Car Test   R0313
 
February 2003
First Drive Toyota Avensis
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There are a lot of very satisfied Avensis owners, who over look the model’s staid image and road manners because of its home-comforts and enviable reputation for reliability.
  
   The latest version, designed more for European tastes and roads, sets out offer a more gratifying experience for a younger set of family and fleet car users. It’s also longer and wider than before, with a 5cm taller build, too. This translates into a slightly bigger, longer deck and more interior head room. Although driver legroom is greater, too, space for those in the back is hardly improved, yet most passengers will find the seat well shaped and extremely comfortable.
  
   The driving position is commendable, thanks to a supportive yet softly topped seat that has a height adjuster for the driver, as well as backrest rake varied by using cranking levers (or electric adjusters on the top trim version); lumber support is fixed but adequate. We love the ‘Optitron’ instrument illumination- it puts the lower- spec Tz-S sat-nav screen in the shade. Over-the –shoulder vision is marred by rear head restraints that don’t recess; these must also be removed for a proper back seat folding operation.
  
   A perusal of the brochure proves that the base T2 version is extremely well endowed, despite its keen price, with both technical and interior convenience features. More’s the pity, therefore, that a 1.8 petrol estate car (sorry! Tourer) version isn’t offered at present.
  
   There’s a ‘space-saver’ spare wheel under the load floor on all versions, with useful oddments room under there, too, especially on the estate car. This has a slightly raised floor to avoid the load sill apparent in the other two; it does result in less height below the blind provided for security. Both hatchback and estate have easy 60/40 split back-seat folding to extend the (almost flat) load deck. The saloon’s rear backrests only flip forwards, with locking catches in the boot for added security that the others lack.
  
   So much for accommodation - but how does this now contender shape up on the road? Having read the PR blurb and met the chief project engineer (who has a rally-driving background and a passion for good hi-fi) we weren’t surprised to discover that there’s now more emphasis placed on cornering prowess and sharper, more responsive steering.
  
   Interestingly, the 1.8 uses electric power-assistance and it’s a very good example of its type - light and lag-free responsive. The more meaty conventional hydraulic, PAS is fine, as well, but a shade more demanding of driver effort.
  
   Yes, cornering is improved, with less roll and sharper responses from the Celica- derived independent wishbone geometry adopted at the rear end. However, the ride is a shade harsher, more abrupt (especially on the stiffer-sprung estate car), and we weren’t entirely convinced by the damper control after a bump or a surface wave - there’s a tendency to shrug and heave too readily. So it’s better cornering, but at some cost to the previous Avensis’ imperturbable bump reaction.
  
   The brakes have been up-gunned to avoid fade and disc-distortion; we found the upper-range ‘brake-assist’ a bit too intrusive at low speed, if you pounce on the pedal.
  
   Petrol-engined ‘noises off’ spoil motorway cruising - all three power units become harsher and more intrusive around 3000rpm. The difference is that the long-legged diesel is well past the legal limit before this surfaces. Lower down the rev range, the petrol engines are smoother, but even the two-litre feels reluctant to get its head down and accelerate strongly, unless the rather clingy, unimpressive gear change is used more freely.
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • electric releases for boot and fuel filler
  • carpeted nether regions when seats folded
  • Isofix with top tethers
  • knee-airbag and demountable pedals
and GRIPES
  • no anti-scuff protection on doors/estate bumper top
  • dual-zone air-con's poor temperature regulation
  • body colour-painted estate roof rails
  • shorter drivers' elbow hits centre console
VERDICT
So, yes, the radio/cassette/CD player works really well and the new suspension set-up makes this Avensis a much sharper operator through the bends. It also shows a responsible attitude to safety and security. However, for those more interested in comfort and quietness, little or no improvements has been achieved, beyond a few centimetres of extra space here and there. It does possess an attractive combination of generous equipment, uncompromised quality and keener pricing, however. So the Avensis remains a prudent choice, for those who like to play safe.


THE AVENSIS RANGE
size and type upper-medium, mid-priced saloon, hatchback and estate car   trim levels T2, T3-s or X, T4, T Spirit
engines petrol: 4cylinder/1.8 litre/129bhp, 4/2.0/147
diesel: 4/2.0/116
  drive 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive; 4-speed stepped automatic (with sequential manual mode) on petrol versions
notable features (as standard on T2 base version) ABS and seven airbags (including curtain bags front to rear), lower insurance ratings than most, first 'Euro IV-compatible' diesel to market, cheaper parts and servicing costs, 'Optitron' displays - visible in any light, manual air-con, alarm


SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
  in centimetres (5-door hatchback)
  outside
  length 463
  width - mirrors folded 176
  height 148 (no roof bars)
  load sill height (inside/outside) 17/69
  steering
  turns lock-to-lock 3.5/3.0*
  turning circle (metres) 10.8/11.2*
   
  easy to park/garage?
  inside
  front - legroom 89-113
    - headroom 91-98§
  rear - typical legroom 99
    - typical kneeroom 78
    - headroom 90§
    - hiproom 129-132
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
555/19.6
  load length 100-170#
  load length to facia no
  load width 85-132
  load height (to shelf/top of aperture) 48-53/75
§ no sunroof  * electric/hydraulic (maker's figures)  # rear seat folded
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