IAIN ROBERTSON

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Tradition plays a vital role in establishing a make and model’s market stance, suggests Iain Robertson, and Toyota is a renowned midfield player in a world game that possesses the vital statistics for maximum impact.

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Despite an inherent avoidance of fielding products that stray into niche interest areas, Toyota remains an immensely respectable car manufacturer. Its brand relevance lies in its international acceptance as a dependable icon. Acquire a Toyota and you do not buy into avant-garde styling. Yet, indefatigable reliability, of an order that has placed the company at the indisputable pinnacle of customer satisfaction, backed up (in the UK at least) with a five years warranty programme, comes as standard, for zero extra charge.

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The sometimes infamous Korean ‘chaebols’, the family groups that control enterprises in that part of the Asian-Pacific manufacturing epicentre, could well have primed Japanese Toyota since its inception, so adept is the corporation at involving its people satisfactorily in the company’s future. While I am sure that many of the firm’s international customers have valued their Toyota experiences over the years, I am equally of a mind that few will be entirely fanatical about the frequently bland and colourless motor vehicles that have emerged from its multi-national factories.

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It is one of the core reasons for Toyota not exactly commanding a hefty share of the ‘youth’ market. While an ‘X-Factor’ Aygo, or Yaris, might turn a few heads, there is no real zest applied to Auris and the company’s eco-friendly offerings might suit the halo-wearing ‘innovators’ of the day but Toyota’s grip on a transient tranche of customers is tenuous to say the least. Celica and MR2 are as much in the past as its ‘supercar’ (wearing a Lexus badge) LF1 is out of the reach of ‘normal’ human beings. Yet, they are the labels that grab the emotions. Being ‘reliable’ is hardly sexy, no matter how much we desire it.

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Where does that place the British-built Avensis Tourer? Recently having undergone a series of minor updates externally, I can tell you that the interior is vastly improved, as is the in-built safety list, but it remains a bland-mobile in many initial observation areas. The designation ‘Tourer’ evades thankfully the more customary ‘Sport’ addendum, because this Avensis estate car is about as far removed from providing visceral excitement as any new car could be. Fortunately, it is roomy, which is also closer to the estate car buyer’s heart than most ‘sporty’ variants. In Business Edition form, I can see the point.

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For a start, it is powered by Toyota’s latest downsized turbo-diesel engine. Displacing 1,598cc, it develops a modest 110bhp (at 4,000rpm) but is supported by a nicely rounded 200lbs ft of pulling potency that works at its peak across a mere 500rpm of the engine’s speed range (from 1,750 to 2,250rpm). In some respects, this translates into an acceptable level of performance, however, towing might become an non-enjoyable chore, were it not for a delicious six-speed manual transmission that slices up and down the gear ratios so effortlessly. Sadly, it is not pleasurable to stretch its potential as lugging around fits more comfortably with its character.

 

Of course, Toyota’s intention is to drag down its overall CO2 exhaust emissions figure, which it does to a lowly 109g/km, along with a laboratory attained fuel economy figure of 67.3mpg (I managed around 55.4mpg overall). A ‘stop-start’ facility is one of the inevitable aids and, although the parking brake is now an electronic push switch, below and to the left of the steering column, the Tourer also features hill-start assist. So few of these posted results mean anything other than serving fiscal responsibilities and company car users will feel vindicated with a Benefit-in-Kind rating of just 19% and a VED band rate B, which is inexpensive at the moment, although the new tax rules destined for next year will make it a class average. An equally impressive low insurance classification of just 12E will also aid an employer’s often stretched financial coffers, which means that you can comprehend the car‘s appeal to the corporate sector.

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As mentioned earlier, the interior of the latest Avensis has been radically re-engineered to a very high standard. Soft-touch surfaces are much in abundance and those that are not are of such high merchantable quality that Toyota will receive few complaints. The build quality is first-class. All controls are memorable and laid out logically, the main instrument dials being set down a pair of deep and reflection-free tubes that remain legible, whether the sun is ahead of, or behind, the driver, not that my test period benefited from much sunshine!

 

The new seats are excellent, providing a decent range of adjustment in all the important areas, while the trim is attractive. Obtaining a comfortable and commanding driving position, while still leaving enough leg space in the rear, is now possible. The 60:40 split-rear bench folds easily to more than treble the available and usable luggage area to an immense 1,610 litres (543 litres, with seats up and the extendible luggage cover in place. The solid boot floor can also be raised to reveal a useful below-floor secure area. It might be even better were it covered in a non-slip material, to resist the movements of items stashed there. Cabin storage slots are plentiful, although the solitary drinks-holder is a bit thoughtless for the front seat passenger (I know that a driver eating, or drinking, on the move is illegal, but this is mildly annoying when parked).

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While the exterior design changes are minimal, the Avensis does look better than its forebear, having lost its ‘moustache’ radiator grille, to adopt the Toyota ‘corporate’ visage instead. It is not the largest car in this sector, an accolade that I think might lie with either the VW Passat, or the Ford Mondeo, although the Skoda Superb Estate is the space victor, as a result of its greater dimensions. Yet, being slightly tighter in size terms does pay off in the driving experience, which feels impressively wieldy and far better than any previous Avensis model of the past 20 years.

 

In 2003, thanks to the generosity of Toyota GB, I was able to live with a new Avensis second generation hatchback for a longer term. It was a great privilege but it was ultimately not the most enjoyable one. While I accept that my two metres of height and long legs did not provide much help in appreciating the car more fully, that the rearward reach and insufficient height adjustment of the driver’s seat was so limited was always going to restrict my desire to drive the car. Would that I could redress the balance with the latest, fourth generation version of the car, which is a country-mile removed from the earlier model.

 

Most pronounced is the actual driving experience. The latest model handles sublimely well, with delightfully weighted, positively reactive power steering and firmly supportive suspension. While the relative power deficiency might detract from the car’s appeal, it can be cornered confidently and in higher gear ratios than some rival estate cars, whether carrying a load, or not. Having touched on its performance, it is worth highlighting that the Avensis Tourer 1.6D4D can bolt from 0-60mph in a nippy 11.4 seconds, which is up with the class average. Its top speed is given as 115mph and, although I was unable to test it on this occasion, I believe it to be achievable on the appropriate roads.

 

However, perhaps the new Avensis’ most valuable feature is its outstanding refinement. It rides quietly, despite its chunky 215/55×17 low-profile tyres, which are wrapped around a most attractive, multi-spoke alloy wheel design. As highlighted earlier, the car is now packed with safety gear, including Toyota Safety Sense, which incorporates a pre-collision system, autonomous braking, with automatic high-beam, lane departure warning and road sign assist (which threw up some interesting anomalies not entirely compliant with what the driver was seeing). A full complement of airbags, including knee protection for the driver, is included, with a pair of ISOFIX child safety seat mounts in the rear. The ‘chassis’ benefits from stability control, while the seats feature active head restraints.

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Other standard equipment in this Business-spec model includes dusk-sensitive headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB radio and a rear-view camera. The latest technology also means that the multi-media system enables smartphone familiarity, including dragging and flicking, for easier use. The Avensis Tourer is listed at £23,670, which also includes the metallic paint finish (£495), which means that it is appreciably better value than many of its potential rivals’ products.

 

Conclusion:     Toyota cannot be accused, on this occasion, of not improving its moderately popular midfielder. The new Avensis Tourer is perfectly proportioned, well built and offers a lot of space within its cabin and boot area. It is a most pleasant vehicle in which to be driven and also to drive. While its 1.6-litre diesel engine is hardly a speedy option, sensible chassis dynamics ensure that it is no slower from Point A to B than an equivalent Mondeo, or Insignia. While it still does not tug at my heartstrings, an Avensis would make a most sensible business acquisition.

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).