This is no vehicle for 'Jack the lads' but it is one that offers smooth, comfortable driving. Last weekend I did one of those tortuous journeys on the M11 and M25. This is a fairly regular trip for me as my family lives in Surrey so avoiding the M25 is impossible. But this time I arrived at 8pm on a Thursday evening comparatively unstressed after the three-hour drive.
In the cabin everything is visually pleasing, especially the speed dial, rev counter and fuel gauge display panel. Unlike other cars I've tested, these dials are backlit all the time so checking them is easy: good for keeping an eye on the speed.
Also satisfyingly easy to use are the in-car audio system and heating controls. The dashboard panel is brushed silver with clear button markings – nothing clever, just straightforward labelling.
Our model also comes with turn-by-turn satellite navigation and a sunroof, which all add to the comfort of this car.
Travelling at high speeds is extremely smooth. The figures state our diesel Avensis can reach a maximum of 121mph and it feels as if that would be no problem at all. The Avensis is not particularly quick to get there but once at 70mph it is an excellent performer.
And there's no problem trundling along at 10mph in the inevitable M11 traffic queue either. However, a bit more torque around the 40mph to 50mph mark would be a real bonus.
This highlights the nature of the Avensis's engine. Tuned to meet Euro IV emissions regulations (and thus avoid the 3% BIK diesel supplement), it lacks the outright grunt of its upper-medium rivals, especially Ford's TDCi unit in the Mondeo.
This engine has an overboost facility for extra mid-range performance.
However, the TDCi engine is now also Euro IV compliant so it will be interesting to see if it loses any performance compared to the Euro III engine.
In an earlier test report (Fleet NewsNet September 11) our editor, John Maslen, used a Star Trek analogy when describing the Avensis, but what springs to my mind is Doctor Who's Tardis rather than the Starship Enterprise.
The Avensis is incredibly spacious with loads of legroom in the back and a huge boot. If my fleet manager offered me this Toyota Avensis, I would be delighted. The car offers ease of handling, space, comfort and adaptability.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% tax-payer): £49 per month