Toyota has moved with the times in giving its Avensis Tourer a midlife upgrade which, among other enhancements, shows off a new nose with design cues that will appear on other Toyota products and adds a user-friendly Bluetooth interface for phone and audio devices.
The aggressive grille design and strongly sculptured headlights give the latest version of the Avensis increased road presence, backed by less obvious changes to the car's tail.
Inside there are revisions to the centre console including a repositioning of controls, more soft-touch surfaces elsewhere in the cabin, and redesigned front seats. Though you do not see it, extra sound deadening has been added.
Nothing has changed mechanically, with a 112kW/196Nm 2.0-litre engine propelling the car through a seven-stage CVT transmission and front-wheel drive. Enhancements have, however, been made to the car's suspension tuning and steering. These are intended to sharpen handling and driver involvement.
There has also been a significant price shift, due in part to favourable exchange rate movements, with the updated Avensis priced at $47,990, $6400 less than the version it replaces.
So far the update and new pricing seem to be doing the trick for this European-sourced machine, which is sold here largely because there is no wagon variant of the Australian-built Camry to be had: no fewer than 136 were registered at the end of August, up from just 37 for 2011, and 26 in 2010.
Load-carrying capacity and flexibility remain central to the car's appeal. Little has changed here, with a standard 543-litre capacity below the load-cover and further storage compartments under the boot floor.
There are plenty of options to extend that capacity, including 60/40 split folding, a load-through ski flap and folding the entire rear seat flat provides a maximum 1609-litre capacity.
Drivesouth made full use of this load-carrying flexibility during a test programme that included a relatively high proportion of open-road driving.
The test car acquitted itself well for comfort and refinement, with the revised front seats impressing for their increased lateral support.
Ride quality was very good over a range of Otago road surfaces, and handling was accurate and well-mannered without being especially incisive.
The engine springs a nice surprise with its smooth and willing responses at medium to high revs, and its ability to work nicely with the seven-stage CVT transmission.
That said, even when making use of sport mode or the Tiptronic-style shift gate, the Avensis falls well short of matching the Camry (with its peppier engine and conventional six-speed auto gearbox) for performance or mechanical smoothness.
But the whole point of the Avensis being sold here is to plug that Camry wagon gap, and if that is what you need, the latest version outpoints its predecessor in almost every way.
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