The 1.8-litre petrol engine proceeds with moderate zeal and high-speed stability, and the Toyota’s cruising ability is quietly impressive. Overall, though, it is short on low-down grunt and refinement is ruined because it needs to be worked hard. Frugal though it is for its size, most buyers in this class also prefer a diesel.
Toyota's 2.0-litre diesel can only be had with a manual gearbox, which offers decent frugality and emissions and gives little away in real world terms to the smaller diesel. For most buyers, this will be the starting point of their selection process.
Slightly taller gear ratios than some rivals mean the Avensis’s in-gear performance is not so all-conquering. Away from the track, though, the spread of power and torque proves as useful for give-and-take road motoring as it is does outright performance. The full 250lb ft of torque might not arrive until 2000rpm (later than rivals) and does so with a pronounced step in performance, but it lasts until 2800rpm before tapering off – longer than its rivals can manage.
You rarely wish for more low-down grunt, and anywhere between 2000 and 3500rpm the diesel proves sufficiently willing to rev. Couple this with the tall gear ratios and gearshifts can be kept to a minimum. Which is no bad thing. Not because the change is poor (with the exception of second to third, which can occasionally baulk), but because the tall lever doesn’t fall naturally to hand.
While we have no qualms with the performance of the Avensis, we do with its engine refinement. The problem is not smoothness – little vibration is transmitted to the cabin – but noise. Under full throttle, as the engine reaches its peak torque, it emits a noticeable grumble – part muted diesel rattle, part induction roar.