In setting its priorities for the new Toyota Avensis, Toyota wanted a car that was more agile than its predecessor but no less stable and with even better ride comfort. In other words, pretty much what every other manufacturer seeks to do with a new car.
On the motorway the Avensis is an easy car to drive. As with most electrically assisted steering systems, the map is programmed to reduce sensitivity around the dead centre to improve straight-line stability, but with the Avensis this is particularly well judged. Keeping it straight requires little effort, yet applying the correct amount of lock comes intuitively when bigger inputs are required.
Driven enthusiastically across country, Toyota’s claims of improved torsional stiffness and suspension that is quicker to translate steering input into response ring true. The Avensis is quick to change direction, steers accurately and grips well. Fully use the chassis’ capabilities and the engine’s punch and the Avensis can be moved along quite briskly.
But drop the pace to something more representative of everyday driving and the case is much less convincing. There is nothing intrinsically at fault with the way the Avensis drives, but where it falls short is in providing much in way of feedback or enjoyment. The steering, although accurate, has none of the natural feel you get with the Mondeo. And while in extremis the Avensis is perfectly agile, in more measured circumstances it doesn’t possess the poise of the Mondeo or Insignia.
The Avensis’s biggest failing, though, is its ride. While impressively compliant, it manages to combine a nervousness over small, sharp ridges (particularly at low speeds) with inadequate body control over more challenging road surfaces.
Admittedly if you drive predominantly on motorways it might never provide cause for complaint, but in more mixed conditions its damping shows room for improvement.