Motoring: The Independent Road Test: It's much too good to be interesting: Smooth, fast, spacious and soon to be made over here, Toyota's Carina E lacks only character. It'll probably sell very well, says Phil Llewellin

WRITERS of road tests appreciate bad cars almost as much as they like good ones for much the same reason that extremes of character make Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa more interesting subjects than Joe Bloggs. But can a car be too good to be interesting? An influential motoring magazine recently pinned that label on the Toyota Carina E, slagging it off for having no more character than a top-class washing machine.

My week with the Carina E 2.0GLi hatchback provided a similar conclusion. This is a very efficient car - comfortable, practical, fast, economical - but it will be remembered, if at all, for being bland.

Although it may fail to stimulate the adrenal glands, this is an important car. Designed and developed specifically for Europe (which is what the 'E' stands for), the Carina is to be made in Toyota's new factory at Burnaston in Derbyshire (see below), with the first one scheduled to come off the production line next week.

Imported from Japan, like all Carinas sold in Britain since the model was launched, the GLi tested here earned praise for a wide range of features: an exceptionally spacious interior (four six-footers can travel in comfort); good aerodynamics; a long-striding fifth gear for quiet, fuel-efficient motorway cruising. A two-hour, six-mile crawl across central London was made slightly less awful by light and smooth controls - steering, clutch, gearbox, accelerator and brakes.

The adjustable steering wheel is a commendable feature. But why is the handbrake so close to the gear lever? It gets in the way when selecting reverse.

The versatile hatchback's load-swallowing ability was appreciated when several big boxes had to be carted from the Isle of Dogs to the Welsh Marches. Adjustable headlights, to compensate for weight in the tail, are a thoughtful detail. Headlight washers would be even more useful in a British winter.

The 2.0-litre Carina might not boast the crisp handling of such sporting characters as the Volkswagen Corrado 16v and Mazda MX-3, but its colour- me-grey reputation can obscure the performance it delivers. Accelerating hard in first gear on a wet road makes the steering wheel twitch enough to remind you that this is a front-wheel drive, but this degree of feedback is not typical: the Carina just seems to flow along. There is nothing wrong with that, but the motorist who likes to 'drive' may feel that this car epitomises a 'sensory deprivation capsule' - the tag recently applied to most Japanese vehicles by an American friend.

Certain low-speed conditions excited a few minor creaks and squeaks from the dashboard and there was some tyre noise on coarse surfaces, but overall quality appeared to be in line with Toyota's reputation. The model is backed by a three-year or 60,000-mile warranty.

Devoid of inspiration, the Carina's ability to provide more down-to-earth qualities in an efficient package cannot be denied.

Toyota does not need to be reminded that Ford's Fiesta and Escort, both of which were rubbished by many professional pundits, ended last year as the top-selling cars in Britain.

(Photograph omitted)

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