Parkers overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 3.5

The Avensis engine line-up is fairly straightforward with the entry-level unit a 1.8-litre VVT-i that has a decent 129bhp on tap. It's fairly smooth and free-revving but the 2.0-litre petrol engine while quicker, doesn't feel a great deal livelier on the road. From 2003 to 2005 the only diesel offered was a 114bhp 2.0 D-4D, which performs adequately but anyone initially choosing diesel couldn't select a higher performance option.

In 2005, a 2.2 D-4D was also offered with 136bhp and was more competitive with other cars in its class. From summer 2006 the 2.0-litre diesel was upgraded to 124bhp, the 136bhp 2.2-litre engine continued, but a 175bhp version of the 2.2-litre was also available, called the T180. It doesn't feel as fast as you might expect though - the gearbox seems to be set up for comfortable cruising rather than sprinting.

An auto-only 2.4-litre petrol engine was relatively short- lived as although refined it was uneconomical.

The Avensis handles safely and predictably but it lacks the sparkle of rivals like the Honda Accord. The revisions in 2006 included reworked steering and suspension, plus greater body rigidity and as a result facelifted cars corner and ride better than their predecessors. However it's still not up to the standards of the class best - the steering is overly light and lacks feel and there's precious little in the way of driver involvement.

It's better on the motorway where it cruises in a fuss-free manner and the diesels are especially good if you want superb long distance refinement.