Motoring Review - Toyota Avensis

Manufactured in Derbyshire at Toyota's Burnaston plant, the latest Avensis is as dependable as ever and has improvements across the board with a particular focus on safety and the environment, Steve Walker reports.

Medium range family cars might not be the most enthralling category of vehicle in today's marketplace but that doesn't mean that the thousands of motorists who end up behind the wheel of one don't want some excitement. Whether they've shelled out their own money or been handed the keys by their company's fleet manager, drivers of family saloons and estates are just as eager to be exhilarated as someone who's re-mortgaged a house to buy a Lamborghini, perhaps more so. The problem is that these large mainstream cars must speak to an almost impossibly broad church. Running costs, build quality, practicality, reliability, all of these essential factors and more have got to be nailed down before designers and engineers can even think about instilling sporty dynamics or concocting a beguiling exterior. Toyota's Avensis has traditionally done the basics with aplomb. The latest car aims to put the icing on the cake.Toyota is eager to emphasise that this Avensis has been designed to appeal to European tastes. Like any number of the marque's other efforts, the old Avensis was eminently reliable and built like a Sumo wrestler's rocking chair but ever so slightly staid in its design. Created in the South of France and manufactured in Derbyshire at Toyota's Burnaston plant, today's Avensis is off to a promisingly European start.Toyota has wheeled out its latest engine technology to power the Avensis. The petrol engines are of the Valvematic configuration which improve efficiency and increase power through an advanced combustion process. There's a 1.8-litre engine with 145bhp and a 2.0-litre packing 150bhp that can reach 60mph in a swift 9 secs when fitted to the saloon body. The diesels use the latest generation of Toyota's tried and tested D-4D technology and comprise a 130bhp 2.0-litre with 310Nm or torque, a 150bhp 2.2-litre with 340Nm and another 2.2-litre with 180bhp and 400Nm. That later engine has some serious firepower behind it and is capable of hitting 60mph in 8.5 secs. There's a manual gearbox as standard or the option for petrol buyers of the Multidrive S CVT gearbox which is available with wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The diesels are available with a conventional six speed automatic.The Avensis gets off to a promising start with regard to its driving dynamics. The car rides on MacPherson strut front suspension with a double wishbone arrangement at the rear. Lots of attention has been paid to enhancing the torsional stiffness of the car and boosting its resistance to body roll. Today's model is instantly a more engaging thing to look at than its predecessor. Can it rival the likes of Ford's Mondeo, Vauxhall's Insignia, Mazda's 6 and the Honda Accord in the fashion stakes? That's always going to be a matter of opinion but Toyota has achieved a suitably sleek shape for both saloon and Tourer estate models. At the front, diamond headlamps smear dramatically back in to the front wings and the chrome-ringed grille sits above a large central air intake. This Toyota is 50mm longer than the previous model and is wider by the same amount with a lengthy wheelbase of 2,700mm. This all adds up to a generously proportioned cabin and a good-sized boot tagging along behind. In the Tourer model, cargo rails help to keep unruly loads in check and the seats have a one-touch folding mechanism.The Avensis is available with a sizable haul of equipment that includes dual-zone air-conditioning, automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and cruise control. Other high tech additions include a touch screen satellite navigation system, keyless entry and start technology and an 11-speaker stereo with a 10Gb hard drive. The Tourer model can also be ordered with a panoramic glass roof.From a safety perspective, the car looks extremely well appointed with seven airbags and active headrests featuring on every model. VSC+ stability control is available which can make steering inputs and apply selective braking to pull the car out of a slide and there's the option of the AFS Adaptive Front lighting System for improved visibility at night. Toyota even offers ACC Adaptive Cruise Control that maintains a set speed and distance from the car in front when cruising.Style and driving enjoyment are great but running costs are where most sales battles are won and lost in the medium range marketplace. Toyota has been hard at work minimising the cost of running an Avensis and the figures make impressive reading. 41mpg and 163g/km emissions from the 1.8-litre petrol engine is a decent showing but the 2.0-litre diesel trumps it emphatically with a 55mpg average and a tax-friendly CO2 reading of 134g/km. This Toyota achieves its strong performance at the pumps in part through its slippery shape. The saloon has a drag coefficient of 0.28Cd thanks to its sleek bodywork and specially designed flush underfloor. All Avensis models with automatic gearboxes are also equipped with an ECO driving indicator that shows the driver how efficient their driving style is. On manual cars, this is replaced by a shift indicator that advises on the best time to shift up or down.Toyota isn't going to alienate any of its existing customers with the latest version of this car and we all know it's got a lot of those. The design builds on the solid foundations laid down by the previous model and its attempts to bring a little extra sparkle to the look and feel of the package have been successful. The increased focus on the environment and safety in the latest Avensis should pay dividends and Toyota has also introduced a raft of new technologies both in the engine bay and elsewhere on the car. The medium range market is closely fought and highly populated with buying decisions often coming down to the smallest detail. Worryingly for its rivals, this car seems to have got the details right.FACTS AT A GLANCECAR: Toyota Avensis rangePRICES: �15,760-�24,570 - on the roadINSURANCE GROUPS: 7-12PERFORMANCE: [1.8] 0-60mph 9.0s / Max Speed 127mphFUEL CONSUMPTION: [1.8 saloon] (urban) 33.2mpg /(extra urban) 52.3mpg / (combined) 43.5mpgSTANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: seven airbags, activehead rests, ABS, EBD, VSC+, ISOFIX child seat fixingsWILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: (length/width/height mm) 4695/1810/1480 [saloon]

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