Motoring: A safe ride - but with the fun dialled out

Is the Carina's successor, the Avensis, any less dull? Roger Bell gives it a going over
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Toyota's outgoing Carina E was to car buffs what cricket is to Americans: a home-run short of entertainment. True, it was nicely made, reliable and economical. These qualities made the Carina a sales success, but contributed to its character bypass.

Despite the E suffix (denoting that our homespun version was Euro-friendly), the Carina was never an endearing companion. A dishwasher on cold rinse aroused more passion.

So how fares its replacement, the Avensis? The change of name reflects Toyota's anxiety to distance the newcomer from the Carina. The Avensis is described in the blurb as a "dynamic new challenger ... with more emotional appeal." Let's see.

The Avensis is a neat good-looker that gets its share of admiring glances. Adventurous it is not, inside or out.

Mainstream conservatism rules, OK, right down to the plastic "wood" on the fascia. Although the saloon and "liftback" (Toyota-speak for hatchback) are shorter than the Carina, the wheelbase is longer, so there's more room inside. By Mondeo/ Cavalier/ 406 standards, accommodation is at least competitive. Even the saloon has folding back seats.

What struck me first was how quiet the Avensis was. The test 2.0-litre GLS - at pounds l6,845 a mid-priced model - was, I swear as hushed as the pounds 50,000 Mercedes 430E V8 I had just vacated. Efficient sealing (and low-drag bodywork) accounts for the low level of wind whoosh.

While there is nothing special about the ride, it is a lot better than that of the jiggly Carina. Exceptional comfort stems from embracing front seats and a driving position that I found close to perfection.

So, is the Avensis a rewarding drive? It is certainly an improvement on the Carina, which had a steering linkage fabricated from extruded pasta - or so it felt. The Avensis turns into corners, and sweeps through roundabouts, with much greater poise and resolution.

It still lacks the crispness, though, of Ford's excellent Mondeo. The easy controls are designed to flatter the inept rather than excite the enthusiast.

With three body styles, four engines - 1.6, 1.8 (both economical lean- burn units), 2.0 and 2.0 diesel - and four trim packages, there's an Avensis to suit most people's needs. Even the cheapest, the pounds 13,995 1.6S liftback, has anti-lock brakes, electric windows/ mirrors and an engine immobiliser. All the others have air-conditioning.

Anyone in the market for sound, safe, quiet, comfortable mid-range family wheels will find in the Avensis a pleasant, well-made contender. Fun seekers should look elsewhere.


Price: pounds 16,845 on the road.

Engine: 1998cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 126bhp at 5400rpm. Transmission: five-speed manual (auto optional), front-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 125mph, 0-60mph in 9.3 seconds. Fuel consumption 34.0mpg combined.


Alfa Romeo 156 1.8, pounds 17.573. Not cheap, but great to drive. 2.0 Twin Spark even quicker. Citroen Xantia 2.0 SX, pounds 16,360. Attractive styling, lots of character, unique suspension.

Daewoo Leganza 2.0 CDX, pounds 14,995. Keen price but Leganza lacks character and driver appeal. Ford Mondeo 2.0 GLX, pounds 16,495. An excellent all-rounder, with wide choice of engines, equipment packages.