Engine: 2.2-litre, four cylinder, turbo-diesel
Power: 148bhp and 251lb.ft.
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 8.9 seconds and 131mph
Fuel economy: 51.4mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 147g/km
COOL RUNNINGS: AVENSIS IS AS LAID-BACK AS THEY COME
IT WAS a cruel twist of fate for the Toyota Avensis that my loan period extended over a weekend where I would be visiting the British Touring Car Championships.
Cruel because, as any regular at motorsport events will testify, the car parks at such events are littered with hardcore performance machines.
At Oulton Park I had my eye caught by a particularly fetching Lotus Exige—in cream but wearing British Racing Green stripes over the roof—and a fire-breathing Caterham R500.
The Avensis does share one feature with these two, it's British built, but there was no competing with their raw drama.
This isn't the Avensis' forte, of course, and after six hours on my feet in the blazing sun, there were few vehicles better suited to the 70-mile journey home.
Settled into broad, comfortably padded leather armchairs the air-con cranked up to temperatures that would make Ranulph Fiennes feel at home, it was hard not to see the Avensis' silver lining.
This was always going to be a car that majored in certain areas and Toyota claim that version three of their ever-popular saloon boasts improved "quality, strength and safety."
Safety was proven by Euro NCAP safety tests where the Avensis—the first car in its class to come with knee air bags as standard—gained top adult occupancy results on its way to a five-star rating.
Bullet-proof reliability has made it a hit with fleet managers and mature drivers in the past and Toyota will want to build on that hard-earned reputation.
Efforts have also been made to sharpen up the Avensis' act in other areas.
Although still somewhat conservative it now sports Toyota's "Vibrant Clarity" design ethos, bringing cues from the Urban Cruiser and iQ.
A bluff, square-edged front end is topped by a clamshell bonnet and large headlights taper around each wing, melding into a high shoulder line which ends with wedge-like boot.
The Avensis does appear tall from the front but through the rear three quarters its mixture of sharp creases and arcs gel more effectively than those of its predecessor.
Inside improvements in design and quality are immediately apparent.
Gone is the mock aluminium centre console. In our T4 spec car there was a finely textured finish inspired by Takesumi, a charcoal made from bamboo.
There is acres of space and the driver sits high, making the most of visibility and the ample head room. The the cavernous dimensions even extend to front arm rest which houses a cubby hole so deep I could barely reach the bottom...
Accommodation for leggy rear passengers means that the Avensis will continue to be a taxi driver's favourite.
Prices for the new Avensis range from £16,565 for the 1.8-litre T2 to £26,610 for the 2.2-litre 172bhp D4D T-Spirit automatic.
There are four specifications (T2, TR, T4 and T-Spirit), two petrol engines and four diesel engines to choose from.
The Avensis T4 2.2-litre D4D test car seen here comes in at £21,565.
Heated leather seats, 17 inch alloy wheels, Sat-Nav, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and keyless entry and start were among the highlights.
Out on the road the 148bhp (251lb.ft.) D-4D delivered the claimed 51.4mpg while 147g/km CO2 emissions mean £125 annual road tax.
But it fails to deliver rapid performance.
Perhaps the Avensis' impressive refinement blurred my perception somewhat but after testing the similarly horsepowered SEAT Exeo, its throttle response felt numb and acceleration smooth but never brisk. Toyota claim 0 to 62mph in 8.9 seconds and a top speed of 131mph.
Through the corners there's a similar sense that the Avensis is built for comfort rather than dynamic prowess as a gentle lean suggests that high roof has brought with it a high centre of gravity.
A lack of support offered by those leather armchairs also robbed me of any urge to push on...
Spacious, refined, and more dynamic in appearance than its predecessor, the new Avensis will be a sure-fire hit within its established marketplace.
Though it doesn't offer the driving thrills of a BMW or an Audi it is equally focussed in a different way—a pursuit of reliability, safety and build quality.
More comfortable and better built than Vauxhall's much lauded Insignia, it runs Ford's Mondeo and Honda's Accord close for outright class honours. Only the style-conscious need shy away.