My time in the Toyota Avensis was cut short because it hit a bit of bus.
It was the bus's fault, honest: a sliver of steel engine cover landed on the motorway, and the wind/traffic picked it up and threw it at the front of the car.
Minimal damage, actually. But it if had to happen, that's not a bad way to go for this mid-size wagon. The Avensis is all about working in the real world, being in the thick of it. On the motorway with bits of bus.
I like the Avensis. I'm tempted to say it's a great family vehicle, but in reality this particular model won't be that for another five years, when it's a used car. The mid-size wagon market is shrinking (private buyers are moving to crossovers) and the only buyers interested in a vehicle like this are business/fleet.
Probably those already running Toyota sedans and hatches, which is why we got the Avensis in the first place. Toyota rules the medium-four fleet market with the Australian-built Camry, but that model doesn't have a wagon variant. That means potential sales are lost when the Acme Paper Company wants a range of business vehicles from just one car company: enter the European Avensis.
Avensis has always been an excellent wagon: refined, well-built and with a bit more character than Camry or Corolla. But in the past few years it's been far too expensive, reaching upwards into the $50k bracket. I'm not saying people actually paid that – especially when they were ordering five Camrys at the same time – but that on-paper price was still pretty off-putting.
With the facelifted Avensis, Toyota has drawn a line in the sand and drawn some advantage from currency changes to pull $6400 out of the price. It's now $47,990, which looks a lot more realistic against the likes of the $45,695 Mazda6 GSX wagon and $44,990 Hyundai i40. Still slightly more expensive than its rivals, but are you GST-registered? If so, I'm betting your local Toyota dealer has got a deal for you.
The new Avensis has revised styling, especially at the front with a larger grille, higher-quality plastics and upholstery inside, and a new seat design. The audio system now has a USB jack and Bluetooth streaming capability, while improved aerodynamics and extra sound insulation have made it a more refined machine.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine makes 112kW/196Nm and is matched to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). I loathe CVT with a passion – I might have mentioned that 15 or 20 times in tests already on this site – but as far as the breed goes I'd rate the Avensis gearbox quite highly. Almost as good as Subaru's Lineartronic, in fact.
The Avensis CVT has a seven-step pseudo-manual mode which is quite good, with quick ratio-changes and good throttle response. You also also get a pushbutton Sport mode, which gives you a bit more engine braking but its not overbearing. What I'm saying is that CVT doesn't completely sap the joy out of driving in the Avensis, which is an achievement in itself.
Overall the Avensis is very refined, capable in corners when speeds rise and surprisingly thrifty, with Combined economy of just 7.1 litres per 100km.
If I had to characterise the driving experience with one word I'd say ‘soothing', which is no bad thing when you're talking about a business vehicle that will spend its days pounding up and down motorways and sitting in traffic.
Avensis is practical, although ultimate cargo capacity does make some concession to style. The boot is 543 litres and boasts a net and sliding cargo rails, although the luggage capacity is slightly limited by the shallow load bay and sloping roof.
What's missing? More specification options and perhaps a diesel engine. But the medium-wagon market is shrinking and it's probably a smart move by Toyota to keep the Avensis lineup simple. One-dimensional, even.
It's a bit of cliché to say that the European influence shows in a mainstream vehicle, but in this case it's true. Avensis is a fleet wagon with a slightly luxurious feel.
Purchase approved. Get the order through to accounts.