You can tell that the Avensis Sports Tourer has been set up for long distance work. The soft suspension delivers a comfortable lope on the motorway, and larger bumps are dealt with adequately (if with a fair bit of heaving and pitching from the body), although sharp-edged potholes can really unsettle the car.
With its sloppy suspension, it’s no surprise that the Avensis leans quite a lot in bends, although few will be overly bothered by it. The steering is precise enough, and it’s well suited to muddling through town or cruising on the motorway.
In terms of handling, it’s good to drive for the majority of the time, but the Mondeo Estate would much better serve a keen driver, and the Superb Estate is also more comfortable and more composed through corners.
Of more concern are the diesel engines, which are some way behind the refinement of the engines in cars like the Superb. They sound gruff at both idle and high rpm, and you feel vibrations through the steering wheel and pedals, although they do settle down at a cruise. You’ll also notice a fair amount of road noise over rougher surfaces, and some wind noise at speed.
Our choice of engine, the 2.0-litre diesel, offers plenty of flexibility from low rpm, but it isn’t as quick as rival engines and there’s a noticeable surge in acceleration as the turbo kicks in, making it less easy to predict than the smoother, more flexible diesel in the Superb. The 1.6-litre diesel in the Avensis offers lower CO2 emissions but it’s underpowered for a car of this size, particularly if you plan on towing, or carrying a car full of people and their belongings.
As for the petrol, it may be cheap to buy but it will prove to be the thirstiest. Unfortunately, it’s the only option if you want an automatic gearbox.