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Click to view picture gallery“The Avensis is built
  in the UK at Toyota’s
  Burnaston factory,
  where a car rolls off
  the production line
  every 45 seconds!
  And, says David Miles,
  the new Avensis is a
  very nice car indeed...

THE SLOGAN used to be: 'The car in front is a Toyota'. But as far as the earlier Avensis models went, perhaps they weren't so easily discernible from other run-of-the-mill mass-produced medium-sized cars.

Maybe so, but those who bought them new — and latterly second-hand — rate them highly for a good number of reasons: the interior space and luggage room they offer; the build quality; good levels of specification; and, of course, the Toyota reliability.

The downside was their harsh and non-compliant ride comfort, numb steering, road noise intrusion and bland looks. And happily, Toyota has set out to redress these issues with the launch — on 1 July — of their re-engineered 2007 Avensis range.

Toyota sales in the UK began in 1966 — the last time England won the World Cup! So perhaps it is a good omen that in July 2006, exactly forty years later, just as the current World Cup competition is under-way, Toyota is launching their heavily-revised Avensis range.

The British-designed and British-built Toyota Avensis is the flagship model of the range, selling in the upper-medium sector of the new car market. The outgoing line-up was first produced at Toyota's Burnaston factory in Derbyshire, in 2003, where all Avensis models are built for sale not just in the UK, but everywhere else in the world.

Toyota builds a vehicle somewhere in the world every 4.2 seconds, every hour of every day — an annual global production figure of 7.5 million units. That makes it almost the world's largest automotive manufacturer. In fact, only just behind GM. The Burnaston plant —
one of the most efficient in Europe — produces up to 285,000 Avensis and Corolla models per year, with one car rolling off the production
line every 45 seconds.

Toyota (GB) sees the Avensis range of saloons, five-door hatchbacks and estates as their pivotal model range in building awareness of their brand as a whole. They say that since its launch in 2003, the Avensis has succeeded in defining the superior quality, refinement and driving pleasure that now runs through all new Toyota model ranges.

Last year in the UK, Toyota sold 22,222 Avensis cars with fleet and user-chooser customers taking 73 per cent of them. This year, with the downturn in the UK's new car market and with the swap-over period between the new and old Avensis models, Toyota (GB) expects to sell 19,500 Avensis units, with 9,500 of them being the new 2007 models. The percentage of fleet business for the Avensis so far this year has reduced slightly, to around 60 per cent, as customers wait
for the new range.

In the upper-medium sector, Toyota (GB) sees the Avensis bridging
the gap between volume-selling models, such as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra, and premium brands such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, as well as competing against Volkswagen's new Passat range.

Traditionally, the Avensis five-door Hatchback has been the best-selling model in the range, accounting for 73 per cent of sales with
the Tourer (estate) taking 14 per cent and the Saloon 13 per cent. When it comes to sales of engine types, diesel models last year accounted for 54 per cent of sales and so far this year this has increased to almost 60 per cent. The 2.0-litre diesel engine last year was by far the biggest selling diesel unit, accounting for nearly 44 per cent of all registrations. The best selling petrol unit was the 1.8-litre engine, which was chosen by 38 per cent of customers.

For the new 2007 model range, Toyota offers three diesel engine options — some of the most advanced diesel engines in the world — that includes two new diesel units. First up is the 2.0-litre D-4D 130 unit with 124bhp and 222lb ft of torque, giving better economy, lower emissions and higher performance over the outgoing D-4D unit.

The second new diesel engine is the T180, with a 2.2-litre D-4D engine producing 175bhp and 296lb ft of torque. The third diesel in the new line-up is the current 2.2-litre D-4D 150 unit with 148bhp and 229lb ft. All diesel-engined models have a 6-speed manual transmission.

The new Avensis range retains its current Euro IV petrol 1.8 and 2.0-litre VVT (variable valve timing) powerplants, and both are available with five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission options. The best-selling petrol 1.8-litre unit develops 127bhp with 126lb ft of torque. The 2.0-litre unit develops 145bhp and 145lb ft.

Overall, the new 2007 Avensis models have a restyled front end with new grille and headlamp design, new door mirrors with integrated indicator lamps and new rear light clusters. There are revisions to the suspension and steering systems to improve handling and ride comfort. Additionally, there are pleasing equipment upgrades across the entire range.

Prices now start at 15,515 and rise to 22,515. The Saloon and Hatchback models are the same price whilst the Tourer costs 1,000 more in each level of specification. Insurance group ratings range from 7E to 12E.

The anticipated best selling model will be the Avensis 2.0 D-4D 130
T3-X diesel priced at 17,515 with a 7E insurance group rating.

So, to the sixty-four thousand dollar question: Is the new Avensis an improvement?

At this week's media first drive event of the new range, I still wouldn't say the looks of the new Avensis single it out enough from the crowd of other bland-ish cars of a similar type. The use of Lexus-style lights and the new Toyota grille certainly sharpen up the image, but it still doesn't grab my attention. Having said that, I would rather see it
on my driveway than a Mondeo or Vectra. The Avensis does look an interesting, quality product with a reasonable presence.

To appreciate this Toyota, you really need to drive it and live with it. Firstly, it is still very roomy for rear seat passengers (just a tad tight for headroom in the Hatchback). Secondly, it will surprise you (pleasantly) on matters of size. Especially when you open the tailgate on the hatch or the boot on the saloon. And the Tourer is a commend-able load carrier.

The interior finish is of very high quality. And, better still, you just know it is going to go on looking good after the first year or so of regular use has passed. The added specification has produced a small price increase across the board but it feels — and more importantly,
it looks — an expensive car.

The ride quality has improved although there is still more road noise than some of its competitors. And although the ride is softer and the suspension absorbs the bumps better, the ride can be jittery on our well-worn road surfaces. However the steering feel has been improved significantly. The feedback is now very good and the Avensis turns sharply and corners accurately.

The new 2.0-litre D-4D 130 diesel engine replaces a unit which was already a strong performer. But this new version, an all-aluminium high-pressure direct-injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder with turbocharger and intercooler, is even better. Yes, there is evidence of engine clatter, especially when under hard acceleration. But, with 222lb ft of torque on tap from 2,000rpm, it is responsive. Although the test car — the best-selling Hatchback — only returned 38.6mpg on average during my test drive, I would expect that figure to improve to nearer the published 51.4mpg. The combination of this torquey engine and the six-speed transmission with well-spaced gear ratios makes it the most sensible choice for most customers.

Those drivers wanting sportier performance will not be disappointed with the new 2.2-litre T180 diesel engine — the most powerful four-cylinder engine in its segment. This is a real flyer and a true sports diesel. Fast, responsive and strong. This unit also impressed me with its 36.5mpg fuel consumption during the brief test drive.

Safety-wise you're onto a winner with the new Avensis, which demon-strates the advances in active and passive safety systems that make Toyotas among the safest cars on the road. The Toyota Minimum Intrusion Cabin Structure (MICS) creates a robust passenger cell that absorbs and diverts impact forces. Occupants are protected by pre-tensioned seatbelts with load limiters, front, side curtain and knee airbags, anti-submarining front seats, side impact bars and a steering column and pedals designed to give less risk of injury in a collision.
The Avensis has disc brakes all-round with ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control.

There are no less than 47 — yes, forty-seven — different Avensis models in the new line-up. That's more than enough to meet the requirements of any customer, whether they're high-mileage company car users or private buyers. Against? Not very much, to tell you the truth. Conservatively styled but nonetheless improved exterior styling, restricted rear headroom in the Hatchback and a fidgety ride on occasions.

Strongly offsetting those minor quibbles are better looks and visual appeal, high build quality, quality finish and interior space, reliability and improved handling. All-in-all then, a thumbs-up. I suspect the new model will virtually sell itself as more customers discover exactly what this very good and accomplished Avensis has to offer. — David Miles

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Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D 130 T3-X 5-door
| 17,515
Maximum speed: 124mph | 0-62mph: 10.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 38.6mpg | Power: 124bhp | Torque: 222lb ft

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-------------------------------------------------------------------- Toyota Avensis