Toyota Avensis

It's not glamorous, striking or even particularly desirable, but the Toyota Avensis makes great celebrity transport

An unbeatable diesel unit has breathed new life into the Avensis range. While the styling and interior tweaks will go largely unnoticed, engineering upgrades have made this family car better to drive and cheaper to run. However, anyone who buys an Avensis has to turn down Honda’s Accord and VW’s Passat; we think the Toyota still falls short of the standard set by its competitors.

It's not glamorous, striking or even particularly desirable, but the Toyota Avensis makes great celebrity transport. That’s because it blends into the background like nothing else – if you want anonymity, the conservative family car won’t disappoint.

However, what it lacks is panache, and that’s something the firm would like to change. In an effort to raise the profile of the Avensis a notch or two, Toyota has carried out a mid-life facelift and added a feisty new diesel engine at the top of the range. Auto Express took the wheel of one of the first models to arrive in the UK to see whether the company’s forgotten family car can make a comeback.

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking we’ve photographed the old model. The revised Avensis is in no danger of becoming outlandish – the designers have been very restrained. The principle differences are the restyled lights. They’re still the same shape, but new lenses give the Toyota a modern look. A fresh grille has also been added to make the Avensis appear a little more memorable. Another subtle change is the relocation of the indicator repeaters to the mirrors, pulling the Toyota in line with more upmarket rivals such as Honda’s Accord.

Interior alterations are even harder to spot. Most of the upgrades have been made to the standard kit lists, but the centre console has also been tweaked to bring it up-to-date. Despite the revisions, the cabin still doesn’t feel special – compared to many competitors’ interiors, the layout is bland.

Thankfully, there’s better news under the bonnet. As well as a new 124bhp 2.0-litre oil-burner, the 2.2 diesel from the Lexus IS has been added to the line-up. Delivering a storming 175bhp in our T180, it’s intended to attract keen drivers, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Throughout the rev range the eng-ine is smooth and refined, and acceleration is effortless. Low gearing gives a relaxed feel, yet with 400Nm of torque arriving at 2,000rpm, the Avensis isn’t short of pace. Toyota claims a 0-62mph time of only 8.6 seconds, and our five-door test car felt every bit as fast as the figures suggest. However, the slack gear-change is better when it’s not rushed.

Due to the Japanese firm’s latest D-CAT technology, emissions are also kept to a minimum, at only 161g/km of CO2. Combined economy of 46.3mpg is impressive, too, although our trip computer displayed only 35mpg.

As well as adding a new engine, Toyota has reworked the steering and suspension. The alterations are intended to give the family car a sharper turn-in, and there’s no doubt that the Avensis has much more lively handling. The steering still offers very little feedback, but drivers will have more fun than they did in the pre-facelift model.

On long motorway trips, the Toyota settles into a relaxed cruise, gliding over rough surfaces with ease. Intrusive wind noise is the sole distraction at high speeds. The T180 is available in only one luxurious trim level, with standard-fit leather and Alcantara seats plus climate control. Both four and five-doors are priced at £21,515, while the Tourer estate costs £22,515. Packed with equipment and powered by a punchy diesel engine, the Avensis has never been more desirable... but it still does not stand out from the crowd.

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