IN all walks of life there are leaders and followers, a scheme of things into which sections of the motoring world fit very neatly.
One example is the medium family saloon car range, a sector which features quality front runners such as the Ford Mondeo, VW Passat and the Vauxhall Insignia.
Time was when the leaders of the pack mostly stayed out in front while the lesser minions tended not to disturb the scoreboard to any great degree.
Now all this has changed with many of the previously unsung members of the saloon car line-up now effectively challenging the leading lights.
The latest toyota Avensis is a case in point.
Recent times has seen the Japanese car giant experiencing a difficult period with many cars having been subject to recall.
However, the world’s biggest motor maker is noted for quality and reliability and, despite the recalls and its attendant problems, Toyota has been hard at work behind the scenes working towards the resumption of the normal service eagerly awaited by its loyal customers.
In fact, expert opinion points out that Toyota has emerged from the recall issue with its image and integrity completely intact.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, sales soared during March by some five per cent and many Toyotas still boast some of the strongest residual values in the UK used market according to the Glass’s Guide.
Launched in the autumn of 1997, Toyota’s flagship Avensis has proved hugely popular for more than a decade.
Now in its third manifestation, it is aiming to make big inroads into the family saloon car market. British-made at Toyota’s plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire, the latest Avensis is very much a safety conscious car, having achieved a Euro-NCAP five-star safety rating.
It has also cast off its rather bland reputation in the beauty stakes, adopting a neatly attractive new look, successfully designed to attract a knowing nod from bystanders, as I discovered during a recent test drive.
As you would expect from the largest car maker on the planet, it has made a variety of improved engines available, tuned in to delivering lower fuel consumption and emission levels.
There are five engines on offer, two petrol and a trio of diesels.
In the frame here is one of the best diesels around, the 2.2-litre D4-D, with its impressive contribution to economy and the environment of a 51.4mpg return on average alongside 147g/km CO2 emissions.
While perhaps not delivering quite as adept a ride over seriously uneven B road surfaces as some of its competitors, this is a serious cruiser capable of steadily eating up motorway miles without disturbing the comfort of its occupants, behaving in sensibly refined manner boasting almost coupe like handling.
The Avensis is a big car with stacks of room in all parts. Comfortable leather seating adds further to the quality of a light and airy interior within which five good sized adults can be easily accommodated while luggage space is huge. With all seats taken some 509 litres of boot space is available.
The driving position is good with centre console and controls thoughtfully placed around the driver, overall visibility fine and all Avensis models, from T2 through TR, T4 and the range topping T Spirit, come with air con, quality sound system, ABS braking with electronic brake force distribution plus vehicle stability control and traction control.
Paired with a smooth slotting six-speed manual gear change, the 2.2 D4-D in T4 trim can manage the 0 to 60 sprint in under nine seconds.
Overall, this latest Toyota Avensis has more than a little of the executive look about it. It is quite handsome and a pretty smooth operator at a competitive price.
Toyota Avensis TR 2.2 D-4D 4dr
Mechanical: 148bhp, 2,231cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox
Max speed: 131mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Combined mpg: 51.5
Insurance group: 6
CO2 emissions: 147g/km
BIK rating: 20%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles