First Drive: Toyota Auris Hybrid
So while there are few clues alluding to it, most of the platform and drivetrain are left unchanged here. Toyota got running costs, practicality and reliability right the first time. Instead, the new Auris is aimed at rectifying criticisms of the outgoing model’s aesthetics and improve its appeal that way.
The new model falls in line with the carmaker’s new design DNA, and is much better looking than its slightly chubby precessor. It’s leaner, 55mm lower with its cut-down roofline, and more aggressive too thanks to the GT86-style front bumper, narrower headlights and sculpted rear light clusters.
Interior upgrades are just as substantial. Gone is the old car’s vast, featureless, plasticky dashboard, and in its place is a design much closer in style to the new Yaris, with a large flat pad across the centre optionally trimmed in real leather.
This is a vast improvement. It’s far more tactile and much better laid out, now using Toyota’s simpler Touch and Go navigation system instead of the outgoing car’s unintuitive unit. Matching fonts and illumination for all the switchgear, and a power gauge needle that turns red when the car is being driven too hard are signs of much closer attention to fine detail. It all helps bring the Auris in line with segment benchmarks.
Front seat occupants now sit slightly lower, while rear seat passengers will find no significant loss of space despite the lower roofline. It’s in the boot where the repackaging is most evident, though. The hybrid battery has been relocated under the rear bench, which means no loss of boot space compared to petrol models. This will also allow Toyota to offer the C-segment’s first hybrid estate next summer, with exactly the same load volume as conventionally powered versions.
The new Auris also rides 10mm lower than its predecessor, which Toyota says reduces body roll enough to use softer springs but also improves agility. Underneath the cabin, new aerodynamic blades channel air cleanly along the underside. Both features help reduce drag, in turn boosting the efficiency of the hybrid drivetrain.
On the surface, very little has changed. This is still essentially the same drivetrain used in the Prius and outgoing Auris, but with a small efficiency improvement to 74.3mpg and resulting drop in CO2 to 87g/km. It’s also available in the biggest-selling trim level for the first time, bringing entry-level prices down by £540.
On a combined cycle, our test car easily returned nearly 60mpg, and was very eager to deactivate the petrol engine whenever possible to save fuel. As with most hybrids, drivers spending a lot of time in town will reap the biggest benefits as this is where the Auris uses electric power most frequently.
Toyota has also worked to reduce the continuously variable transmission’s tendency to sound like it is over-revving the engine under load. It’s a small but noticeable improvement, though the engine does still sound like it’s shifted into the wrong gear on steep inclines. However, with its stylish new interior it no longer feels a class below the futuristic and high-tech Prius.
From an entirely aesthetic point of view the Auris is a giant leap forward compared to its predecessor, which should help improve its emotional appeal. Although the efficiency improvements for the hybrid are small, Toyota has rightly put its focus on adding desirability and getting customers to take notice.
Hybrid technology is a familiar part of the modern fleet, and Toyota has some of the widest experience in the market. Better to look at, better packaged and more efficient, the Auris Hybrid now offers emotional appeal to match its rational qualities. The only problem it faces is a multitude of sharper-driving rivals.
Segment: Lower medium
Type: Petrol-electric hybrid
Electric range: 1.3 miles
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 87-91g/km
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