There is a fine line between the severely rational and the bland. The 1997 Toyota Avensis is bland yet there is a hint of something else there too.
What little character the car has did come from somewhere. So, what inspired the theme? To try to understand this car is to try to guess at what else Toyota had in mind when developing it. If the car was launched in 1997 then the designers were looking at cars launched or on sale in three years before: 1994. What do we find? The Opel Omega and Renault Laguna had the most impact. The Peugeot 406 and Mazda 626 estates also guided the packaging targets.
Quite a lot these Avensises are parked where I live which is why I ended up noticing them. I wanted to get at what it was that this car was about. It’s too easy to call it uninteresting (which it really is) yet it still has been designed to look deliberately shaped. Also, can one explain what is wrong with the shape other than to declare it boring?
One way to interpret this is that the car is a collection of watered down characteristics borrowed from other vehicles. The car also nods towards its predecessor, the Carina E as it probably uses the same fundamental architecture. I think the difference between this and equally plain yet more decisively styled cars is that the various influences have not been homogenised. A really homogenous car like an 1995 Audi A4 has nothing else in the mix and the detail solutions do not impinge on the overall look of the car. The same goes for the Peugeot 405 which is a study in controlled forms.
The Avensis is bland in that it does not have any one strong characteristic but it is not homogenous and that small amount of noise, of conflicting signals from the Omega, Laguna, and 406 all adds up to car that is hard to “get”. It is not clear what you are supposed to notice.
Why is the Passat in the picture? Because it was the Avensis inspiration, I suspect. The Passat B3 is also short on flair and devoid of expression, so much so that the engineering detailing strikes one as the strongest aspect of the design.
As a footnote, see how both the Mondeo and Vectra estates are not as neat and tidy as the Avensis; and even the 1994 Omega which is – frankly – a very good looking car, still has a bit of untidiness around the d-pillar because the shutline is visible from the side whereas it is inboard on the Avensis (as it is on the 406).