Its kind of ironic really, only just a few weeks back a good friend and myself were discussing load luggers and estate cars. It was mooted that the last large family estate car produced in Britain was the MG Rover 75 Tourer / ZT-T that ended production in 2005. For sure, there is the talented Jaguar XF Sportbrake, but that hardly meets all the quotas for an affordable fleet or family hold-all as it sits well and truly in the prestige sector. But then I mentioned Toyota GB who have quietly producing cars in Burnaston nr Derby for over 20 years – historically a city famed the world over for its rail and aero engine building activities.
The aforementioned person quipped that he had forgotten about that, and personally, I’m guilty too. When thinking of Japanese car makers with a UK presence, the same two always seem to come to the forefront of the mind – Honda and Nissan with their respective Swindon and Washington factories. Toyota first started Avensis production in the UK back in 1998 which replaced the long serving Carina E. The current example on test was first on sale in the UK in December 2011 following a world debut at the Frankfurt motor show. Revisions included better Co2 and tweaks to the steering and suspension.
Subsequent revisions last year brought alterations to the model designations and trim levels. Avensis Tourer now comprises four distinctive trim levels which are: Active / Icon / Icon Plus and Excel. Toyota GB kindly loaned AUTOBRITANNIA the Icon Tourer with the 2.2 D-CAT 150 Turbo Diesel power unit with a six speed automatic gearbox. First impressions were fairly neutral on delivery after all, it’s a big estate car but all fairness a minute or two studying the design and shape it grows on you. The previous model was without sounding harsh was… well… plain Jayne dull – the current model looks much better.
You are quickly left with little doubt that the UK built Avensis is a car of fine quality – and that’s before you have even set a foot inside the vehicle.
Before you even touch the door handle the overall fit and finish of the exterior metalwork is precise and flush. All the panels and glazing seem to have a first-rate level of quality, the same must be said about the shine and depth of the Aspen Grey paintwork. Even the items not normally scrutinised by the average motorist at first contact such as the anti corrosion treatment of the rear arch joints or the seals on the door bottoms appear to be well applied or fitted. You are quickly left with little doubt that the UK built Avensis is a car of fine quality – and that’s before you have even set a foot inside the vehicle.
The same goes with the Interior too. The latest Tourer is very well screwed down, clipped and assembled everywhere you look. The door pulls inside are so well made that I’ll bet the whole weight of the car could be carried by them. A lovely clunk noise when you tug the door shut once again inspires that all important sub conscious feeling that this is a car that will go the distance. In true tradition of many Euro / Asian cars, it’s not going to set your heart and soul on fire but those with Germanic vehicles such as the Passat or Avant Audi will not be disappointed as every button / switch feel solid and tactile during operation – only the trip mode buttons look out of fashion.
The steering wheel has just the right rim thickness, is leather trimmed and adjusts for reach and rake while the column stalks feel just right. Ergonomically speaking, there is little Avensis Icon fares poorly on, the main niggles relate only to the position of the electronic hand brake and the cruise control stalk which is a little awkward to use and doesn’t illuminate at night. The driver’s seat is nice and comfortable once the position is set, lumbar support is provided for via an air operated pump. I would have preferred a wheel type adjuster for the recline control too, the lever that’s employed is awkward to use and two hands are required to get the backrest position just right.
Those issues aside, the driving position and ease of use in the cabin is very good indeed. Plenty of storage space can be found in the way of a simply colossal glovebox, cubby box under the centre arm rest, sensible sized door pockets, a discreet velour lined change / sweetie tray in the far right hand side of the dashboard and the usual sprinkling of cup holders. Boot size is just over 1100 litres with the seat folded and the rear bench armrest that hides a brace of cup holders also folds down to provide a ski hatch type into the boot for long slender loads – a handy feature. Oddly enough though, the large front interior light unit could very easily contain a drop down holder for sunglasses – a little handy item that Toyota have strangely missed out on that most rivals have covered.
The engine fires up instantly when either hor or cold and takes on a curious whistling type sound. It’s never intrusive but it is noticeable and once the engine has warmed through there is no issues with its refinement. performance wise, it pulls strongly at all times and seems well matched to the six speed auto gearbox but it is worryingly slow to build up speed again after switching the cruise back on after a brake application. Another mystery is the lack of a stop-start function that would surely pay dividends with the fuel consumption and Co2 rating which for the record comes in at Band H with 167g/Km and a combined figure of 44.8mpg – a figure I came close to matching at 42mpg.
Sharp steering, good refinement and that oh so comfy driving seat means you can pound the black top till you run out of fuel – it really is that good.
Generally speaking the Avensis rides very well with only deep ruts catching the slightly Euro-firm suspension out with vocal bump thump noise. Once up to motorway cruising speed however, the ride and demeanour of the car is superb and its here the Toyota trades punches with the best of its rivals. You can genuinely feel like you could drive to the Moon and back in one sitting. Sharp steering, good refinement and that oh so comfy driving seat means you can pound the black top till you run out of fuel – it really is that good. Entertainment comes in the form of an AM/FM/D.A.B radio CD and Bluetooth audio unit that’s easy to operate and has a pretty good sound quality from the 6 speakers.
Sat-Nav is standard, again – working very well and the head unit even gives you the opportunity to read out your text messages and reply back to them via a voice activated system. The Avensis is a car that you soon warm to and after a few long journeys both business and leisure related, I was struggling to think of any other car that roundly trounces the Toyota when it comes to eating distances. With that in mind its easy to see why all Avensis variants have been a firm favourite of the taxi and discerning company car driver. Even on the twisty stuff the Icon Tourer does very little to worry the driver or occupant. The brakes are effective, the steering is reasonably quick and the seat keeps you on top of your game.
Gearchanges are quick and almost unnoticeable and there is the option of driving using the wheel mounted paddle buttons should you come over all Martin Brundle. Simply knock the gear lever to the right and let your finger tips do the action, that’s all that’s required of you. It really is a simple and effortless car to drive in all circumstances and one that needs a few miles to pass by before you start to fully appreciate what a well-engineered machine this is. It’s never going to knock the Mondeo off the number spot for aspiring sales reps nor will it ever have the middle management kudos or snob appeal of a Volkswagen Passat, but what it does have is a clever knack of giving the driver that little more confidence with every passing mile.
nothing to really stimulate the soul or excite the endorphins but equally… there’s nothing to offend or have reservations about either… a five seater 2.2 litre safe bet if you like – its a cracking car overall…
All in all its exceptionally well made, drives like a dream, has a sensible and large cargo bay with neat lashing points,feels granite tough, offers more than enough space for samples or passengers and you just know it will be as loyal and reliable as the family Labrador. It’s a vehicle that you buy with your head over your heart – nothing to really stimulate the soul or excite the endorphins but equally… there’s nothing to offend or have reservations about either… a five seater 2.2 litre safe bet if you like – It’s a cracking car overall and of course built right here in Britain.
Thanks are due to Scott Brownlee and John Brookes at Toyota GB for supplying the car.
AUTOBRITANNIA RATING? – 7 / 10
MAIN STATS: Toyota Avensis Icon 2.2L D-Cat Auto Tourer
Place Of Assembly: Toyota GB Burnaston Plant Derbyshire UK
Driveline: 2.2 Optimal Drive 16v Turbo Diesel with 6 Speed Auto
Power / Torque: 148BHP & 340 Nm
Steering / Brakes: Electric Power Assistance / All round Discs with ABS & EBD
Suspension: Front struts / Rear independent with double wishbones.
Fuel Consumption: Combined cycle (Govt) 44.8mpg On test actual – 42.1mpg
V.E.D & Co2: Band H / 167g/Km
Benefit In Kind: 29%
Insurance Grouping: 25E
Price as Tested: £24.935 (including £495 Pearlescent paint option)
THE HIGHS: Strong performance – A truly brilliant motorway muncher – Refined – Neat handling – Spacious and practical – Excellent fit and finish – Good audio and Infotainment system -Large & sensibly shaped cargo bay – Bound to be utterly dependable – No nonsense fascia – Climate control works very well – A good alternative to the Passadeo brigade.
THE LOWS: Lack of kudos – Needs parking sensors – One or two touches lacking to make it that 100% user friendly – Lack of stop start – Awkward cruise control positioning – Not a car to stir the senses – Trip reset buttons on instrument cluster look horrible cheap and out of date.