy and emissions may have been improved over the old 2.2-litre diesel's figures, but power has not. This new unit develops 141bhp to give a 0-62mph time of 9.5sec - not fast but perfectly acceptable.
More important is flexibility, and this is something the Avensis has plenty of. Assuming you’re not expecting to gain speed rapidly, this engine will slog from surprisingly low rpm, which is handy because it gets loud and clattery approaching 3000rpm and beyond it.
Indeed, refinement is not this car’s forte; at idle and low rpm, you feel the motor vibrating through the pedals and steering wheel, although the engine quietens right down while the vibrations smooth out when you're up to motorway speeds.
The suspension also feels most at home in this environment. It’s softly sprung, so it’s quite happy to lollop along at speed, but does roll noticeably when cornering. Bigger bumps can also thump through the structure and unsettle the car slightly.
When you factor in steering that feels precise enough without ever really telling you what’s going on, a strange grittiness to the gearbox when moving the stick left to right and stability control that can’t be turned off, you have a car that should be avoided by the keen driver. A Ford Mondeo certainly has nothing to fear.
Inside, the Avensis remains a spacious choice, albeit not quite on the level of the huge Skoda Superb. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of rear head and legroom for adults, and centre-seat occupants will appreciate the flat floor.
Up front, drivers get plenty of adjustment for both the steering wheel and seat, including adjustable lumbar support on all but basic Active models. You also get a good-sized boot, although hatchback-bodied rivals are easier to load.
As for the new dash, it may look a little more contemporary than the old one but it still lags behind those in the Skoda Superb or Volkswagen Passat. Not only is it bland, there is a surprising amount of cheap-feeling plastic in areas you interact with regularly.
We’re also not the biggest fans of its infotainment system. It may have standard sat-nav but it can be laggy, and the graphics look dated. Even worse, the screen sometimes goes black when you’re navigating between functions, something that proves distracting during the hours of darkness.
Should I buy one?
Make no mistake; the Avensis is by no means a bad car. It has a five-year/100,0000-mile warranty, plenty of equipment, and it's generally comfortable to drive. For those that are even slightly interested in the way a car handles, though, there’s little of interest here. Those buyers are still best off in a Mondeo.
Yet, even wearing our sensible hat, it’s hard to build a case for the Avensis when you could instead have a Skoda Superb. Certainly not when they cost similar money, and offer more room and cheaper running costs.
Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D Business Edition
Location West Sussex; On sale Now; Price £23,155; Engine 4 cyls inline, 1995cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 141bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 221Ib ft at 1750-2250rpm; Kerb weight 1470kg; Gearbox 6-spd manual; 0-62mph 9.5s; Top speed 124mph; Economy 62.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 119g/km, 21%