The Toyota Avensis was introduced in 1997 and was so bland that, more often than not, a ‘minicab for hire’ sign would glow from the average Avensis’ roof. However, since the third generation model was produced in 2009, the car has looked handsome and desirable.
Indeed, the Avensis, which is built in saloon and estate guise at Toyota’s UK factory in Burnaston, Derbyshire, is so good that it is now exported to Japan.
Ironically, demand for European styling and engineering from Japanese customers prompted Toyota’s decision to introduce the Avensis (even though Toyota is a Japanese brand) to its ‘home’ market.
The modestly powerful engine line-up, chassis and the steering won’t offer you sufficient feedback to gratify you if you are a keen driver, so it’s best appreciated as a motorway cruiser.
From 2009, the petrol engine line-up starts with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, which is very efficient, returning an average of 44mpg. Then there is a 1.8-litre and a marginally quicker 2.0-litre petrol.
The diesel line-up is better with the entry level 2.0 D-4D offering fuel economy of 55mpg and low CO2. The TR version offers even better economy and emissions, and then there is a 2.2 D-4D, offering bubblier performance, plus an automatic transmission option.
The best for emissions is the 2.0 D-4D in TR specification. It only puffs out 119 g/km of CO2. This puts it in a low tax band, meaning you won’t pay much road tax.
Ride and handling
The Avensis glides over bumps and eats up motorway miles without any effort at all. The seating position is high, but comfort is top notch. The light steering can be a little less than successful at communicating what is going on beneath the wheels, but it makes driving easy – especially when weaving through traffic or parking.
The 2009 Avensis was one of the first models to undergo Euro NCAP's more stringent crash tests and it scored the maximum five stars, meaning the Toyota’s safety levels from this year onwards are excellent.
Soft touch materials cover the cabin, which is big enough to take four or five adults. And when it comes to loading up, the boot, in both the saloons and the estates, is massive. It’s low, wide and long, with lots of space for anything from exhibition display boards to the family’s holiday luggage.
Equipment levels are awesome too. You get loads of kit, even if you get the T2 base model. This could be all the car you need as it comes with air conditioning, CD player, electric mirrors, front electric windows, height adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel rake and reach adjustment.
The only reason you might want to go up a level to the TR is because it was aimed at company car drivers when sold new. It has even more paraphernalia, such as automatic climate control, Bluetooth, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, and automatic headlights.
But the main reason it might better to try and get this model is that it has a driver's seat lumbar support. This is like nectar to a bee if you have a dodgy back.
What to know before you buy
The Toyota Avensis is generally tough and reliable. Nevertheless, clutches have been known to fail quickly on the diesels. A spongy clutch is an early sign that it’s failing. So, on your test drive, cruise around the block and pay attention to the feel of the clutch and how far you let it out before the gear catches.
If you have to let your clutch out most of the way, that is also a sign of a worn clutch. The cost of a replacement varies, so it’s worth negotiating a good couple of hundred pounds off if your test car has this problem.
Finally, there have been a couple of recalls on older models for brake-related issues, and the steering column can rattle – a known glitch – but it isn’t dangerous and should have been fixed under warranty. If in doubt check online.
The Hyundai i40 is a worthy rival. This has been around since 2011 and is a good, affordable vehicle, fitted with a decent diesel engine. Generally, it’s a shade more economical than the Avensis, but the Toyota’s acceleration is slightly quicker.
Both cars are a similar size, but there aren’t as many Hyundai i40s on the secondhand market, because it’s newer. Another competitor is the Volkswagen Passat. This has been around for ages and is the class leader for image, but it’s more expensive and less well kitted out.
Another rival is the Ford Mondeo. This offers a great drive and in terms of refinement, acceleration, driver enjoyment and space, the Avensis falls slightly short.
Despite starting off as boring back in 1997, the Avensis is one of the most popular cars around.
By the end of 2010, more than 1.8 million Avensis vehicles had been built – all at Burnaston. And since a face-lift in 2012, the Toyota Avensis has propelled itself to the top of its class to be best for value.
New, more efficient engines from this time not only mean lower emissions but even better fuel consumption. It’s certainly a car well worth considering for family motoring.