Toyota has not made up its mind yet whether it is worth developing a new generation for its Avensis, included in the European D-segment, and launched a refresher in the meantime.
There was a time, quite a while back, when larger-sized cars were considered by families as the best option for their needs in terms of practicality and comfort, but things have changed since, and quite a lot. The auto industry has come a long way in the last decade or so and the customers’ taste has also changed. People have now realized that their transportation needs can easily by fulfilled by smaller, more compact models, leaving the D-segment behind. The financial crisis also had a major impact on this sector, as drivers have started looking at more affordable options. In Europe, mid-sized models are now of interest only for fleet buyers, as they are accounting for around three quarters of total sales in this area.
Toyota entered the large family car sector in 1997 with its Avensis, a model which is now on its third generation. Taking into account the current European trends, the Japanese automaker is reluctant to developing a new one and it has not decided yet whether it is still worth carrying on in this segment in Europe. It is likely the company will change its approach and it will probably bring another type of family car to the continent in the near future. Therefore, Toyota gave Avensis another facelift a year ago, rather than totally renewing its 2009 old platform.
Design. Interior. Trims
Toyotas have always been perceived as having a conservative and well-behaved look, especially in the case of Avensis. However, the model received not just a mild refresher, but a comprehensive updated design to bring its lines closer to the modern era. The redesign idea came from Toyota’s European studio in France, while the engineering part was thought by the R&D center in Brussels. The “Emotion” criteria has never been in the company’s vocabulary, as the automaker has always relied on values such as “prestige”, “efficiency” or “sturdiness”, making Toyota have a very loyal customer base. But the refreshed Avensis is now more elegant than it has even been, with a slightly more elongated stylish front end which incorporates slimmer LED headlights.
The interior is also a step forward. If build quality has never been an issue on Avensis, Toyota has not always been particularly inspired when choosing the materials in the cabin. But the updated model definitely goes one notch up, with softer, pleasant to touch surfaces and better trims and finishes. If you avoid the entry-level, there is now a 4.2” colour TFT multi-information screen flanked by the tubed tachometer and speedometer dials, while the central console is dominated by a not very fast responding 8” full colour touch-screen interface. Avensis’ cockpit is definitely more inviting, but it is still showing its age in terms of overall feel and layout if compared with rivals such as VW Passat, Ford Mondeo or Opel Insignia.
In front, the seats are comfy with improved side holding, but a 6+ feet driver will have some challenges to find its place because the steering column is not sufficiently adjustable in depth. You can find a deep storage space underneath the wide armrest, but there are no other smart places to put your miscellaneous. There is plenty of leg and shoulders room in the back, with no central tunnel to humper passenger’s comfort. Likewise, the 509 liter boot capacity is a decent size, without being a class leader though.
Entry trims models starts from around 20,000 euros (depending on the market) featuring, as standard, manual air-conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, LED daytime running lights, a radio/CD player with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and the Toyota Safety Sense. This is where Avensis shines, as the safety system includes Pre-Collision – alerting the driver or even stopping the car if it senses there is a risk of hitting the vehicle in front, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beam and Road Sign Assist. On top of that, Toyota’s mid-sized model was awarded with a 5 start rating from the European Euro NCAP agency. If you decide to go Premium and to overpass the psychological threshold of 30,000 euros, you will get full black leather upholstery, wood-style inserts, navigation, newly-designed 18-inch alloy wheels, Adaptive Front Lights or electric-memory seats.
On the road
You definitely do not seek excitement when you choose Avensis. As mentioned before, Toyota’s loyal customers have other reasons for selecting one of the firm’s models. And a 7-year-old platform has its limits. However, the Japanese automaker said it made some engineering tweaks on the facelifted Avensis, especially on its body structure, suspension and power steering. But the most important changes came in the engine department. The older 2.0 D-4D and 2.2 D-4D were ditched in favour of the more efficient 1.6 and 2.0 BMW-sourced diesels, which in fact the Munich-based premium maker developed in partnership with Peugeot-Citroen. Therefore, the most powerful diesel has now 143 PS, being matted to a six speed manual transmission.
Toyota claimed it put some hard word work into lowering the cabin noise, adding new and thicker materials for extra insulation. The job did not quite fully meet its intentions, as the 2.0 liter diesel is lacking refinement at low revs, not a desired feature for a +30K saloon. Fortunately, the cabin and the car come to a pleasant serenity at highway speeds, where the Avensis returns around 6.7 l/100km at a 140 km/h cruising pace with the engine settling at 2,350 rpm thanks to a long 6th gear. Ease up a bit, and the fuel consumption could drop under 6.0 liters, but the claimed average fuel of just 4.5 l/100 km is far away from reality. Driving through cities, it is hard to get under 8.0 l/100km, even if the engine is helped by the start&stop system.
The upside of the engine is its flexibility throughout the revs and the 320 Nm of torque from 1,750 to 2,500 rpm ensures you plenty of punch when needed, but it is hard to imagine that the smaller 1.6 diesel would cope with the car’s large body. The soft suspension handles very well any bumps, with only the biggest ones slightly disrupting the passengers’ well-being. Avensis cannot match the corning dynamics offered by a Mazd6, VW Passat or Mondeo, and the lightness of the steering is not helping either, but it offers an enjoyable drive.
Toyota Avensis does not excel at any chapter, but it definitely does not disappoint either. It now has a more appealing exterior look, better materials inside, slightly improved ergonomics, a specious cabin, well equipped and a better suited top diesel option with refined motorway cruising. On the downside, there is not much storage space in front, the cabin layout shows the car’s age, the BMW-powered 2.0 D-4D is noisy at low speeds, the fuel consumption is not impressive by any means, the steering is lacking feedback, while the overall driving dynamic is just average. But is nothing wrong with being just ordinary, especially when you have a Toyota badge that usually brings along reliability, a value very important for a lot of fleet customers.
Toyota Avensis 1.6-litre gas 132 PS 6MT “Comfort” – 19,989 EUR
Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D 6MT “Executive” – 26,483 EUR
Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D 6MT “Luxury” – 31,118 EUR
1,995 cc four cylinder, DOHC 16 valves, turbo-diesel, start & stop
Power: 143 HP (105 kW) at 4,000 rpm
Torque: 320 Nm between 1,750 – 2,250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Length – 4,750 mm, Width – 1,810 mm, Height – 1,480 mm, Wheelbase – 2,700 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 60 liters
Trunk Capacity: 509 / 1,320 liters
Weight: 1,470 kg
0 – 100 km/h: 9.5 s
Top Speed: 200 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 5.7 l/100 km, highway – 3.8 l/100 km, average – 4.5 l/100 km
3.9 / 5