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Toyota Avensis review (2011 onwards)
What - Toyota Avensis
Where - Nice, France
Price - £18,450 - £28,885
Available - Now
Key rivals - Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Honda Accord, Skoda Superb, Volkswagen Passat
Summary - Improved efficiency and economy, more power from the best selling 2.0-litre D-4D diesel, and a hike in quality and refinement. Is it enough to lift the Avensis's dependable but dull image?
Gallery: Toyota Avensis 2011
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MSN Cars' best large family cars
We like - Better refinement and efficiency, great equipment levels, low running costs, reduced BIK company car tax
We don't like - Less than inspiring to drive, bland interior, run-of the mill styling
Testing a car on the roads above Nice, in balmy December sunshine, doesn't sound like the perfect scenario to assess the revamped version of Toyota's latest family-cum-fleet machine.
In reality, the traffic-clogged roads and motorways around the city, opening out into twisty ribbons of French D-road, gave a perfect mix of real-world driving conditions.
But this Avensis is a working tool too. Toyota continues to place heavy emphasis upon its fleet-friendly nature, at a time when Ford, Vauxhall and VW are intent on distancing their models from the sales-rep image.
Yet fleet drivers still demand the same high standards, so Toyota has concentrated on improvements in both efficiency and refinement. Particular attention has been paid to the 2.0-litre D-4D diesel.
Economy is up and emissions are down, with headline figures of 61.4mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 119g/km CO2, meaning the new Avensis storms to the head of the field with its class-leading benefit-in-kind company car tax rating of 17% for 2012-2013.
Toyota's Optimal Drive remains on the Avensis, with the Japanese firm claiming the whole range is eco-friendly rather than just one dedicated 'green' model. But the pick of the bunch has to be the 2.0-litre D-4D engine.
With a relatively modest 124hp, the new Avensis has adequate performance and is quiet and refined at motorway speeds. Toyota says it has focused hard on reducing the intrusive diesel racket of old. Indeed, when idling it's hard to tell that the engine is actually spinning, though get beyond 3,000rpm and things do get a bit noisier.
A new, smaller low-friction turbocharger ensures decent low-down torque. Toyota has cottoned on to the fact that this entry-level 2.0-litre diesel will be its volume seller and has made the engine available on every trim level of the new Avensis.
We also sampled Toyota's 145hp 1.8-litre 'Valvematic' petrol in the Avensis Tourer. With 1510kg to pull, the engine is willing enough but doesn't quite have the guts to give a decent hit of performance. It revs sweetly, which is a good thing because it has to be worked fairly hard to get the big estate moving.
The real positive for the new diesel Avensis is a company car tax rating of just 17%. With the Mondeo and Insignia coming in at 21% and 18% respectively for the 2012-2013 financial year, the Avensis is targeting the fleet and sales-rep market head on.
Ride and handling
Toyota is claiming the new Avensis is more rewarding to drive, with improved comfort levels "a prime goal of the development team."
So the chassis has been stiffened up with more spot welds added to the rear doors and boot area, which Toyota claims improves rigidity and steering stability.
But it's still not entertaining to drive, in the way a Mondeo is. The retuned electric power steering is light, devoid of feedback and lacking precision, with the result that the whole driving experience is somewhat uninvolving.
Of course, there's a good chance you won't want to throw your Avensis at a twisty section of tarmac. Stick to A-roads and motorways and the Avensis quietly goes about its business, soaking up road imperfections and damping out any harshness with poise and composure.
The revised Avensis also gets its specification tweaked - to the extent that Toyota claims it is now the best-equipped car in its class. All models receive Toyota's 'Touch & Go' multimedia system with 6.1-inch touchscreen including sat-nav with traffic and safety camera warning, Bluetooth and the ability to stream audio from your MP3 player.
Toyota is also debuting its new 'Touch & Go Plus' system on the top-of-the-range T Spirit model. There's voice recognition as well as the ability to send emails and text messages on the move. But don't smart phones do all this already?
Inside, Toyota has improved the most frequently handled parts of the interior, with the door grips, switchgear and centre console all receiving new soft-touch plastics. The Avensis' interior is still a little insipid and, albeit well-built, without the sense of quality of the Passat or more sporting nature of the Mondeo.
It is roomy though, with a decent 543 litres of boot space and we could see ourselves being able to cover some serious miles in decent levels of comfort.
Economy and safety
Complete with improved engine cooling and lubrication, as well as low-rolling resistance tyres, economy and emissions for the new Avensis are improved by 15% and 14% respectively over the old car. That equates to a combined 61.4mpg and emissions of 119g/km.
Safety levels on the new Avensis are good with a plethora of electronic aids ready to intervene if things should go awry. All models come standard with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control, and vehicle stability control that helps the driver react to a sudden loss of grip.
Toyota's Pre-Crash Safety system is an option on T Spirit models too. The system uses radar to scan the road ahead and detect any potential hazards, providing braking assistance, or even fully applying the brakes, and activating the seatbelt pre-tensioners if a collision is on the cards.
Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with lane keep assist and adaptive front headlights are also optional on T Spirit models.
With plenty of driver aids, a host of airbags and a stiffer bodyshell, the latest Avensis matches the old car's five-star EuroNCAP rating too.
The MSN Cars verdict - 3/5 stars
The new Toyota Avensis is best described as competent. While it might not stir your soul, it'll definitely make friends with your wallet. Serious improvements in efficiency and economy mean the new Avensis will cost you just 49.64p per mile to run, where none of its competitors even get close to dipping under the 50p mark.
The driving experience might not be the most involving but the new Avensis is a more-than-capable family saloon with some seriously good kit as standard. Safe, smart (if a bit bland) inside, comfortable and undoubtedly reliable, the new Avensis does what it does admirably.
|Need to know|
|Engines, diesel||2.0 D-4D, 2.2 D-4D, 2.2 D-CAT 150|
|Torque, lb ft||133-250|
|0-62 mph, secs||8.9-10.4|
|Top speed, mph||124-131|
|Ride & handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||***|