Toyota Avensis

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Is the Avensis an Advance?

Due to the non-release of the planned 'new' Opel Vectra test car, I needed to hire a substitute car in Germany recently to keep myself mobile - thus this test.

Going back at least 10 years, I was quite disappointed to be given a Toyota 'courtesy car' while my own car was having the remains of an Escort extracted from its posterior.  Not that I had any axe to grind about the car I was given - it was old, rusty, couldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding, didn't stick to the road very well and had poor brakes.  Its sole redeeming feature was a very sweet gear change aided by a light and progressive clutch.  But what the heck - the car was free and only had to get me a few miles before being handed back a few days later - a true 'bus-ticket'.

So here I was 10 years later in another Toyota.  The Avensis 1.8 'VVT-i' I just travelled 1,000 miles in was lumpy on the road, despite the VVT-i motor promising at least "something" it gave mediocre acceleration, and had an incredibly bad cable-operated gear change (remember how the press slated the Austin 1800 and Maxi 30 years ago for this feature?) partnered with a noisy non-progressive clutch and brakes that were incredibly over-sensitive.  She Who Must Be Obeyed was convinced I was trying to put her through the windshield, as 'check braking' was impossible. 

Add to the lack of driving dynamics, bits of 'silvered' plastic dashboard trim falling off, and an audio system that really needed the handbook to guide you through anything but on/off, and I was - well let's be polite - less than pleased.

Plus points?  It was fairly economical at 34mpg and despite leaning too much and tyres squealing at the least opportunity, it actually held the road quite well.  If you kept the engine over 3,000 rpm it would actually zip along, even though you have to work at that nasty gear-change very hard to get noticeable acceleration. 

I was very pleased to have a hatch-back again, even if the metal was clearly too thin and flexible.  So, if asked to choose between this car and a Ford Focus 1.8 or MG ZS, there would be no contest.  The only slight trace of character this card had, was bad.  I shall always remember that gear-change, a 30-year throwback.

Strangely, I had already experienced very similar from the new MR2 which I had also found very under-damped.

So Toyota, what happened?

Mike Wattam  4 June 2002

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Last modified: January 10, 2013