Toyota Avensis

British-built saloon offers Lexus-style quality and beats the Mazda on price

You could be forgiven for forgetting about the Toyota Avensis. Ever since the original model appeared in 1997, the Japanese firm’s family car has struggled to make a big impact.

While the Avensis has always been practical, reliable and well built, it has lacked the personality and presence of many mainstream rivals. Now in its third generation, the latest version has taken its cues from sister firm Lexus in an effort to add a dash of desirability.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Toyota Avensis

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Despite the best efforts of Toyota’s designers, the Avensis is unlikely to turn heads. In four-door guise it’s well proportioned and beautifully built, but the saloon lacks any visual flair. Even the bold headlamps and Lexus-style tail-lights fail to lift the looks. The mid-range TR model in our pictures gets classy alloy wheels, but the entry-level T2 version tested here makes do with steel rims covered with plastic trims.

Matters improve once you climb aboard. While the design of the dashboard is far from flashy, it is clearly laid-out and extremely well built. A lot of the switchgear has been lifted from sister firm Lexus, and it works with a beautifully oiled precision. Sadly it can’t match the Mazda for standard kit – there’s no climate control and the steering wheel gets a plastic rather than leather rim.

At least there will be no complaints about the available space. Three six-foot tall adults will comfortably fit across the rear bench, while those up front get decent head, leg and elbow room. There’s also plenty of storage, thanks to the deep door bins and numerous cubbies.

Although it can’t match the hatchback Mazda for versatility, the Avensis gives little away to its rival in terms of outright luggage space. Lifting the bootlid reveals a wide opening and a generous 509-litre capacity – which is only a litre smaller than the 6’s. Buyers looking for greater practicality can pay an extra £1,000 for the cavernous Tourer estate model.

With its powerful 145bhp 1.8-litre engine, the Avensis turned in a strong performance at the test track. Not only was the Toyota faster off the line, it had the upper hand in the in-gear tests. It accelerated from 50-70mph in 12.6 seconds – a full two seconds quicker than the 6. The Avensis also has its rival beaten in the refinement stakes. A combination of a six-speed gearbox, low noise levels and supple ride make the Toyota an accomplished long-distance cruiser. However, this cosseting nature spoils the handling, and it can’t compete with the poised Mazda on a twisting back road.

While the driving dynamics are safe and predictable, the Avensis fails to deliver the sparkle and feedback that make the Mazda so enjoyable.

At least the £17,555 Toyota is cheaper than its rival, while the firm’s new five-year warranty adds considerable showroom appeal.

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: With Lexus-inspired build quality and refinement, the Avensis shouldn’t be overlooked. A new five-year warranty adds to the car’s understated appeal.

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