I MAY well be wrong here, but I get a sense of frustration lately emanating from the direction of the Toyota Ireland HQ in Dublin. I’m not fully certain why this is, but I definitely sense it.
Sure Toyota is right up there in the vanguard of new car sales right now — a very important detail when the sales figures are going through the roof after years of unremitting misery for everyone involved in the motor industry — but I sense a frustration in the organisation and I think it is down not so much to their own performance, but because of external factors.
It is common knowledge that some manufacturers are maintaining their sales figures by pre-registering a pile of vehicles right at the very end of every month to massage their overall performance.
Both Toyota and Ford have long eschewed the practice of pre-registration on the basis that it is ultimately unfair on both dealers and customers, but their position — while a laudable and forthright stance — is costing them a genuine shot at making it to the number one slot. And I suspect that is very frustrating.
As both companies had, until recently, fought it out between them for the honour of being top dog here in Ireland, it is understandable that their collective corporate noses might be out of shape, especially as they are effectively powerless to prevent themselves being sucker-punched at the end of every month.
Toyota right now has a fantastic range and the arrival of the latest Avensis models would, in the normal course of events, have helped propel it to the top of the charts. Avensis, after all, is one of those everyman cars which find favour not for the excitement it might offer, but for the reasonable cost-effectiveness it offers as a buying prospect, its day-to-day running costs, its bomb-proof reliability and its relative comfort. Along with Aygo, Auris/Corolla, and RAV 4, the Avensis represents a sterling contender in its market segment.
Avensis is the farmer’s friend, the taximan’s titan, the salesman’s saviour and the family favourite; it is, as I said, an everyman car and will — no matter what I or any other reviewers might say about it, good bad or indifferent — generate massive numbers of sales. Toyota has, after all, sold over 1.7m of them in Europe alone since it was first unveiled in 1997 and 88,000 of them in Ireland, half of which are still on the go.
The new car is, however, something of a sea-change for Toyota, primarily because it does not itself build some of the engine offerings. For the first time in recent memory, the Japanese monolith has gone out-of-house to source the diesels on offer with the new Avensis from BMW. They did so on the basis the German engines offer lower emissions and better economy than anything Toyota had available immediately.
Some might see this perceived capitulation as being a chink in Toyota’s imperious armour, but honestly, to any sane person, it is a matter of practicality and logic. Toyota needed a quick solution and it found it. The heavily revamped Avensis needed engines with which to take the fight to an increasingly competitive market segment, so the manufacturer took a pragmatic and sensible step to make that happen.
The interior of the Toyota Avensis. Over 1.7m Avensis cars have been sold in Europe since its launch, 88,000 of them in Ireland.
And in many ways this is a win-win scenario. A win for Toyota itself and a win for their customers as well.
We tried the 1.6 turbodiesel version of the car — the one which will probably be the biggest seller here in Ireland — and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by what was on offer. I had driven the car earlier this year in Europe and it showed well over a variety of motorways and Alpine road.
I do always feel though that it is when you drive cars on home soil you get a much better feel for their merits, or otherwise.
In this case though, there was little to dislike about the Avensis or, more specifically, its engine. The 82 kW (112 bhp) output might appear on the weedy side for a family saloon/repmobile, but that was not something which I felt after driving it.
OK, so the 11.7-second 0-100km/h time is nothing really to write home about, and neither is the 180 kph top speed, but you most certainly can get your pencil sharpened about the 4.2 l/100km (66mpg) consumption rate over the combined cycle and the 108g/km emission level which means an annual tax bill of just €190.
It is worth noting that peak torque, as is so often the case with diesel powerplants, that the torque window is quite small and you get the peak if it between 1,750 and 2,250 rpm with power falling away either side.
But when you tune it to how the thing works, it will sing a nice tune for you. It will also do so in a refined and quiet fashion.
One has to remember too that, without being offensive, Avensis drivers by and large could not give a continental about performance, other than fuel consumption, preferring to concentrate on simply getting from A to B in an uncomplicated and unproblematic fashion.
It matters little to them that the Mondeo is, just about still, the most dynamic drive of the competition; it means more that the Avensis will do their bidding in any circumstance without any fuss and without costing too much.
It probably also matters little to them that Toyota has actually done a lot of work on all the elements of the car to make it a more dynamic drive — stiffer shell, fettled front and rear suspensions etc — and their work does show in the way the car handles and rides. Some will notice, others couldn’t give a fig.
We tried the Luna grade version which is competitively equipped and boasts many of Toyota’s pleasing new interior tweaks and decorative touches. There is nothing to quibble about on that front.
Indeed there is very little to quibble about at all when you consider this new Avensis. It looks good, drives better than the old one and is way more efficient too. Job done, you would have thought.
Well, not really. Because other companies are interfering with the natural flow of the marketplace, Avensis will not propel Toyota to what otherwise would probably be the number one slot in terms of Irish car sales. That just might explain the company’s current frustrations.
n We are all entitled to a little slip up every now and then, but labelling someone as being deceased probably does not count as ‘little’, particularly if you are the person concerned.
In last week’s review of the Suzuki Vitara, I told a story about an interaction I had with former Suzuki MD here in Ireland, Niall O’Gorman, who for some unknown reason I described as being ‘the late Niall O’Gorman.’
Niall, I am glad to report, is very much alive and kicking and, gentleman that he is and always has been, wrote me a delightful note to point that fact out.
Apologies Niall, and I am delighted to hear you are in rude health and enjoying your retirement.
The Car: Toyota Avensis
The Cost: from €25,870 - €29,950 as tested.
The Engine: a new BMW sourced powerplant here. Not the most dazzling performer, but very efficient and very clean.
The Specification: the comprehensive standard Aura package gets a further lift in Luna grade.
The Overall Verdict: Possibly something of a band-aid job ahead of the fourth generation Avensis, but it is a very good band aid indeed.
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