The new Toyota Avensis is a well thought-out and roomy family wagon with plenty of comfort and predictability
Brighter, whiter, better than ever before; sounds like a soap powder ad, doesn't it. Or one for Toyota's Avensis, for this well thought-out family wagon is 50mm longer and wider than before, which translates to more cabin space. The roofline's dropped 45mm, the lower height imparting a more streamlined persona without affecting luggage space - up 23 litres to 543 with all the seats in use, and 109 with the second row folded, to 1609.
Despite the greater dimensions and a 4kW increase in power, fuel consumption has actually dropped by 2.4l/100km between the old auto transmission and this seven-speed CVT, which now claims 7.0l/100km.
My demanding, hilly commute delivered a 9.3l/100km average. This 112kW/196Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine is working hard to push the bigger body along. You don't notice it cruising round town; you do when the going gets tougher, and you're pressing the sport button to mask the engine's asthmatic response or are forced to self-shift (there are steering wheel-mounted paddles).
A slightly bigger engine or the diesel available in Europe and under consideration for New Zealand would impart the necessary additional urge.
Mind you, that engine's relaxed persona is well matched to the suspenders. This is not the sharpest of handlers, with response biased to comfort and predictability.
Otherwise there's much to like. The generous boot is well finished. The load floor is flat with the second-row seats folded. There are five roomy under-floor cubbies to hide valuables or muddy shoes, and there's a tidy set of luggage rails with adjustable tie-down points to keep your baggage from flying forward if you have to brake suddenly.
Stability control is standard, and mated to steering torque assist to counteract yaw in a skid. There nine airbags, and rear parking sensors - ultra-handy on a big car. There's climate control air con and cruise control, Bluetooth with voice control, plentiful cubbies, and even a ski sleeve to the boot and lights for the vanity mirrors.
Its competency is almost this wagon's Achilles heel. It could do with a tad more power, but the sort of person buying a wagon like this doesn't want a sports car and isn't expecting aggressive urge or incisive handling. With that acknowledged, the Avensis is so easy to live with that nothing really stands out. Sit down and think about it, and your notes become rather a list of features - it has a lot of useful stuff, without making a fuss about it.
It does everything well, but nothing brilliantly and so initially it's underwhelming, and easy to underestimate.
I'd like a bit more power and a bit more character to my cars, but then I don't need to carry a family. If you do, and admit you don't need four-wheel-drive, Avensis has more cred than an MPV, better road dynamics than an SUV, and most of the space and practicality of both.