TOYOTA’S new Auris looks much better than its pre-decessor which, while it was no ugly duckling, was a pretty unforgettable old thing.
It’s a Midlands-built attempt at taking on a very busy sector of the market and, as hatchbacks go, it’s got a lot of competition to contend with but there’s hope for the newcomer as it offers much improved handling and the latest version of Toyota’s excellent hybrid system.
As a straight-forward hatchback, setting aside all the hybrid technology for a moment, it begins on firm footings. That exterior, especially in a bold colour such as white, looks very striking and its angular details and lines give it a purposeful, almost exciting presence that’s bang up to date.
Inside, the news isn’t so good. The center console and dashboard layout isn’t nearly as interesting as the rest of the car. There’s a lot of dead space and the black plastic feels cheap. There are design features to lift all this up, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s enough somehow.
It is very comfortable, though. There’s plenty of space up front, in the back and in the boot, and a panoramic roof can be fitted to shed a bit of light on the spacious, if dull interior.
The hybrid system in this test car feels much more at home in its more modern setting. Toyota does the petrol-electric thing very well and its technology is evolving into becoming a much more comfortable and seamless fit in just about any car it launches.
That’s not to say it’s not a very different experience to drive, though. The Auris has very communicative steering for this day and age and its supple ride means it handles the bends in a composed way that encourages sporty driving.
The problem comes when you expect the engine and gearbox to play ball. Exit a corner, put your foot down and there’s no point expecting to sail away on a wave of torque. The engine, through the CVT gearbox, has to build its power until it’s screaming away - and then you’re off.
The revs do settle down once you’re up to speed but if you’re really needing to press on then you’ll have to settle for a noisy accompaniment from the 1.8 litre four-pot as it does its best to propel the car.
While it’s not at its best on the open road, it feels much better in town or nipping through an urban sprawl. Switch the engine management into its most powerful setting, enjoy the responsive steering and the light feel to the controls and the instant torque that comes from the electric bit of its powertrain and the Auris makes a lot more sense.
And this is where you’ll start to win in the fuel economy stakes. As long as you’re not too heavy-footed you can convince it to stay in electric mode for a good few miles and although the engine will burst in when it’s needed there’s plenty of poke to be had with or without it.
It is, and it’s not often you can say this about a Toyota hybrid hatchback, really rather fun.
It’s priced well too. There’s generous spec levels available from the offing, but a decent hybrid model will set you back around £22,000 and that gives it a very good start in life.
It’s a Toyota, so you know it will be reliable and it should hold its value well. What’s more, with no road tax to pay it’s a sensibly buy especially for company car drivers.
So it’s not perfect but this is significanly better than its predecessor. It’s also better than just about every other hybrid in this sector. It’s better than even, dare I say it, a Prius.
Toyota Auris Hybrid
Price: (model tested) £21,745
Engine: 1,798cc, four-cylinder petrol plus two electric motor generators, and battery.
Power/torque: 98bhp @ 5,200rpm/105lb ft @ 5,000rpm, with 80bhp/153lb ft electric motor and 1.3kWh battery
Top speed: 112mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 11.4 seconds
Fuel economy: 74.3mpg combined
CO2 emissions: 85g/km
Boot space: 360 litres