What's it like?
Pleasingly agreeable, and a notable improvement over its predecessor in many respects. The Avensis Touring Sports is far smarter and interesting to look at, for starters, although some may find its catfish-aping front end errs too close to plain odd, as opposed to classy and distinctive.
Inside, upgrades such as the all-new dashboard, redesigned seats and slickly presented driver's display prove successful in uplifting the cabin. It's far more modern-looking, and very comfortable, although a little more range to the steering column adjustment wouldn't go amiss.
Some seemingly obvious details let it down, though, like harsh and grease-attracting plastics being used for the door grab handles. There's also quite a lot of bluster from the windscreen pillars at speed, which takes the edge off the otherwise impressive high-speed refinement.
The Avensis Touring Sports is still as practical as ever, with seating for five, lots of head and leg room and a vast boot, which offers up almost as much storage space as the Ford Mondeo. A space-saver spare is standard throughout the range, which is further indicative of this car's potential real-world usefulness.
Crucially, it’s also significantly better to drive than it was previously. It retains the MacPherson front struts and double-wishbone rear suspension of the pre-facelift Avensis, as well as the electric power steering system. Every element has been fettled, however, and the shell stiffened, to improve its road manners.
These efforts haven’t been in vain; it feels far more poised and composed, with a keen front end and plenty of grip, although it still falls short of the dynamism and engagement of the Ford Mondeo - although that will hardly be a huge concern, if any at all, for many a buyer. Turn in is precise, with the steering weighting up in a linear and satisfying fashion, and body movements are well controlled.
On the smooth roads of our Swiss test route the Toyota rode in a more relaxed fashion than the Ford, although there was some nervousness on more broken surfaces. The braking response was a little vague, too, requiring a fair amount of pedal effort and lacking bite, but there was adequate stopping power on hand.
The new powertrain initially appears competitive. The 110bhp common-rail 16-valve diesel is smooth and quiet, even when revved hard or loaded up in higher gears. A six-speed manual gearbox does a dutiful job of transferring the power to the front wheels and there’s no shortage of traction.
The engine is unlikely to trouble the front wheels, however, because despite a variable geometry turbocharger it produces its peak torque of 199lb ft between just 1750 and 2250rpm. That’s a 500rpm window, and pulling power falls away rapidly either side of this. As a result, making progress in the Avensis requires frequent gear changes, particularly if you’re ascending hills or on a twisting road - and that's with just two adults onboard.
Its rivals are far better in this respect. The Skoda Octavia’s 1.6-litre diesel, which emits a VED-exempt 99g/km of CO2, produces its 184lb ft across a wider 1500rpm range, helping it sprint from 0-62mph in a quicker 10.8sec and delivering more eager in-gear acceleration. Then you've the bigger 2.2-litre diesel in the Mazda 6, which is equally economical and produces an additional 38bhp and 81lb ft, all across a broader spread. No contest here, then.