I probably won’t endear myself to Toyota and/or its droves of loyal supporters by calling the new Avensis a Lexus for the middle classes – but I honestly mean that as a compliment. The diesel-powered Avensis D-4D Exclusive costs R257 500, which makes it “only” R16 500 cheaper than its more attractive and exclusively-badged Lexus IS 250 sibling. Then again, the Avensis and Lexus IS are really completely different creatures… the former is supposed to carry the torch as Toyota’s saloon flagship in the wake of the dowdy Aussie-built Camry’s timely demise – and it does THAT with aplomb.
And if anyone out there would still prefer the IS to the Avensis, perhaps you should consider this… The 2,2-litre turbodiesel (with a manual six-speed transmission) has a higher specification level than the entry-level IS, including Xenon HID headlamps, an automatic headlight levelling system and headlamp washers and most importantly – a turn-by-turn navigation system. What other manufacturer can offer a navigation guidance support as standard in the quarter-of-a-million-buck bracket?
For many people, the Avensis’ looks might be the first and final turnoff. Yes, you can see European influences in the Avensis’ styling… a raised bonnet line, pronounced projector-style headlamp clusters, sweeping horizontal character lines on the flanks and circular-design brake lights housed in integrated tail-lamp clusters… But that’s not to say the big saloon is a beauty. Even in black, the car’s front end, characterised by a U-shaped slatted grille, is blunt and too derivative of that seen on the Yaris and the rear (with its RunX-like rear light clusters) is neat, but plain. Still, the car is so much better looking than a Camry that you might be willing to forgive its conservative styling – to an extent.
The Avensis still offers its predecessor’s strong traits – it’s 4,6 m long, 1,4 m high and has a large cabin that can seat five in comfort. And with five adults on board (I’m 1,88 m tall and comfortably sat behind the driver’s seat after it had been adjusted for my driving position), luggage space is no less than a claimed 520 dm3! The build quality is particularly good – and is evident everywhere inside the cabin, which is trimmed in cashew leather with wood inserts (I’m not sure how well the light leather seats will stand up to ice cream spills and sticky little fingers). I liked the chunky (if a tad grey) switchgear, the folding side mirrors, electrically-adjustable seats, the ability to switch on the radio via the remote steering wheel controls and the plethora of oddments spaces for the front passengers. But why isn’t there a remote boot-opening button inside the cabin? Even if you approach the car, the Avensis’ key only unlocks the boot, but doesn’t open it.
The biggest revelation of the Avensis was its on road performance… The 2,2-litre D-4D common rail, direct injection, turbodiesel powerplant (which is similar, but in a different state of tune, to that of the recently-launched RAV4 diesel) is a little jewel! If you want an automatic transmission, you’d have to settle for the petrol-engined 2,4-litre four cylinder Exclusive model, which costs R400 less than this model. But the D-4D manual is an involving drive, and surprised me with its handling and road manners.