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Always very popular but never dynamic, can a facelift help Avensis become the most desirable in class?

The exterior of the latest Avensis has been smartened up and now delivers a more commanding message on the road. Avensis is the first Toyota to benefit from the Japanese giant's new design language, 'Under Priority'. The car is only slightly longer (15mm) in both body styles (saloon and estate) but the big story is how good it looks, especially head-on. The grille/front end now looks more upmarket. My test car was a 2-litre D4D (diesel) Tourer in 'Luna' specification. In dark grey with matching alloys it looked great on my driveway, but I have to say I was genuinely surprised at the amount of compliments it got from people of a very broad age group. Avensis has never been a striking car, but the latest version has good road presence.

Inside, the cabin is freshened up, more comfortable and well-equipped. On a recent round trip of over 500 kilometres with the family aboard revised Avensis passed the test. 'Are we there yet?' was hardly mentioned by any of my three. The eight-year-old sat in the middle on a booster seat with the older siblings (11 and 14) either side. My better half had all the legroom she needed for an over-sized handbag and magazines. Plus, the massive glove box swallowed up all manner of things. The revised front seats were very comfortable, too. The centre cubby held connectivity for USB and mini-jack plugs plus a 12-volt socket. The touch screen stereo sounded and worked very well. Bluetooth is standard on all bar the entry 'Terra' version.

The boot was a perfect size for our weekend luggage to fit under the tonneau cover. For added passenger security, there is a pull-up mesh bulkhead/divider to help keep cargo in the rear of the car in an emergency. 'Luna' specification meant the seating was covered in sumptuous 'alcantara' that all my passengers praised.

The only question is: Would you be prepared to pay €31,850 for a top spec Avensis Tourer? Thankfully, Avensis prices start at the €25,000 mark (1.6 'Valvematic'), and this is where the competition is fiercest. In reality, it is the version that sits one step up from entry-level that is always the biggest seller.

The 2-litre D4D unit pushes out 124bhp and 310nm of torque and is very green. D4D sits in band 'A', so road tax is just €160, thanks to emissions of 119g/CO2. Fuel economy is a claimed combined average of 4.6 per 100km (circa 61mpg) but I managed a more realistic 5.6 average, albeit in a test car with tiny mileage covered and a medium load in the car. So, in fairness, 4.6 is doable.

On the road, despite reduced levels of NVH (noise vibration harshness), the Avensis was noisy at times on less than perfect surfaces, but overall the revised suspension set-up felt tight and predictable. The steering has been revised and remains neutral with a nice premium weight to it. Despite Toyota improving the steering 'feel', more enthusiastic drivers will still demand more. Avensis is a cruiser, not a sportscar.

Toyota Avensis is an excellent proposition in the 'D' sector and the cleaner, greener 2-litre D4D version makes a huge amount of sense.

Michael Sheridan