Toyota Avensis Estate (2015 - ) review
We test the estate version of the revised Toyota Avensis, has it got what it takes to fend off the Mazda 6, VW Passat and Ford Mondeo to claim top spot in the family estate class?
Interested in buying Toyota Avensis?
No matter which car you choose in this class, 'styling' is usually about blending in rather than standing out, but the Avensis is especially conservative-looking from the outside. There are a lot of thick body panels, making the car seem rather top-heavy, so even the 17-inch alloys on the Business Edition model seem tiny and get lost in the wheel arches. Still, the estate body style is smarter than the saloon, and the standard LED running lights, tapered grille and wide front bumper do at least give the Avensis some kerb appeal. The highest 'Excel' trim gets rear privacy glass, a panoramic sunroof, and full LED headlights, but even in this guise, it's a car that whispers, rather than shouts.
The outside might not be especially thrilling, but Toyota has done a fine job of getting the interior closer to those of its class competitors. A simple, uncluttered dash, chunky multifunction steering wheel, smarter surfaces and clearer dials are all a big improvement over the previous generation car, and there's an 8.0-inch touch-screen display plonked in the middle of the centre console, too. Build quality is good, and the Avensis seems well put together, but there are still some hard plastics and sharp edges in obvious places, which stop it from feeling as plush as, say, the VW Passat Estate. The front seats are nicely contoured, though, with thick and supportive side bolsters, but the driving position is a bit of a mess. You sit too high up in the cabin, so it seems like you are perched above the dash, and there's not enough adjustment to the seat or steering wheel if you're very tall or short. The infotainment system is straightforward, even if it can take a while to respond to driver inputs.
Space in an essential feature of any family estate, the Toyota Avensis might not be the king of outright boot space (it's maximum capacity of 1,609 litres is smaller than both the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat estates) but it does make the most of what it's got. For instance, the load bay is nicely designed, with a hidden storage tray for loose items under the floor, no lip to catch any awkward or heavy objects on, and the rear seats are easy to fold down. In the back, there's a generous amount of head- and legroom, and because there is no high transmission tunnel, three adults can easily sit side-by-side. Up front, the glove box is wide and deep, and there's a big storage cubby in the arm rest, too, but the door pockets are frustratingly narrow and unlined. That means you can't fit water bottles in them, which is a bit of an oversight on a family car like this one.
Ride and handling
Company car drivers cover hundreds of miles every week, so Toyota has made comfort its biggest priority in the Avensis Touring Sports. The latest car has softer suspension and retuned steering and dampers, which are all supposed to make it a leisurely cruiser. The changes have worked, too, and at a steady speed on the motorway, the Avensis feels a bit more stable and planted, with less of a light, nervous feeling to the steering. At low speed, it still jiggles and shimmies a little over uneven surfaces and ridges in the road, though, and the Ford Mondeo rides better, and is more engaging through corners. There is decent grip in the Avensis, but its front tyres will wash wide before cars like the VW Passat Estate on more demanding roads, and the body leans over a fair bit more, too.
There are three different engines to choose from in the latest Avensis range, and although a handful of private buyers may opt for the 1.8-litre petrol, everyone else will be interested in the two diesel engines, a 1.6 with 109bhp, and a 2.0 with 141bhp. Both these engines are supplied by BMW, so they have a proven track record. Power delivery is smooth and relatively quiet below 3,000rpm in both, but there is a fairly big spread in performance between the two engines. The 1.6 feels pretty sedate, taking 11.7 seconds to get from 0-62mph. It labours up hills, too, and if you drop out of the narrow sweet spot in the rev range, it feels rather flat. Most 1.6 diesel are a lot more flexible, so you'll have to change gear a lot more often in the Avensis than you would in some of its rivals. The larger 2.0-litre engine is better, and means you don't have to drop down a gear to overtake on the motorway, and we'd recommend choosing this engine if you regularly plan to carry a lot of luggage on board. The six-speed manual gearbox is not as precise as in some competitors, and apart from some wind noise on the motorway, overall refinement is pretty good, but both diesel motors do send a bit of gentle buzz through the pedals and steering wheel when strained.
BMW is famed for the efficiency of its diesel engines, but the pair it has lent to Toyota are not quite as eco-friendly as the best cars in this class. The Ford Mondeo and Skoda Octavia Estates both achieve just 99g/km of CO2, making them cheaper than the Avensis as a company car, and lowering the amount of benefit-in-kind tax you'll need to part with. Still, with emissions figures of between 110g/km and 120g/km - depending on which engine you go for - the Toyota is hardly going to break the bank, and it has plenty of other things in its favour as an ownership proposition. It comes with a five-year warranty, for example, and the service intervals are longer to decrease the amount you need to spend on upkeep. It's priced just below its main family car rivals, too, and comes with plenty of standard equipment to boot. The only area where it loses out to cars like the Passat Estate is in the residual values. They're not as strong as the Volkswagen's, but this is much less of an issue for company car users, who will make up the bulk of Avensis buyers.
Forget the high-profile recalls in America, Toyota is still a by-word for reliability, and it sits proudly near the top of the manufacturer standings in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index. The Avensis also performs well, with owners reporting few issues, although it does have slightly higher repair costs than its rivals if something does go wrong, even if it's less likely to do so. As we have said already, these engines are proven by BMW, and are unlikely to cause you any problems. What's more, the satisfaction of knowing the Avensis is covered by a five-year warranty will be music to the ears of any buyer after a hassle-free car to cart the family around in.
Toyota says it wants to make the latest safety kit available to everyone - and a new suite of systems fitted to the Avensis, called 'Toyota Safety Sense' aims to do exactly that. So, every model in the range comes with a pre-collision system, which monitors the road up ahead, warns the driver if it senses a impending crash, and then primes the brakes. If you don't intervene in time, it'll then apply to brakes to bring you to a stop, and (hopefully) avoid a nasty collision. It's yet to be independently tested by Euro NCAP, but Toyota are very confident of achieving a five-star rating. Move up a trim from the entry-level 'Active' model and you'll get a host of other goodies, including lane departure warning, headlights that dip their beams automatically when another car is coming the other way, and a camera that will read road signs to tell you what the speed limit is, wherever you are. It really is an impressive roster of kit, and this is exactly the kind of stuff most other brands would ask you to pay extra for, so hats off to Toyota for including it in this car as standard.
This is another area where Toyota really pulls ahead of its competitors. They know that often fleet buyers are limited by a strict budget, which doesn't allow options, as this forces up the amount of tax you have to pay as a business user. In the Avensis, however, if you choose the Business edition, it comes with all your needs covered. The 8.0-inch touch-screen has sat-nav with full European maps, and there is also a reversing camera, DAB radio, cruise control, lumbar support for the driver, climate control, automatic lights and wipers and power folding mirrors, plus all the safety equipment we mentioned above. In fact, it's so generous that there seems little point in upgrading to the Business Edition Plus, which only adds leather/Alcantara upholstery, privacy glass and keyless entry and start.
If you’re a company buyer, the Avensis Touring Sports makes a lot of sense to choose for your daily driver. It’s very safe, comfortable and quiet enough to cover long distances with ease, and comes so well equipped that there is no need to add any options to the base price. However, if you are after excitement, the lowest C02 emissions or the most space possible for your money, then there are better choices around.