By Philip Hedderman
Toyota is in the middle of a major makeover and image is the top of the agenda.
Take the unveiling of the super sexy GT86 last week.
It unfurled a giant banner to tell the motoring world “We’ve got our sporty mojo back”.
It harks back to the good old days of the Celica, Twin Cam and the mega Supra which brought a taste of the super car to the masses.
To many a kid, the love affair with the automobile began with a cousin, friend or neighbour who had one.
For me it was my brother’s 1976 black Celica which almost had as much chrome on it than metallic.
It was the first car I’d seen with pillar-less doors, bucket seats with built-in headrests, sunken clocks and air vents in the bonnet.
To make it even sexier it had a klaxon air horn which was the coolest thing ever.
Well, I was just seven but the memory is as vivid now as was then.
In the intervening years Toyota built a reputation for reliability and somewhere along the line the fun and sexy bit got left behind.
The Avensis is a prime example of that.
It has taken almost 30 years to earn its bulletproof street cred and it wasn’t easy.
It all began with the birth the Corona in 1984 which then became the Carina, Carina II and eventually the Carina E in 1992.
The E proved a phenomenal success here and became the brand went from rust bucket to indestructible in less than two decades
The massive saloon became infallible and many a taxi driver today will swear that a better car has not been built since.
It offered comfortable, spacious, reliable motoring at a reasonable price.
Two parts of that equation appealed to the masses – reliability and affordability.
The Japanese car giant had cracked it and the No1 slot on the bestsellers list beckoned.
In the meantime we all got richer, fatter and accustomed to a little bit of luxury.
Enter the Avensis which was positively sumptuous compared to its workhorse predecessor and the success story continued to grow.
Motoring critics and punters alike were blown away by the MkII in 2003 which ticked all the right boxes and offered one of the best diesel engines ever built in the D4D.
The downside though was drive dynamic or lack of it which had become the buzzword around smaller rivals like the legendary Focus.
Designers, to be fair, tried to rectify this when the new model made its debut in 09 and came with beefed-up engines including a 1.8 petrol with 145bhp under the bonnet.
Three years on and the whole line-up is getting a bit of the GT86 treatment.
Yes, the new Avensis is leaner, greener and just a little bit meaner than its older brother.
The bolder look comes with compliments of new upper and lower grille, new slimmer, squinting headlights with halogen day-time running lights.
Around the back her bottom gets a bit of a lift and the smatterings of chrome is in perfect contrast with the darker 17 inch alloys.
Inside, the dash gets a freshen- up (in piano black or brushed aluminium) with a new audio system with USB connection as standard, upgraded seats, new fabric including suede and leather multi-function steering wheel.
It’s got more driver aides and gadgets too with Bluetooth, Cruise Control, speed limiter and a music streaming gizmo.
Go up to the top-of-the-range Luna and there is wall-to-wall leather, keyless entry, colour reversing camera side and rear sun blinds.
But it is under the hood where you’ll see the real changes delivering significant improvements in both emissions and economy.
CO2 has been reduced by a massive 14pc (or a whole tax band) and the 124bhp diesel with a reading of 120g/km now enjoys the lowest road tax of €160 a year while returning an astounding 53mpg.
It drives better too with improved suspension making the ride much more comfortable and lighter steering giving more connectivity with the road.
So it is leaner, greener and a little bit meaner but it sorely lacking that killer blow.
That bit of extra oomph, a tinge of madness, an allure of danger.
Yes, its positively heaving with fine attributes like practicality, reliability, economy and longevity but it just needs a little more unpredictability.
Toyota need to live on the edge and bring back some of that nostalgia.
Still, with a starting price of €25,450, I doubt many mile-munching reps and cash-strapped families will really care about that.
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