Published on Sunday 25 September 2016 03:00
Ten Second Review
Toyota's Auris Hybrid model evolved in second generation guise, with sportier looks and the option of a Touring Sports estate bodystyle. In recent times, emissions have been further reduced - to just 79g/km at the same time as the car has gained smarter styling and more equipment. Now it's better to drive too.
By rights, Toyota's Auris Hybrid shouldn't be continually overlooked by petrol/electric buyers in favour of its more fashionable Toyota Prius stablemate. The Auris is, after all, a far more palatable proposition in its second generation guise and, unlike the Prius, offers the option of an estate bodystyle as well as a hatch. On the occasions we've tried Prius and Auris hybrid models back-to-back, we've usually come to the conclusion that we'd take the Auris. There's just something delightfully un-showy about it, a car that's always proved to be solid, functional and discreet.
But if you could justify this car over a Prius, could you also justify it over another, more conventional Auris model derivative? Specifically, we're talking of one fitted with Toyota's latest 1.2-litre direct injection turbo petrol engine, which is able to deliver similar performance to the Hybrid variant and running cost returns that aren't too far away either? In considering the question, you'll need to bear in mind that the Hybrid version has upped its game of late, this variant now being better to drive and more frugal - as well as being cleaner still, CO2 emissions dropping as low as 79g/km.
Toyota says that the driver appeal of this car has been increased with powertrain retuning that delivers an improved, natural driving experience with no compromise in the highly efficient performance. The brand's engineers have secured a closer alignment between the increase in engine and vehicle speeds, creating a more linear acceleration feel as the driver applies the throttle. That's all very well but customer priorities when it comes to hybrid vehicle dynamics tend to be refinement, then refinement followed by refinement. People don't buy these cars to fling round corners or smoke the tyres away from the lights. A good hybrid hatchback should be about pure relaxation and low stress. It should promote a calm, measured driving style and remind the driver that the journey can be enjoyed in ways other than outbraking someone into a roundabout. Extensive soundproofing in the engine bay, front wheel arches and dashboard has reduced engine and road noise intrusion in the cabin of the current Auris Hybrid. The 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine was already one of the smoothest in its class and with the addition of the electric motor, it's also reasonably brisk. Working only via auto transmission, it'll make 62mph in 10.9 seconds on the way to 112mph.
The suspension has actually been softened, but that's only because the chassis is reasonably stiff and the suspension components pretty light. This combination means that you'll get a decent ride, with handling that'll also probably be a little better than you'd expect. If your experience of this car is limited to the first generation pre-2012 version, you'll probably also probably notice that the steering is rather more feelsome than it used to be too.
When operating its switchable all-electric EV mode, the Auris Hybrid generates zero CO2, NOx and particulates for distances up to 1.2 miles at speeds up to about 31mph, according to the level of battery charge and driving conditions.
Design and Build
As before, Auris Hybrid buyers get to choose either a five-door hatchback bodystyle or the Touring Sports estate. Aesthetically, this improved MK2 model builds on the extra styling attitude introduced that was introduced into this model line back in 2012. This means it gets the lower and broader frontal treatment now common to many of the company's latest products. There's a splash more chrome on the grille, plus LED headlamp clusters which include LED daytime running lights. In profile the revised front and rear styling generates longer overhangs, while the rear end features a sleeker lower bumper assembly and LED rear lights.
The cabin benefits from better quality materials and a lower profile dashboard, with cleaner-looking dials and a more consistent use of grains, illumination and typefaces across the fascia. There's a twin-clock binnacle with a 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information screen. Many details, such as the air vents, doorhandles and gear lever surround, have been redesigned to give a crisper, high-quality appearance.
The boot remains flexible in its design, uncompromised by the hybrid mechanicals thanks to the fact that the batteries have been positioned below the rear seat. Buyers get a dual-level deckboard and a 60:40 split-folding rear backrest on all versions. Luggage capacity is 360-litres in the hatch, while in the Touring Sports estate version, you get 530-litres - or 1,658-litres with the rear bench folded.
Market and Model
As before, you need to think in terms of a £20,000 budget for Auris Hybrid ownership, but bear in mind that this'll give you a saving of around £1,500 over a comparable Prius. With this improved MK2 model Auris line-up, the trim structure has been refined to bring this Hybrid version more in line with the rest of the range. In Europe, the Hybrid variant accounts for fully 50% of all Auris sales, whereas here in the UK, the petrol/electric version's always been a bit-part player. That's always been a bit of a head scratcher but perhaps things will change now.
Bear in mind if you're doing price comparisons that this Hybid petrol/electric variant only comes with the automatic gearbox that a comparable diesel model would charge extra for. And that it's very well equipped. Even on the most affordable version, you can expect features like 15-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker DAB stereo, the Toyota Touch multimedia control screen with Bluetooth and a rear view camera, plus some leather on the wheel and gear shifter.
That's on top of kit like seven airbags, a follow-me-home lighting system, Hill-start Assist Control, Vehicle Stability Control and LED daytime running lights. The Active grade includes automatic air conditioning, a four-speaker CD audio system with USB and AUX connection, electrically adjustable, heated, body-coloured door mirrors and electric front windows. All that lot for around £20k seems a big ask but Toyota has pulled it off.
Cost of Ownership
You probably don't need us to tell you that the overall three year running costs of a diesel Auris are going to be lower than those of a hybrid. Not by a massive amount but by maybe three pence per mile. Plus, there's the lower initial outlay to consider. So you don't buy a hybrid if ruthless cost cutting is what you're all about. Nevertheless, it's hard to be unimpressed by the latest Auris Hybrid's numbers.
The CO2 emissions and fuel returns vary a little with the trim level chosen. Base versions of the hatch model can now return 79g/km - or a fraction more in the Touring Sports estate. Combined cycle consumption is around 80mpg. If you go for a plusher version with bigger wheels, those figures will rise slightly. Even here though, this car returns a strong showing on the balance sheet. In comparison, an Auris equipped with Toyota's latest 1.2-litre direct injection turbo petrol engine manages 60.1mpg on the combined cycle and 109g/km of CO2. Still a big gap then.
The Bottom line is that overall, even a top Auris Hybrid model will cost less for a company to offer on its fleet than a more modestly specified, mid-grade Focus, Astra or Golf. For the company car driver, the personal savings are considerable too. More than £2,000 compared to a Focus with similar power output and more than £1,500 compared to a Golf over three years and 60,000 miles.
If there's one word that keeps being repeated by those who've driven the Auris Hybrid, it's 'civilised'. It changes the way you drive for the better. Nothing seems quite so important that you need to rush. It's far more pleasant to just waft along, enjoy some radio, take in the view and use all that spare processing power in your brain - the bit that was previously being devoted to trying to get the drop on the next guy - into driving more courteously and economically. Personally, I don't do this in a diesel car. I just keep trying to prod the turbocharger with a stick. So while a diesel might prove a little cheaper to run, if you're anything like me, there are plenty of reasons why you might prefer a hybrid.
Even looking beyond the hybrid running gear, this Auris brings a lot more to the party. It's a whole lot better looking than before, with much more considered detailing. For what it's worth, the driving dynamics have improved across the range but the emphasis has still been on comfort and refinement, which only serves to make the Hybrid feel even more hushed. If you feel like dipping out of the rush hour rat race, the Toyota Auris Hybrid makes a very attractive haven. Think of it as a detox for your commute.