CJ Hubbard
08/12/2008 00:00 | By CJ Hubbard, contributor, MSN Cars

Toyota Avensis review (2009 onwards)



Toyota Avensis (© Toyota)


What - Toyota Avensis
Where - Milan, Italy
Price - £15,760-£24,570
Available - January 2009
Key rivals - Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Honda Accord, Skoda Superb, Volkswagen Passat

Summary

Third generation Toyota Avensis offers efficiency improvements alongside extra power. But is that enough to overcome the outgoing model's unexciting image?

We like: Toyota Optimal Drive improves efficiency, good equipment levels make it good value, Multidrive automatic impresses
We don't like: more competent than fun, interior could feel more solid, diesel refinement, rivals offer more room


Read more Toyota car reviews

First Impressions

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

Northern Italy in December sounds like it could be a dream. Reality on the launch for the all-new Toyota Avensis was roads clogged with traffic, overcast skies, and, up in the mountains, quite a considerable amount of snow. Not exactly ideal when test driving a car for the first time.Every instance we freed ourselves from behind a slow moving articulated truck, or turned off onto a clear stretch of highway, we hit traffic again within approximately thirty seconds - usually less. This began to get extremely frustrating. Until we realised that, actually, this is the authentic Avensis experience.

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

That isn't an insult. In a moment when Vauxhall and Ford are keen to move their 'D-segment' warriors - Insignia and Mondeo - away from associations with the fleet and business end of the market, Toyota is proud of the fact it sells 80 percent of Avensis to fleet buyers.Sitting in traffic is what this car is built for. That and hammering up the motorway in maximum comfort, and - major point - very rarely breaking down. Toyota has therefore sensibly concentrated on improving efficiency, and delivering good value. So reps everywhere can look forward to more equipment - but also more power.

Performance

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

But why should you, the ordinary car buying punter, care about the new Avensis? Well, it's all about the TOD. That's Toyota Optimal Drive. Funnily enough Toyota is making no attempt to encourage the use of the acronym, much as BMW doesn't refer to EfficientDynamics as ED.But TOD is like ED, in that it is a total program of drivetrain improvements across the new Avensis range, which up efficiency while also increasing power. So instead of having a single dedicated eco model, Toyota can claim all Avensis are eco friendly. A neat trick, if - like BMW - you can pull it off.

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

On the petrol side, the Avensis sports new "Valvematic" engines. A development of variable valve timing, these give extremely precise control over the inlet of air into the engine, maximising combustion efficiency - with the result that power output increases by up to 20 percent, and CO2 falls by up to 26 percent.On the diesel side, the very latest injection technology, operating at up to 2,000bar - just like Audi's Q7 V12 TDI - means up to a 10 percent drop in CO2, and up to a 6 percent increase in torque. Already thinking the improvements to the petrol engines sound more impressive? We agree.

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

We tried the 126hp 2.0-litre turbodiesel with six speed manual, and 147hp 1.8 petrol with optional "Multidrive" CVT automatic. The diesel, though refined at speed, is old-school noisy under acceleration, and feels sluggish. Changing gear often is a necessity but not a chore, thanks to the precise new manual 'box.The petrol is a more pleasantly willing partner - in a smaller, lighter car, it might even be quite a peach - and though quicker with the standard manual six-speeder, the new Multidrive CVT makes a good case for itself if you prefer a self-shifter. Its Sport and Manual modes are convincingly effective.

Ride and Handling

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

Toyota is making a big fuss of what it calls the new Avensis' "intrinsic driving pleasure qualities" (no, really). But if you appreciate the odd backroad blast, you'd be better off with a Mondeo or a Mazda6. If Toyota truly believes otherwise, it should have provided better, traffic-free road routes for us to try it out on.However, this is far from saying the Avensis is dreadful to drive. In fact, the best way to describe it is perfectly competent. The steering is impressively linear for an electrically-assisted system, there's loads of grip, and the ride, though occasionally noisy over ruined surfaces, is rarely uncomfortable.

Interior and Equipment

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

Toyota has deliberately avoided making the Avensis massively bigger than the car it replaces - keeping it compact compared to the Mondeo and the Insignia. While this makes it more wieldy around a car park, the compromise is in the reduced amounts of boot space and rear leg room compared to class leaders.The design inside is fetching, if a little conservative, and we like the 'bamboo charcoal' finish available on higher spec models. Shame the build and material quality isn't quite up to the best standards in the sector. Equipment levels are comprehensive throughout, with the lower mid-range TR trim especially good value.

Economy and Safety

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

Seven airbags and a phalanx of electronic aids are standard - including new "VSC+" stability control system, which can torque the steering to help drivers counter-act grip loss. The previous Avensis was one of the safest cars in class, and Toyota is gunning for five Euro NCAP stars next year despite newly toughened requirements.According to official figures, every new Avensis achieves at least 40.4mpg combined; best performer of all is the 2.0-litre turbodiesel manual, which is capable of 55.4mpg. But what is perhaps most impressive is how little impact optioning the Multidrive transmission has. Only available on petrol engines, the difference is as little as 0.5mpg.

The MSN Cars Verdict 3/5

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

It would be easy to make fun of the new Avensis - and we suspect plenty of reviews will be doing just that, suggesting it is just another boring Toyota. But as far as we're concerned there's plenty to be said for a car that's as all-round competent as this, especially in the current economic climate.The Avensis offers decent standard equipment, modest fuel economy, and Toyota's reputation for high reliability - and while the driving experience isn't the last word in involvement, it's inoffensive and capable. The interior looks smart, and safety should match class leaders. The Avensis is no Mondeo, but don't dismiss it for that.

Engines 
Petrol
1.8, 2.0-litre
diesel 2.0, 2.2 D-4D 150, 2.2 D-CAT 150, 2.2 D-CAT 180
Power hp 126-177
Torque lb ft 133 - 295
0-62 mph secs 8.5-10.7
Top speed mph 124-137
Mpg combined 40.4-55.4
CO2 g/km / Tax % 134-165/15-24% 

Read more Toyota car reviews

More pictures of the Toyota Avensis
Driven: Ford Mondeo
Driven: Vauxhall Insignia
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