TOYOTA have given a major lift to their Avensis large family/fleet motor with the arrival of new 1.6-litre and 2-litre diesels.
The engines (from BMW) underline the trend of 'smaller is better' under the bonnet with so many brands these days.
The 1.6-litre replaces the old 2-litre; the new 2-litre succeeds the old 2.2.
The differences are such that Toyota claim running costs will be 20pc lower for both over a 90,000km/3-year period: between €400 and €500 when longer service intervals etc are factored in.
The 1.6-litre develops 112bhp (108g/km, down 11g/km on the old 2-litre, €190 road tax) while the 2-litre manages 143bhp (119g/km, down 24g/km on the 2.2-litre it replaces; €200 road tax). There are 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre petrols too.
As well as the changes under the bonnet, they have revised the suspension and steering to improve handling and ride, and brought a much-needed sharp new look to the car - front, back and inside.
They insist this Avensis should be called 'new' due to the extent of the overhaul.
So that's the Big Three in the large family/fleet sector either having a brand new (Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo) or new (Avensis) model on the market this year.
The timing is good for buyers; it is on sale for next month's 152-reg plate and will further heighten competition.
While prices kick off at €25,870 for the 1.6-litre petrol, the important figure is the starting price for the 1.6-litre diesel - €27,710 ex-works. That is about €330 more than the outgoing Aura. In Luna trim - expected to be most popular - it costs from €29,950 with the 2-litre from €31,450 (doesn't have an Aura level).
Let me say at this stage I didn't mention the Avensis as part of my road test of the Peugeot 508 in the Review section of the Irish Independent next Saturday because I hadn't driven this latest version in time to do so. I'll find plenty of opportunity to compare and contrast over the coming months. Really looking forward to that because I've just driven the 1.6-litre diesel and it certainly does the business; it was seriously quiet. As indeed was the cabin. There was a nicer balance to the chassis too.
It may not be all-new but I have to admit the car has improved substantially; they've made a great job of the interior (new seats, colour schemes); there's a good feel to the materials and a much better looking dash (the touch screen is now larger).
And you know, given the source of the engine I couldn't help thinking: BMW engines and quiet, plush cabin at Toyota prices - not a bad mix at all.
They're making a fuss of what they call Toyota Safety Sense (standard) - essentially packages of driver and safety assists. The standard one includes Pre-Collision which warns of and, ultimately intervenes, to reduce the impact of hitting the car in front.
Of course they claim they are better priced overall than the Mondeo and Volkswagen. Be that as it may they proclaim that the demise of the family/fleet sector is premature. There was a dip as many marques had models coming to the end of their life cycle but the segment is out-performing (up 33.7pc) the overall market and will account for 12,500 purchases this year.
The old entry-level Terra trim is gone so standard equipment now starts with Aura. It includes cruise control, seven airbags, Pre-collision, day-time running lights, 16ins alloys, front fogs, Bluetooth, 4.2ins TFT multi-information display, black/grey seat fabric. Luna trim, expected to be the main seller, adds 17ins alloys, dual-zone climate control, 8ins display audio (Toyota's excellent Touch 2 system), rear camera, dusk sensors, automatic wipers, alcantara seat trim Inserts, colour 4.2ins TFT screen, lane departure alert, automatic high beam and road sign assist.
And top-grade Sol adds special 17ins alloys, leather seats with alcantara inserts, smart entry and rear privacy glass.
Sat nav costs an extra €865 and there is a 6.9pc PCP package.
The Avensis has been No 1 seller in its class 21 times in last quarter century; there are 44,000 on our roads. Expect that to expand a bit over the next few years.