Toyota Avensis review

The reliability, style and range of technology make the Avensis stand out in a crowded family car market

18 Aug 2011

Toyota has a reputation for producing dependable and useful family cars. The latest Avensis Saloon and Tourer is all of those things, but this time adds a splash of style courtesy of designers working out of the Japanese firm’s ED2 studio in the south of France.

Toyota Avenis

If its glance-stealing looks are pretty obvious from the outset, you have to live with it a bit to appreciate the Avensis’s other strengths, chiefly the use of technology to deliver its impressive safety, comfort and fuel economy without sacrificing power.

The engine line-up is well tuned to the current buyers’ concerns. The two petrol models – a 1.6 and a 1.8 – come fitted with Valvematic technology that reduces consumption to an impressive 43mpg overall for both.

Essentially it’s a smarter version of the old VVTi variable valve timing system, this time engineered to avoid wasting valuable energy spent dragging the pistons down with the valves closed (imagine pulling a bicycle pump with a finger on the end).

Toyota Avenis Valvematic

This helps create a free-revving unit with plenty of power (130bhp in the 1.6 and 147 for the 1.8), but without the emissions that bigger petrol engines get penalised for. The resulting 152 and 154g/km CO2 figures are very good for this class, with the added bonus that the 1.8’s optional Multidrive S automatic gearbox’s continuously variable technology cap the CO2 figures to just 157g/km.

The two diesel engines cut those carbon dioxide figures further, with the two-litre posting 139g/km and fuel economy of 53mpg, with the 2.2-litre achieving 51mpg. Both are impressively gutsy on the road, but the bigger engine is a revelation for its acceleration. The 0-62mph figure of 8.9seconds only tells half the story – put your foot down for an overtake and you’d swear there was a GTI badge on the back.

This engine also receives that rare thing: an automatic gearbox on a diesel. The six-speeder is smart enough to memorise your driving style to shift when you think it should, or you can change gear yourself using the paddles behind the wheel.

It’s on the top-spec version of this car that some of the cleverest tech is made available. Such as the Lane-Keep Assist that sounds an alarm if a sleepy driver is straying out of lane on the motorway. It will also use the power steering to gently the nudge the car back into position.

Toyota Avenis Lane-Keep Assist

There’s also the pre-crash assist, that can spot an impending smash with the car ahead and reacts by applying the brake, pre-tensioning the seatbelts and buzzing a warning to the driver.

However the whole range is about as safe as you’ll find in the showrooms today. For a start, there’s a five-star EuroNCAP crash test rating, helped by seven airbags within the car. The safety list also includes a sensor that detects if you’re braking hard and sets the rear high-level brake light flashing; a feature that Toyota says helps drivers behind react 50 per cent faster.

Of course none of this will be noticed by the driver in everyday driving. In fact there’s not much to spoil the serenity of what’s a very refined car.

Wind noise is well suppressed thanks to the impressive aerodynamics (which also helps keep fuel consumption low) and it rides very well at speed. The electric power steering (another fuel saving trick) is decently weighted and the seats are multi adjustable for maximum comfort.

Toyota says the increased torsional stiffness of the body helps the handling and the Avensis does indeed change direction without fuss or too much lean. It’s hard not to think that both this and the refinement is down to the obvious skill by which it’s put together. That all happens at Toyota’s factory in Burnaston, Derbyshire, where a full 90 per cent of the welding is done by robots.

The human touch comes in the design of the roomy cabin, where the dash materials have a far higher tactile quality than in previous versions of the Avensis. These same humans have thought a lot about equipment too, and three out of four grades of the Avensis come with multi-function screen with satnav, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a reversing camera. On the same specs, there’s dual-zone climate control for free as well.

Toyota Avenis interior

Both body styles are practical, but the Tourer does have some really clever touches that will appeal to frazzled families. Like the boot divider, which is a bar running on rails either side that splits up the space either fore and aft or diagonally. The flat floor when the seat backs are folded is also a boon.

Toyota Avenis boot

It is difficult to stand out in this fiercely competitive market, but Toyota has done that by playing to its strengths, while at the same time ramping up both the styling and technology and keeping costs down for the owners.

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