What is it?
A heavily facelifted version of Toyota’s staid and eminently dependable third-generation Avensis.
Much like those that preceded it, the third-gen Avensis quickly built itself a reputation for being reliable, inexpensive to run, comfortable and cosseting.
It was by no means an exciting car, but that didn’t matter. Few buyers cared if it could be slung around a corner at a vast rate of knots, with most simply looking for practical, hassle-free, easy-going motoring.
The estate market has changed dramatically since 2009, however, with several all-new rivals – including the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Octavia – pitching into the fray. More long-standing efforts, like the Vauxhall Insignia and Mazda 6, have also benefitted from an update, leaving the Avensis looking considerably behind the times.
The increasing popularity of crossovers additionally steals a substantial chunk of estate sales these days, so if you want to stand a chance of success then your product really needs to be at the top of its game.
So, in order to get the Avensis back on buyers’ radars, a whole host of upgrades have been carried out. It has been restyled inside and out, in an effort to deliver a far more distinctive look, quality has reputedly been improved and the trim levels and specifications list has been given a thorough working over.
Of more significance is the fact that Toyota has introduced two BMW-sourced four-cylinder diesels into the engine line-up. They offer lower CO2 emissions and improved economy compared to the outgoing Toyota engines, as well as extended service intervals. This should make the Avensis Touring more interesting to the all-important fleet and business market.
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.
During our five-hour test route, which took in a mixture of motorway and cross-country driving, the Toyota returned an indicated 46mpg. That places it on a par with the real-world consumption of its more powerful rivals, making it difficult to recommend. Either way, the 13-gallon fuel tank means a range in excess of 600 miles, which is plenty for those long family trips.
Kit levels are good, though, with this £25k example coming as standard with cruise control, dual-zone climate, a media and navigation system with an 8.0in touchscreen, DAB digital radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, part leather seat trim and electric, heated folding mirrors. It also packs an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and automatic lights and wipers, cutting the driver's workload, and myriad safety systems including traffic sign recognition.
Should I buy one?
You wouldn’t be doing yourself a disservice if you did. This is not a car that’s devoid of merit; it’s effortless to drive, safe, immensely practical and it should soldier on indefinitely with simple, low-cost routine servicing.
Unfortunately for the Toyota, several other direct rivals in this sector offers a similar breadth of stout credentials. Some are even better to drive, and, crucially, many of them offer lower or identical emissions and economy in conjunction with more powerful, flexible engines. Consequently company car drivers will likely cross the Avensis off their lists post haste, while private buyers will find more appealing overall packages elsewhere.
That said, aspects like a standard five-year, 100,000 mile warranty and its simple, straightforward and reliable nature will endear the Avensis to some.
2015 Toyota Avensis Touring Sports Business Edition Plus 1.6 D-4D 6MT
Location Verbier, Switzerland; On sale Now; Price £24,975; Engine 4cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 110bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 199lb ft at 1750-2250rpm; Gearbox 6spd manual; Kerb weight 1610kg; 0-62mph 11.7sec; Top speed 114mph; Economy 67.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 110g/km, 20%