Toyota’s new Auris Aims High but Misses

Toyota wants to dominate the medium hatch market and says the new Auris will appeal to both the hearts and heads of buyers. The medium-hatch sparkle has been left to the Ford Focus for handling, the Volkswagen Golf for class and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta for looks. In a single sweep Toyota reckons its second-generation Auris will relegate them all to also-rans.

To achieve this the Japanese manufacturer has retained the good bits of the previous Auris, such as the platform and engine line-up, and improved them (all of the engines are now more economical and cleaner).The rest of the Auris is new so we have sharper exterior styling and a cabin that is less gloomy and more spacious.Under the bonnet is a choice of two petrol engines, a diesel and a hybrid. The smaller petrol is a 98bhp 1.3-litre covering the 0 to 60mph sprint in 12.6 seconds while boasting 52.3mpg and emissions of 125g/km.A better bet is the much peppier 130bhp 1.6 covering the 0 to 60mph sprint in 10 seconds while returning 47.9mpg and emissions of 138g/km.

Having said that, these figures are fairly unspectacular for a car of this size. If  it’s real economy you’re after go for the Auris Hybrid, which Toyota predicts will account for 40 per cent of sales.

Many of the Auris Hybrid sales will be company car buyers taking full advantage of the 74.3mpg and 87g/km emissions, though these figures drop to 72.4mpg and 91g/km if you choose the top spec Excel model with its larger 17-inch alloy wheels.

Choosing the Auris Hybrid and you’ll have the constant revving of the 98bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine and its continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic gearbox whirring away as you press the throttle. Only when the car is running in electric mode at speeds under 31mph is this car truly silent.

Opting for the 1.4-litre turbo-diesel engine, you’ll get the same 74.3mpg (plus decent pace) for £1,500 less.

Lightly-weighted power steering aids the Auris range for slow-speed manoeuvring but it fails to weight up as the car gathers pace. This lack of communication between the wheels, steering and driver is a disappointment when you discover that the Auris is surprisingly agile and competent in corners. Granted, it’s not blessed with the balletic poise of a Ford Focus but it deals with bends and roundabouts with calm, dexterous ease.

It also copes admirably with bumpy roads and rutted terrain with sure-footed compliance (even though the new Auris sits lower than before).

Gone is the harshness of the previous Auris, replaced by something that is altogether more honed. This is underlined by the lack of cabin noice from the suspension and road.

However there is just too much wind whistle from the door mirrors and front windows and it becomes irksome on longer drives as it continually chirrups away.

Toyota’s designers have also made the new Auris wider and lower. Adults sitting in the outer two rear seats, however, will find their foreheads distractingly close to the upper edge of the rear window and the grab handle.

Toyota has found an extra 50mm for knee space which makes it comfortable for adults, though three abreast in the back is a little too snug.

Access through the rear doors is easy while the boot now also sports a wider opening and longer load-bay length.

To improve practicality further the Auris Hybrid battery pack has been placed under the rear seats so that it doesn’t pinch boot space. As a result the car provides the same 360-litre boot space as the petrol and diesel models.

In the front cabin, the dials, controls, buttons and switches are as simply laid out. They are pleasingly solid in their action, although some of the plastics on the dash look a little low-rent next to the new Volkswagen Golf.

The Auris is an appealing prospect and it’s certainly an easy one to get your head around. However the Auris fails to wind its way around the heart. It’s a determinedly sensible car but one that lacks flair in any one area to make it stand out and for this reason it trails the class best.