02 May 2011

DRIVEN: Toyota Avensis

You can buy it with your head, impossible with your heart...

ONCE upon a time, Japanese cars were notoriously known for building bland and uninspiring cars. What they lacked in character and aesthetics. They more than made up for that in being competent, well priced, well equipped cars that were more reliable than a wood burning stove.

Most Japanese manufacturers like Honda, Nissan and Mazda continue to make cars with those merits of: reliability, high equipment levels and value for money. Today, they make cars with some panache besides that.

Whereas most Japanese companies have spiced up their image. Toyota on the other hand, have remained very conservative of those from the Far East. That's if you put aside the Celica, MR-2 and Supra models. Their bread and butter cars in general, have been four-wheeled domestic appliances.

The Avensis is as conservative as cars get. Though, Toyota did attempt to make the second generation more "eye-catching" over the forgettable original. They started with a clean sheet of paper on the new Avensis launched in 2003. An all-new design with a mixture of rounded edges and sharp creases. With design cues borrowed from the smaller Yaris and Corolla in Toyota's line-up.

Like the previous model, they had the same engines that were carried over to power the new Avensis range. It's also in available in three bodystyles. A hatchback (liftback it's also called), saloon and an estate. Oh, and it's also built in Blighty. Made in Toyota's Burnaston plant in Derbyshire.

Even though the Avensis was given a fresh, new look. No one is going to batter an eyelid when they see one. Purely based on the fact that it’s so anonymously styled. In the defence of the big Toyota, it’s inoffensive to look at.

Inside, the Avensis is just as conventional as the outside. No surprises and no gimmicky features here. Just a plain and simple dashboard that’s logically laid out where common sense prevails the Avensis. All the switches are conveniently placed. Where you expect them to be and within reach. There's lots of space too for you, your family and your luggage.

Behind the wheel, it‘s easy to get comfortable in the Avensis. The seat adjusts for all types of drivers. In higher trim levels, they even have arm rests to enhance comfort on longer journeys. Apart from the thick rear C-pillar, Visability is generally very good. You can sit bolt upright and have a good view of the road ahead.

I do have a few gripes when behind the wheel of the Avensis. The steering wheel is too big for my liking. The size of it is similar to one from a pirate’s boat - well as big as one. Another is the handbrake. It’s too thin and I personally think it’s too close to the driver’s seat. That’s probably down to me being used to a chunky one where I have to reach down to operate it. Something that would take getting used to.

On the move, the Avensis doesn't get my testosterone levels rising. The numb steering is very light and woolly. The electric power steering is over-assisted and lacks feel. That's not to say that the Avensis handles badly, as it's safe and predictable nonetheless. But it's not a car that you would want to take the long route home in for the occasional B-road blast.

It may even come across that I've been rather harsh towards the Avensis. There are plus points though, especially on the T2 model I drove with the entry-level 1.8 litre VVTi petrol engine. It's a decent unit that produces a healthy 128bhp on tap. It's a willing performer that's punchy with plenty of poke. With the power always there at mid-range. It lugs the big Toyota around quite easily. You can see why Lotus used this engine for the Elise. As Toyota also did with the Celica and the MR-2.

Besides good performance and economy, the Avensis is quiet and comfortable on the move. Even though it's not generally an exciting car to drive. The suspension is well damped as it's good at dealing with the UK's roads plagued with potholes and speed humps. It soaks up the bumps well and it doesn't rattle into the cabin and upset occupants on board.

As equipment levels are concerned, the Avensis' specification is pretty generous. If you like your toys in a car. You shouldn't be disappointed. Air conditioning, CD player, audio controls on the steering wheel, electric windows (at the front), electric mirrors and remote central locking, all come as standard on this T2 Avensis.

As well as the niceties, the necessities is where the Toyota gets a big thumbs up from me. If you're after a car like this. It's likely that you'll have children regularly travelling on board. So it's important that you will want them to be safe and secure.

But what safety devices it has may not be interesting. This generation Avensis got full-marks for safety by achieving a 5-star rating by Euro N-Cap. It was the first ever Japanese car to achieve the full score. Probably the only thing the Avensis will go down in history for.

Being a Toyota, reliability is first rate. The Avensis I drove belongs to my Dad* and it has around 80k on the clock. There's no squeaks or rattles whatsoever. There's not really any signs of heavy wear and tear or any signs of the car looking or feeling worn out. He's had no problems with his car. There's little wonder why cabbie drivers love them.

In conclusion, the Toyota Avensis is far from being an exciting car. If you're willing to overlook the anonymous looks, you'll discover on what a decent car it is. It's safe, soild, spacious, practical, comfortable, well equipped and ultra-reliable. An honest, no-nonsense family car that does everything it says on the tin.

*I also thank my Dad on letting me drive the car :-)


2003 Toyota Avensis 1.8 VVTi T2

  • Engine: 1.8 litre 16 Valve VVTi 4 cylinder
  • Transmission: 5 Speed Manual
  • Power: 127bhp
  • Torque: 170nm
  • 0-62mph: 9.7secs
  • Top speed: 124mph
  • Economy: 39mpg
  • CO2: 171g/km
  • Equipment: Front electric windows, electric mirrors, air conditioning, remote central locking, airbags, ABS, power steering, full-size spare wheel, CD player, audio control, climate control

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