2014 Toyota Avensis (Part 2)

We looked at the extensive failings of the Avensis’ auxiliary controls this week. This article deals with the rest of the car.

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Toyota have been making this class of car for 50 years. The Avensis name has been attached to offerings in the middle market for 19 years. This version is third one to carry the name. They ought to be pretty good at this by now. So, we ask, what is it like to drive a vehicle aimed at a competitive and hard-fought and declining segment?

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Tested here is the 1.8 litre 4-cylinder petrol six-speed. It’s a saloon too. The hatchback died with the transition to the third generation. Odd that.

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First impressions of the car lead one to expect a cushy, smooth experience. Apart from the annoying headlamp design, the Avensis is distinctive (though the entire group of D-class cars is made up of distinctive cars, isn’t it? Who could mistake an Insignia for a Passat or a Mondeo for a Mazda 6?) and not unattractive.

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The interior seems inviting (allowing for the depressing greys that are standard for our dismal times). The cloth/leatherette seats feel nice. Chrome-effect bezels cheer up the air-vent orifices (and reflect in the sideglass). Metal-effect plastic (the new Timberlex, surely) lifts the centre console. The ashtray is well located.

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In the back one finds a flat floor and lots of legroom. The centre armrest lacks no width. The view forward and to the side won’t annoy adults or children.

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Statically, it’s all quite alright then. Then it all crumbles into bits. Toyota said they wanted this Avensis to be the most comfortable in its class. The seating helps that goal. Toyota also wanted sporty handling. You can’t have both.

Driving around town you notice it is comfortable-ish. On a-roads the ride jitters and patters. On motorways the tyres rumble. Only the gravel track and hill climb showed the suspension in a good light. So, by now I’ve addressed Toyota’s claim for comfort and sportiness. It can’t be both and isn’t.

Acceleration is adequate and no more. Discussing turn-in, throttle response and gear changes is redundant. Relevant: snatchiness describes the brakes. I don’t want to exaggerate; none of these characteristics are very noticeable but none are faint either.

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The Avensis has a nice big boot. Here it is:

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However, the bootlid has a really annoying springing. To lift the lid the springs hurl the bootlid up from rest and it swings away a bit too far. When closing it you encounter a lot of resistance at the final degrees of travel and must use your triceps to push down and this is a very unnatural movement. The lid then clangs shut.

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The Avensis designers didn’t sweat the small stuff on the inside. The main problem is detail finish. The door looks okay from afar but has some untidy edges and junctions.

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The way this material, sculpting (below)  and joint doesn’t align displeases me. The materials don’t match.

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Getting back to driving, we find the Avensis returns 40 mpg. With a 13 gallon tank the range is 530 miles. It takes 1.5 tanks to get from Calais to St Jean de Cap Ferrat.

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Here’s a clumsy bit of the rear door handle (above) and below that nasty binnacle detail.

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Below: a horrid three-part junction on the front door skin.

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The headliner has a ragged corner, below.

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Below: a messy edge to the passenger door top-roll.

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The Avensis overall is a set of rather loosely gathered inadequacies. It’s not very sporty or very comfortable or particularly well-made.

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The performance is alright and it’s spacious with a large boot. All that really doesn’t add up to much more than mediocre and it is very, very surprising that with benchmarking the excellent competition and Toyota’s experience that it isn’t vastly better. Added to this the dismal ergonomics I discussed already we find a vehicle that is one to avoid.

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Here’s the sun setting on a car that may yet go the way of the Camry.

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Neither sporty nor very comfortable nor all that attractive: you could wonder how they sell any.

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Author: richard herriott

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

12 thoughts on “2014 Toyota Avensis (Part 2)”

  1. This is a commendable amount of effort that you have put in to reviewing a car that does absolutely nothing for me at any level. The exterior is, at first, unremarkable; then on closer inspection, displeasing. In many ways it is the epitome of what the noted Australian motoring journalist Peter Robinson once observed about Japanese cars – “their collective appearance is so bland as to be almost uniform.” I’m not sure the Avensis could unequivocally pass for another Japanese model on the outside (as a number of them do), but the interior could be out of anything made by Toyota themselves, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi or even Suzuki from 10-15 years ago. Perhaps that is the most interesting thing to say about it – how can a car of this price, coming from one of the world’s wealthiest and most competent carmakers, have an interior that is essentially indistinguishable from that of a 1997 Mazda 323, down to the mismatched textures and slightly questionable finish?

    I never thought much of the first-generation Avensis, but perhaps this car’s role in life is to make that one seem more interesting by comparison.

    1. I suppose I have a touch of Nicholson Baker’s focus on details. I’d like to enumerate the precise ways this car is inadequate rather than dismiss it by calling it “boring”.
      Toyota thinks marketing matters. It does. And they think dealers matters. They do (bad dealers killed Lancia and Alfa Romeo, to a large extent). Oddly Toyota won’t make a car as good as their sales and service. Baffling. They could wipe the floor with the competition otherwise.

  2. I’d say that most of the dissatisfying details are down to the dreary realities of procurement and production. Whole interiors are sub-contracted to the likes of Johnson Controls, Faurecia, or Ningbo Joyson on a lowest bidder wins basis. The production system is based on an assembly line where humans populate a bodyshell in operations taking 50-70 seconds each before the line moves on.

    This last fact dictates the size of the components, and how they interface with each other. The ingenuity’s still there, but it’s being used to make the production process faster and more cost-effective, rather than to please aesthetic sensibilities.

    As far as I can see, every mass produced car is made and procured along principles broadly similar to the above, whether it’s a Dacia or a Mercedes-Benz. Cleverness and crumminess will be found in either, without having to look too hard.

  3. This is car as ‘it’ll do” commodity. Surely now only bought by fleets and rental companies. I do appreciate Richard making the effort to review it; the world needs to be warned that such mediocrity and worse is still lurking in the market.

    1. An impressive increase for the facelift Avensis, but no match for the Superb, which nearly doubled sales now that the new model is estasblished. In both cases there would have been a run down of sales in the first half of 2015 in preparation for the model change.

      The Avensis facelift is unremarkable, but the change to BMW-supplied diesels might have helped, although they are cut down in specification and power compared with the ones BMW use in their own cars.

      I’m guessing there are good deals going on Avenses somewere, or Toyota have secured some good fleet orders.

  4. As curious as it is to say, there is something about this design that fails to say Toyota to me. It has the silhouette of a generic mid-size sedan from a European brand; the detailing is in a sense reminiscent of a Chinese knockoff of a Western design, and yet it could be from any number of Western brands, from Kia to BMW. While Toyotas may be bland in the main, there is usually at least a certain consistency of theme that runs through most of the range, for better or worse. I don’t get that sense with this.

    If it is the details that make or break a car, this one is exemplified by its doorhandles. Aside from the flourish that runs along the bottom of the doors, the sides are essentially pretty featureless, so they have accentuated the doorhandles with an indent that encircles the handle itself. The only problem is, I’m not sure why. It isn’t as though the doorhandles are some sort of artistic detail in themselves that you’d want to draw attention to, as on, say, a 156. For me it speaks volumes as to this car’s status as a ‘so what’ design – which, I suppose, brings us back to Richard’s concluding question.

    1. It’s not like a Kia, I feel. Kias deploy a consistently applied rule set for the forms. They are, I feel, a *shade* more angular (or is that just the grille roaring?).

  5. If there’s any “point” to this car it can be seen from the middle distance (third last photo). The glass house is small, the bodyside high and the feature on the lower doors is supposed to give it all a bit of directionality. The daft headlamps are less obviously contrived seen from this point.
    I’d say it is quite Toyota: blandly busy and not totally homogenous.

  6. If we were in any doubt about the Avensis’s parlous prospects, here’s a only mildly equivocal statement from Toyota Europe CEO Johan van Zyl in an ANE interview mainly about the impending C-HR:

    http://europe.autonews.com/article/20160911/ANE/160829866/toyota-exec-expects-bold-looking-c-hr-to-lift-brands-hybrid-sales-in

    “ANE: Does the Avensis have a future?

    JvZ: We will continue Avensis production [in the UK] as long as we can, then we will review. It will depend how the segment behaves in terms of growth and size and then we will make our decision. We see the market moving very strongly toward SUVs and therefore we will also move more and more in that direction.”

    There are no plans for a hybrid Avensis – this was known at Burnaston at least two years ago and set the alarm bells ringing. This seems to be a failure of logic on the part of Toyota’s product planners; as Johan tells us, 60% of Auris sales are hybrids. Out in the real world. the Prius is becoming a popular choice with taxi operators, despite costing nearly twice as much as a VAG Rapedo. There are plenty of Avenses on the ranks too, but the connection isn’t being made.

    The saloon-only E170 Corolla, built in Turkey, is on sale in must of Europe, including RHD Cyprus and Ireland, and it has the same 2700mm wheelbase as the Avensis, and similar external dimensions.

    Both are on the ‘New MC’ platform – how long before Toyota cut their lossses?

  7. Two pet hates here. 1) These ‘goose neck’ hinges are now used on saloons everywhere, even £200k Rolls Royces. They are cheap to manufacture, but unpleasant to use (as per Richard’s review) and eat up boot space. I detest them. The lovely double-articulated hinges that were briefly a signifier of a ‘premium’ car are no more, except where space restrictions demand them. This is real quality being abandoned in favour of perceived quality. 2) The lack of air vents for rear passengers on this car is unforgiveable. This, again, is a genuinely useful feature which makes travelling in the back more pleasant (and helps to alleviate car sickness for younger passengers).

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