Understanding Blandness

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.

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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.

1997 Toyota Avensis design relations
1997 Toyota Avensis design relations

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?

1994 Opel Omega. Notice the tailgate shutline: source
1994 Opel Omega. Notice the tailgate shutline: source

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).

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

7 thoughts on “Understanding Blandness”

  1. Although, by then, I had long got over those innocent Europhilic prejudices about large sections of the Japanese industry not quite getting cars, at the time I probably viewed the Avensis’s identikit styling as being symptomatic of a certain lack of confidence on the part of Toyota. With the benefit of hindsight this now seems ridiculously naive of me. Although they’ve made errors from time to time, Toyota have always known pretty much what they are doing. Their success was hardly an accident. So it seems likely that it was a conscious decision, identifying a customer base who wanted a reliable Japanese car, and one that looked like a car – just a car, nothing specific. The blandness was entirely contrived, they probably put an enormous amount of effort into it.

    1. I’ll never look at an Avensis in quite the same way again. Masterful piece of archeology – chapeau.

  2. Compare with the Daewoo/Chevrolet Epica 10 years later (not available as an estate, but very much bland and praised elsewhere by Richard), the Avensis at least looks competent. As per Sean’s post, Toyota know what they’re doing – or did back then.

  3. The Omega´s D-pillar is a real mess. The shutline for the tail gate is destroying the coherence of the fixed body work. If they wanted a lid effect for the liftgate then they needed to allow more thickness for the d-pillar. It´s still a top nice car.

  4. The Avensis Mk1 was always a strangely bland car to me, almost to the point of parody. It resembled something I’d probably sketch as a 5 year old with its smiley, goofy front end and slab-wall of a rear with half-moon taillights clumsily drawn on as an afterthought. I figured it wasn’t inspired by anything other than Toyota’s idea of how to build a bland saloon, though it is quite different from the contemporary and rather angular XV20 wide-body Camry that America got. I suppose they were on their bubble-kick in the Euro sector with the frog-Corolla in tow. Interestingly the same car was sold in Japan as the Caldina and got a rather sportier rear treatment which is almost funnier given that the rest of the car is the same bland mess. Look at that shelf of a rear spoiler on the hi-po GT-T trim with 256 hp and AWD!

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