Saturday 22 October 2016

Motoring: Why the new Avensis is in a class of its own

Toyota go big on safety with Pre-Collision system as standard

Interior of the new Avensis

IT’s official, I am, in teenage parlance, an ‘auld lad’.

This was confirmed last week when a breaking news story came on the radio and the news editor barked at a young reporter to record said item.

In a complete flap, the young trainee yelped that her iPhone battery was ‘zonked’. He roared “just do it on the bloody tape recorder” to which she replied “what’s a tape recorder?”

Yes, technology is advancing so quickly that if you are old enough to remember the original Walkman then you are indeed, over the hill.

God forbid then that you can recall a time when every car in Ireland had a set of jumpleads, a spare distributor cap and a can of Quick Start in the boot.

Forget winter tyres, and anti-freeze, these were essential items to get you to work in the morning.

Every FIAT (127s, 128s and later Ritmos) and Ford (Escort and Cortinas) needed a shot in the arm as soon as the temperature dropped below 3 degrees.

There was one bunch of smug so-and-sos though — Toyota drivers.

Come hail, rain or snow the Corolla, Carina and Cressida were on the button every time.


It’s no surprise then that the Avensis (which replaced the mega successful Carina) is a massive hit with the older generation.

 Reliability, and resale value were the two things synonymous with the Japanese marque which have stood them in good stead.


So much so that 88,000 Irish customers have bought one and over half are still driving around today.

Now in its third generation this version is heavily face-lifted with a raft of new technology and safety kit.

In fact, Toyota  have now included their Pre-Collision Alert system as standard on the Avensis.

A very clever piece of kit, the software alerts the driver of imminent danger with a sounding alarm and red graphics on the dash in speeds up to 140kph.

It will also automatically apply the brakes in an imminent collision between 10-80kph.

It works brilliantly too and was activated on one occasion when I strayed over the dividing white line for a split second.

Available in three models – Aura, Luna and Sol the new saloon (estate comes at a premium of €1,500) is loaded with kit and the entry level car comes with  the Pre-Collision system, cruise control, day time running lights, follow-me-home headlights, 16” alloys, front fog lamps, leather multi-function steering,  and Bluetooth.  The Aura adds 17” alloys, dual zone climate control, 8” infotainment system, reversing  camera, auto lights and wipers, Lane Departure Alert and Road Sign Assist.

Engine-wise there are two diesels (a 1.6 with 116bhp or a 2.0 litre with 143bhp) and two petrols — 1.6 and 1.8 litre.

We tested the most popular 1.6 D4D  which didn’t disappoint with plenty of grunt and proved a very decent cruiser. Granted it’s not going to set the world on fire in performance or handling (the Mondeo is still king here) but it is a very good all-rounder for family motoring. The one thing we really noticed was the level of comfort  — especially on long journeys — and just how much more comfy the new seats are. (Jesus, I am getting old).

The interior is much improved too and the quality of the cabin is top notch.

That said, it’s got savage competition in the guise of the Superb which is hard to pass. The new Avensis starts at €25,870.


FIAT strike gold with cutesy looks mixed with top class 4X4 capability in the new 500X


How can FIAT get it so right after getting it so wrong?

I can only be talking about the 500X and the 500L.

On paper the ingredients looked similar but the outcome was very different.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong per se with the 500L — it’s just not in any way  remotely like the cutesy 500.

It’s gangly, awkward and dare I say it, a bit of a minger.

The 500X on the other hand  has the aaah-factor in a  bigger more rugged way but more importantly — it looks like a whole lotta fun.

 And to highlight how much fun, it comes in two body styles (Cross and Cross Plus) a choice of 12 different colours, eight separate designs and in three trims — Pop, Pop Star and Lounge.

Staying true to the original iconic 1957 design, the 500X retains the large, circular headlamps its button nose  and clamshell bonnet.

It is considerably larger (especially in the flesh as photos don’t do it any justice)measuring 4.25m in length, 1.80m in width and 1.60m in height.

The extra dimensions are reflected in the inside   where there’s plenty of leg and headroom up front while three six-footers will fit comfortably in the rear.

The cabin is bright and airy and the cockpit is user-friendly and well put together with premium soft touch materials in the upper part of the dash.

The chunky leather steering wheel and colour coded inlays topped with a 6.5 inch colour touchscreen infotainment system give it a real sporty feel.

The Uconnect system is home to Bluetooth and music streaming connectivity, as well aux-in and USB ports, and the system can even read incoming text messages on compatible mobile phones.


Standard equipment on the entry-level car includes cruise control with speed limiter; air con, electric windows all round and  a height-adjustable driver’s seat.

It’s available in either a 1.4 litre petrol generating 140bhp or a 1.6 litre, 120bhp diesel with annual road tax of €190.

For serious off-roaders there’s a 2.0 litre AWD with 140bhp and the option of a nine-speed automatic gearbox.

We drove the 1.6 litre oil burner which I have to say was a revelation.

The engine is a little gruff, but what it lacked in refinement it certainly made up for in grunt. The torque is instant and endless and the short throw box a dream.

The handling for a car so lofty really put a smile on my face as the taut body control and limpet-like grip gave it the drive dynamic of its little brother.

The independent MacPherson suspension front and rear, gives the X added confidence in bends but on city streets tended to crash through speed bumps.

Still, the Viagraed-up 500 has a real cheeky personality and it’s streets ahead of rivals like the Nissan Juke or the Renault Capture. Bellissimo.

The FIAT 500X is priced from €19,750.

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