Before driving it, I had been wooed by the recent television advertising (remember the ever-complaining mother-in-law who shuts up on getting into an Avensis?) into thinking that it was a huge, luxurious, saloon with aspirations to challenge Volkswagen and Audi in terms of quality. I was even impressed when I saw my first one in the metal, gleaming in metallic mink with front-end styling reminiscent of the current design lines of Mercedes.
So what is it that leaves me unconvinced by the Avensis? While I think it is key for a fleet model to be inoffensive to as many people as possible, it is also equally important to be desirable – and it is here that the car falls down.
On paper, it is a sound fleet proposition, frugal on fuel, low in tax, good spec levels – quite enough to keep any fleet manager happy.
And the Avensis is still the only four-cylinder Euro IV diesel in its sector, so drivers who choose it will keep a few extra pounds in their pockets, while others will be putting more of their cash into Gordon Brown's financial black hole.
But I'm not sure depriving the chancellor of a few quid will be the deciding factor for user-choosers.
Over the past six months, other testers have remarked on the pleasing quality and spaciousness of the Avensis. However, they also agree on its sluggishness in acceleration and only two of the previous five drivers have managed to reach or surpass the quoted 48.7 combined mpg figure – the best figure of 50.2 mpg being attained by editor John Maslen.
The interior illustrates that Toyota is moving towards the style of its premium brand sibling Lexus. The car has a spacious, quiet cabin, due not only to the smoothness of the engine, but also to new insulation materials, developed to deaden exterior sound and offer added impact protection. I never quite got to grips with the on-board computer, though.
Whether drivers find the Avensis bland and slow, or understated and economic, it will always be a choice for the head not the heart.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% tax-payer): £49 per month