Toyota Avensis

Debut: 2008
Maker: Toyota
Predecessor: Avensis (2003)

Toyota tries to break into European D-segment again with its new Avensis...

Toyota produces the world’s widest range of vehicles. Nearly in all segments it has at least one – sometimes multiple – competitive contender. For example, in city car segment it has Vitz (one of the top sellers in Japan), in family car segment it has Corolla (world’s best selling car), large family car it has Camry (America’s best selling car), luxury class it has Lexus (best selling luxury brand in USA). However, until now it has yet to make any significant impact on the European mid-size car segment. Toyota took this segment seriously since 1998, when it started producing Carina in its UK plant. By 2003 the Carina went into history and was replaced by the first generation Avensis, whose design and engineering was further localized to suit the taste of European drivers. Unfortunately, the European market has been highly competitive, with good cars like Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat, Citroen C5, Mazda 6, Honda Accord, Opel Vectra (now Insignia), Renault Laguna, Peugeot 407, Skoda Superb etc. to rival in a shrinking segment. Obviously, the outgoing Avensis was not good enough to take any success.

One of the biggest problems of the old car was its conservative looks. The second generation continued to be designed by Toyota’s ED2 studio in Southern France, but its design is far more radical. The sedan version has a fast windscreen and rear screen, a crisp shoulder line and pronounced wheelarches to deliver a sporty feeling. The tail has strong similarity to Lexus IS, which means sporty yet elegant. The side view is the most attractive, as you can see its sporty profile clearly. Unfortunately, the good design is ruined by the odd-looking headlamps (why are they so large ?) and the
fussy front mask. You know, without a pretty face, a girl will never win Miss World title no matter how sexy her body looks.

The new Avensis continued to be designed by Toyota’s ED2 studio in Southern France, but its design is far more radical...

The new Avensis is built on an updated version of the previous platform utilizing suspensions consisting of MacPherson struts up front and double-wishbones at the rear. While its wheelbase remains a rather short 2700 mm, its length and width are both increased by 50 mm. Brilliantly, it managed to weigh only 10 kilograms more than the equivalent old car without resorting to any aluminum parts. Admittedly, the old car was criticized as overweight, so keeping the same weight won’t be too difficult. Like other new cars in the class, the Toyota feels solidly built and the assembly quality from the UK plant follows the same standard as in Japan. You won’t feel any differences.

Benefited by the extra width, the cabin is noticeably wider, capable of sitting 3 regular size adults at the back. Legroom is also surprisingly good for its short wheelbase, but it fails to match the much larger Ford Mondeo of course. You are unlikely to be impressed by the dull design of the dashboard (this is still a conservative Toyota). The plastics and the faux bamboo material on the center console are far more satisfying than those in the old car, but the same can be said to any rivals, say, from the old Mondeo to the new Mondeo. Unlike Volkswagen, or to lesser extent Renault, it does not have a specially high-quality feel. Poorest of all is the uncomfortable driver seat, which causes backache after long journey. On the positive side, the availability of panoramic glass roof and a large and flat load bay in the Touring (estate) are welcomed.

The plastics and faux bamboo material are far more satisfying than those in the old car, but the same can be said to any rivals...

The Avensis provides 3 petrol engines from the same family. They displace 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 liters. Dual-VVT-i (variable cam phasing at both intake and exhaust valves) and new Valvematic (variable intake valve lift, which not only enhances breathing at high rev but also reduces pumping loss at part-load due to partially-closed throttle butterfly) enable remarkable output at 132hp, 147hp and 152hp respectively. The 1.8-liter is the best compromise among them as it is smooth and flexible. However, a small turbocharged engine would have provided even stronger torque yet return lower fuel consumption and help saving our earth. Toyota has missed a chance to demonstrate its green commitment.

Apart from petrol engines, Avensis does not forget to offer diesel engines to the European market of course. There are 3 D4-D turbo diesel engines – 126hp / 221lb-ft 2.0-liter, 150hp / 251lb-ft 2.2-liter and 177hp / 276lb-ft 2.2-liter. All employ third generation common-rail injection system with 2000 bar pressure to increase output and reduce fuel consumption. Apart from the excessive noise at high rev for the 2.0 D4-D, they are as good as the best diesel engines being offered by European rivals. Compare with petrol, the diesel engines provide better real world performance and flexibility yet achieve higher mileage and lower emission. For example, 2.0 D4-D achieves 55.3 mpg in European combined cycle, versus 43.4 mpg of the 1.8 VVT-i. It emits 134 grams of CO2 per kilometer, 20 grams less than the petrol. Choosing the diesel over petrol engine has one more advantage: thanks to the superior bottom end torque, you don’t need to work hard on the 6-speed manual gearbox. For the petrol Avensis, customers who want to drive relaxingly must choose the “Multidrive S” CVT, as no automatic gearbox is offered.


The availability of panoramic glass roof and a large and flat load bay in the Touring (estate) are welcomed...

The new Avensis is still developed primarily in Japan. However, 35 engineers from Toyota’s European R&D center took part in the development programme and tuned its driving dynamics on European roads. Once you drive the car, you will see those 35 engineers must be fell asleep or got lost in the Japanese-style English conversation. From the soft suspension (which leads to excessive roll), strong biasing towards high-speed stability instead of cornering agility, or the precise but uncommunicative steering, you will be hard to tell which element is influenced by European engineers. In fact, it drives just like a traditional Toyota engineered in Japan - safe but uninspiring. Moreover, we have some reservation about its refinement. On poor roads the suspensions transmit too much harshness and noise into the cabin. On highway a fair degree of wind noise enters from the base of the windscreen. These flaws should not happen in a Toyota.

With this Avensis Mk2, Toyota once again fails to break into the European mid-size car segment.
The above report was last updated on 30 Dec 2008. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

Avensis 1.8 VVT-i
Avensis 2.2D4-D

Front-engined, FWD
Front-engined, FWD

Steel monocoque
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
Mainly steel
Length / width / height 4695 / 1810 / 1480 mm 4695 / 1810 / 1480 mm
Wheelbase 2700 mm 2700 mm
Inline-4, diesel

1798 cc
2231 cc
Valve gears
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT, VVL (Valvematic)
DOHC 16 valves
VTG turbo

Other engine features
Max power
147 hp / 6400 rpm 150 hp / 3600 rpm
Max torque
133 lbft / 4000 rpm 251 lbft / 2000-2800 rpm
6-speed manual
6-speed manual
Suspension layout
F: strut
R: double-wishbone
F: strut
R: double-wishbone

Suspension features
Tyres front/rear
205/60R16 215/55R17
Kerb weight
1370 kg
1515 kg

Top speed
124 mph (c)
130 mph (c)

0-60 mph (sec)
8.8 (c)

0-100 mph (sec)

Performance tested by: *Autocar

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Toyota Avensis
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