First DriveThe Avensis gains new diesel engines, suspension tweaks and a restyle inside and out. Can it now match the class best?
First DriveOverhauled Toyota Avensis estate wades back into battle against all-new rivals with new diesel engines from BMW
‘What engine is in that car, sir?’ We had been dicing on a derestricted stretch of autobahn near Hamburg at speeds of up to 135mph. Now I’d followed him off the freeway and pulled up alongside to ask about his BMW 3-series Touring – and it was a question I needed answering immediately. As we’d blasted along, being held up and then accelerating to full speed again, he hadn’t been leaving me behind by much. Yes, he seemed to have more urge, especially at higher speeds, but the difference was negligible and there was no way he was getting away. It was obviously a diesel, judging by the exhausts and the puffs of black smoke spurting from them, but of what capacity? If it was a 3.0-litre six, then the new 2.2-litre diesel engine in my Avensis was a very impressive piece of work indeed. If it was a 2.0-litre four, less so. ‘It’s a 3.0-litre diesel’, said the guy. When I told him my car had a 2.2-litre four, his eyes opened with surprise. ‘Really? Very fast. Auf Wiedersehen.’ The new 175bhp, 276lb ft 2.2-litre D-4D diesel powering my autobahn-blasting Avensis will be on sale early in 2006, and will see service in other Toyota products, including the new Lexus IS. A 148bhp version of the 2.2 is on sale now in the Avensis, supplementing the existing 114bhp 2.0-litre D-4D for an extra £1000. It, too, is a superb unit and effectively makes the 2.0-litre redundant. But the 175bhp version is even more interesting, and it’s this engine we’re driving here. Toyota is committing itself fully to the diesel market in Europe, for which these engines have been developed exclusively. They’ll be built in a new plant in Poland and are state-of-the-art. Construction is entirely of aluminium, and the common-rail unit is packed with high-tech features, including piezo electric injectors, which inject fuel at twice the rate of conventional injectors, integrated oil and water pumps, an advanced turbo-charger and intercooler, and an exceptionally low compression ratio of 15.8:1. Toyota’s D-CAT system (Diesel Clean Advanced Technology – an advanced four-way catalytic converter) also reduces emissions to class-leading levels. On the road, the new engine is exceptionally smooth and quiet, and is well-suited to Toyota’s effective (if mind-numbingly bland) Avensis. Tickover is free from any rattle or clatter, even from cold, and it revs cleanly and quickly to 5000rpm. Boost spools up with very little turbo lag, and there isn’t the all-or-nothing surge of a Ford Mondeo ST diesel. It will easily match BMW’s 320d and, as we saw on the autobahn, will give the 330d a seriously hard time. You really notice the extra shove at motorway speeds, where you can accelerate rapidly without needing to shift down from sixth gear. It remains quiet and unfussed at all revs. Roll on the Lexus IS with this new engine, then. We’ll see it early next year. And a Toyota source confirmed that the company is working on a six-cylinder diesel as we speak, which should see off our friend’s 330d… Bill Thomas