Facelift and hidden talents make Toyota Avensis more attractive

A host of tweaks has make the new Toyota Avensis much more attractive, says Andy Russell.

Some cars quickly win you over with their charm, others take longer for you to appreciate their talents but what I find really sorts out just how well you are going to get along in the long run is just that… a good long run.

And if a car-maker has serious intentions of wooing high-mileage company-car drivers that is vitally important. It's not enough just to be comfortable and capable, if it's going to be attractive to fleets and business drivers it needs to fit the bill financially too with low emissions and fuel consumption, reliability and a decent warranty to back it up.

Enter the new Toyota Avensis – it's not an exciting-looking car you are going to immediately fall for but it is one that is easy on the eye and easy to live with.

Despite its facelift – effectively new sculpted bumpers, wider front grille, narrower headlamps and rear light clusters with red LEDs – which aims to make it look more elegant and athletic and introduces the new face of next-generation Toyotas, the Avensis is stylish but not in a 'want-one' way.

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It's what you don't see that makes it more appealing and attractive.

Let's start with the engines. There's still the 145bhp 1.8-litre petrol and 124bhp 2.0-litre and 148bhp 2.2-litre turbo diesels – the latter mated to both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic gearboxes – but it is smaller diesel that came in for serious attention. And that's the one business fleets will be looking at.

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The 2.0 D-4D is the best-selling engine and Toyota has made big revisions with a new turbocharger and a host of tweaks to make it lighter with stronger torque, better throttle response and quicker warm-up.

The results are quite astonishing – combined fuel consumption for the saloon is 17pc better, rising from 53.3 to 62.8mpg, while CO2 emissions are down 14pc from 139 to 119g/km – so company-car drivers will pay tax on only 17pc of its value rather than 21pc. In real-world driving I was getting 52-55mpg.

By modern standards, 124bhp isn't a huge output for a 2.0-litre turbo diesel but this engine punches above its weight, pulling strongly from just 1,400rpm and there's plenty of mid-range performance for safe, simple overtaking especially when you use the slick six-speed gearbox.

Even worked hard it is well-muted thanks to extra sound-proofing and once cruising you can barely hear the engine and are hard-pressed to tell it is a diesel – good news for business-users hacking up and down motorways.

The suspension, shock absorbers and electric power steering have been revised too for improved ride and handling. The Avensis is still no Ford Mondeo when it comes to dynamic driving but acquits itself well on country roads and has good high-speed straight-line stability. What really impresses is how absorbent the ride is, soaking up poor road surfaces in its stride while keep tyre roar hushed – again a big plus for high-mileage drivers.

And if you need a lot of space for passengers and loads the Avensis delivers. There's plenty of legroom and headroom in the back for six-footers to stretch out while the flat rear floor makes carrying three passengers in the back fuss-free with no central hump to negotiate.

The saloon has a well-shaped boot that goes back a long way and has a wide aperture so it swallows large suitcases. For longer loads the 60/40 split rear seat backs fold flat but sit proud of the boot floor or you can open a 'ski' flap in the centre of the rear seat back and still carry passengers either side. If you need serious carrying capability the vast Tourer estate is the one to go for.

What you notice most about the Avensis is just how easy it is to drive and that goes for the driving position too. You soon feel at home behind the wheel with lots of seat and steering column adjustment and the big, clear dials and logical big buttons and control knobs fall readily to hand and are easy to use. The only oddity is having to push, rather than pull, the button on the fascia to apply the electronic parking brake but it releases automatically.

A big bonus, on all but entry T2 models, is Toyota's Touch & Go multimedia, pan-European satellite-navigation system and Bluetooth operated via a full-colour touchscreen which will go down well, especially with company drivers.

Like the exterior, the interior is hardly exciting but it's well finished and Toyota has raised the feelgood factor by improving trim quality both to look at and touch. Redesigned front seats are more comfortable and supportive and I wouldn't argue after a 300-mile drive.

Available in T2, TR, T4 and T Spirit all Avensis models are well-equipped with safety and security aids. TR is the core model and comes as standard with Touch & Go, contrasting dark and silver 17in alloy wheels, rear-view camera, automatic headlamps, wipers and auto-dimming rear-view mirror, dual-zone climate control and front fog lamps. And they all come with a peace-of-mind five-year or 100,000-mile warranty which fleet managers will like.

The Avensis is an unsung hero of the motoring world – it doesn't blow its own trumpet but everything comes together in a harmonious package. It's hard to fault and even harder not to like.

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