SECONDS OUTWe buy cars for all sorts of reasons, some sensible but others rather more personal. While it's the extreme designs that tend to grab the headlines, there's still a lot to be said for cars that simply work ever so effectively in the real world: like this one, Toyota's Auris. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second ReviewMore dynamic, better equipped and cheaper to run than ever before, Toyota's second generation British-built Auris family hatchback offers more confident, sleeker styling, improved ride and handling and more efficient engines, including continued leadership in this segment with hybrid power. It's a big step forward for the brand.
The Auris is a family hatchback developed from experience that bought us the best selling car of this kind of all time, Toyota's Corolla, 35 million examples of which were sold in its lifetime before the first generation Auris model took over in 2007. This original version, its name derived from the Latin, 'aurum', for gold, arrived as a safe and sensible choice that built upon the strengths of its predecessor without threatening the Focus and Golf fraternity in any particular way. It did though, have the distinction of pioneering hybrid power in this segment back in 2010.
But the world's biggest brand needed to do more in a market increasingly demanding more dynamic, appealingly styled, hi-tech and efficient products. With tough competition not only from the mainstream makers but also from up-and-coming Korean budget brands, it needed to bring us a car like this, the second generation Auris model, launched here at the very end of 2012. It still leads the way with hybrid power but now, Toyota claims, the more mainstream choices have become more efficient and crucially, more desirable too. Are they right? Let's find out.
Driving ExperienceThe big news here is that when it comes to ride and handing, this Toyota is now as good - and in most cases better - than just about everything else in this closely-fought market segment. The reasons why are really down to three things. Taking out weight. Stiffening the bodyshell. And lowering the centre of gravity. All key elements in improving handling, high speed stability and, as it happens, this model's traditionally strong attribute, ride comfort.
Refinement isn't quite as impressive, despite the engineers' best efforts, unless of course you're in the clever hybrid model cruising along on silent battery power (as is possible in this variant for up to 1.2 miles if you switch into its 'EV' mode). This petrol/electric Auris is unique in this segment, combining a 1.8-litre VVT-i combustion engine with an electric motor to create a combined power output of 134bhp, accessible via a 6-speed CVT auto gearbox that's supposed to make a better job of matching vehicle speed with engine revs than its predecessor but still whines uncomfortably when you rev it hard or try to match Toyota's quoted performance stats of 62mph from rest in 10.9s on the way to 112mph.
As befits its hi-tech status, the Hybrid Auris gets the more sophisticated of the two suspension set-ups offered across the range, a double wishbone set-up also used on the more conventional 130bhp 1.6-litre Valvematic petrol variant that I tried. Toyota has assumed that the two remaining choices in the line-up, the 89bhp 1.4-litre D-4D diesel and the 98bhp 1.33-litre VVT-i petrol will be driven by people who care less about ride and handling, hence their need to make do with a simpler torsion beam rear suspension set-up.
Design and BuildIf you're familiar with the look of the first generation Auris, then you won't be expecting what Toyota has served up with this MK2 model. The old car wasn't a bad looker, just a little bit anonymous. This time round though, it's as if everything has been sharpened and optimised to offer the much more extrovert design statement that Toyota calls its 'Keen Look'.
Despite an overall length increase of 30mm,Toyota is proud of the fact that this remains one of the most compact cars in the family hatchback class. Fortunately, some very design has ensured that you don't notice the slightly smaller dimensions. Take the reduced roof height, disguised by the way that the roof gently bulges over the passenger's heads.
Out back, there's slightly more bootspace than before - 360-litres. That figure also now applies right across the range, even to the Hybrid model, thanks to the relocation of that's car's battery pack to a position under the rear bench. Plenty of thought has also gone in up-front, where the seats have a much greater adjustment range. As for the dash, well it doesn't feel as plush and up-market as some rivals. Still, build quality from the British Burnaston factory is strong, plus the layout remains ergonomically sound and is at least a little more interesting than before, with the centre console in most variants dominated by this 'Toyota Touch' multimedia screen.
Market and ModelRecognising that the rivals for this car are priced more aggressively than ever, Toyota has sensibly kept Auris asking figures very reasonable indeed, most models likely to be sold in the £15,000 to £23,000 bracket. There's a simple bodystyle choice between five-door hatch and (for a premium of around £1,000) 'Touring Sports' estate across the various petrol, diesel and hybrid engine variants on offer. Look at the entry-level 1.33-litre VVT-i petrol unit and you've the option of finding an extra £1,300 for the more frugal 1.4-litre D-4D diesel, with the pokier 1.8-litre petrol/electric Hybrid variant (which will probably be the UK best seller) a further £1,500 price step beyond that.
Whichever five-door hatchback or estate 'Touring Sports' variant you choose with whichever mainstream engine - 1.33 or 1.6-litre petrol, 1.4-litre D-4D diesel or 1.8-litre petrol/electric Hybrid - it'll come reasonably equipped. Though the entry-level version does without the 'Toyota Touch' multimedia system with its DAB digital radio, Bluetooth 'phone connectivity and rear view camera that most potential buyers will want, all three features are fitted further up the range, along with alloy wheels.
And all models get LED daytime running lights, powered heated door mirrors, air conditioning with a pollen filter, a trip computer, a decent quality MP3 CD stereo with USB and Aux connectivity, Hill Start Assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions and nice touches like a front armrest and leather trim for a steering wheel that has stereo controls.
Cost of OwnershipInevitably, the headlines here are made by the hybrid petrol-electric Hybrid Synergy Drive model, able (on 15-inch wheels) to deliver 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions that are as low as 87g/km and include virtually no NOx or particulate matter.
Both the 1.33-litre VVT-i petrol variant and the 1.4-litre D-4D diesel now get a Stop & Start system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, with, as a result, the 1.33 petrol managing 52.3mpg on the combined cycle and 125g/km of CO2. As for the 1.4 D-4D diesel Auris, well you'll have to try even harder to find a competitor able to match running cost returns that see it achieving a combined cycle reading of 74.3mpg and a CO2 return of just 99g/km.
The 1.6-litre Valvematic petrol variant that I'm driving here has, rather unfathomably, to do without Stop & Start and, as a result, struggles a lot more on the balance sheet, managing a combined cycle reading of 47.9mpg and a CO2 return of 138g/km, figures you can in fact slightly improve by opting for the 7-speed CVT Multidrive S automatic gearbox.
All models get pretty low insurance ratings (groups 7 to 14 on the 1-50 scale), helped by the fact that the Auris is unlikely to attract boy racers and that repair costs have been kept to a minimum.
SummaryIf you're the kind of person who brings uncompromising reason to the purchase decision when it comes to getting yourself a new family hatchback, then you'll bond with this Auris right away. Optimal Drive technology, hybrid power, low servicing costs, impressive residuals: it'll all be music to your ears.
What's changed here though is that in second generation form, this car now offers a lot more than that. You simply don't expect it to be as sharp looking, as accomplished to drive and as value-orientated as it now is. As a result, with a choice of petrol, diesel or hybrid, hatch or estate, this generation Auris deserves to finally shake off its image as a family hatchback makeweight.
There are, it's true, still more dynamic, more versatile and more up-market-feeling choices in this class, but few are now able to stack up as well as an overall ownership proposition. Finally then, a family hatchback with a Toyota badge that's class-competitive in almost every way. It's been a long time coming.