Retro Road Test: Toyota Avensis 1997-2000

If only everything in life required such little effort.

If you’re a regular reader of this site, it’s likely that you will have heard of ‘bangernomics’. The idea of regularly turning round cheap cars, dispassionately disposing of them when the balance sheet of repairs tips across into more than pocket change, is a hugely appealing one.

There are a few drawbacks to this approach, of course. If you’re not mechanically competent or don’t have a tame mechanic then repair costs can quickly become disproportionate, but if you take good risks then you can have some fun on a budget. Over the last couple of years I’ve been running round in a Saab 9-3 and a Jaguar XJ8, each purchased for £800. The Jag had a short MOT and needed to be shifted at short notice so cost £50 a month in depreciation, while the Saab dropped £500 before the prospect of its impending MOT became too frightening.

Step forward my latest shed. When that Saab became too much of a liability I needed something sensible to fill its space at short notice. Emotions shunted to one side, I found a friendly dealer who would swap the 9-3 for something utterly sensible for a few hundred quid. Four decent tyres, a new exhaust, new brakes and a full MOT with no advisories boded very well indeed, while ice-cold air-conditioning and nothing obviously broken sealed my ownership of a Toyota Avensis.

After six months or so of ownership everything is mostly still in order. One of the electric windows doesn’t work and the sunroof doesn’t open but nothing of note has broken and it starts without fail every time. The stereo is loud, nothing rattles, it tracks straight, cruises comfortably and is painless around town. The ride is neither too crashy or wallowing, all the controls are where you expect them to be and it’s easy enough to thread around York’s narrow streets.

In every measurable way it fulfils its role perfectly. Even if it explodes in a ball of flame at its next MOT, it will still have cost less than a finance deal on a tedious super mini.

There is a problem though. While the key tenet of bangernomics is to not let emotion overcome decision making when it’s time to let go, it never occurred to me that I should be buying with a touch more emotion. I hate this car.

I’ve driven far worse cars and far less reliable cars, but they’ve all inspired some kind of response. The absence of feeling for this car has created a vacuum that’s filled only with total disdain. Of course it’s not a fast car but neither is it dangerously slow; it just seems impossible to drive with any enthusiasm.

You could accuse me of finding faults where none exist, and you’d be totally justified in doing so, but this isn’t a car that was cheaper than a more exciting alternative – go and take a look on your favourite online car sales portal and check out what you can get for under a grand.

I hold my hand up to making a poor decision on this one. There’s only one thing I really love about this car; that glorious split-second when a heavily financed Audi starts to pull out in front of you and you catch the driver’s eye. The symmetry of thought as that driver realises what he’s about to do and quickly brakes, while I inwardly shrug and wonder how much their insurance excess would be. It’s a positively magical sensation.

What have I learnt from this sorry saga? Don’t discount your feelings when buying a banger. I’m not advocating doing something daft (buying the cheapest Alfa you can find is probably dumb) but if you’re reading this it’s likely you’re not going to be lusting after a Perodua Kelisa.

A cheap car is a risk, and taking a risk is pointless without the potential for reward. There are many arguments for bangernomics, but no excuses to not have a bit of fun with it.