.the more it stays the same? Toyota's Auris has been continually improved. June Neary checks it out
Will It Suit Me?
More than any model before it, Toyota's latest Auris is on a mission to be all things to all people; well most things to a lot of people would be more accurate. The original version of this car had the unenviable job of replacing the company's Corolla, a world best seller in the tightly-fought family hatchback segment. Since its introduction in 1966, over 30 million Corollas found homes around the world. A staggering number.
The Auris is unlikely to replicate those kinds of sales but it might well be an even more significant model for Toyota in the UK where the Corolla was never a huge seller. The improved second generation version we're looking at here aims to lower this model's average ownership age with a more dynamic look and feel as well as a series of practical features designed to help Toyota poach sales from other marques in the Focus and Astra-dominated family hatchback sector.
My first impression was that the car was merely a facelifted version of the original MK2 model, but upon closer inspection, I found that the style and design changes were far-reaching. After a day or two, the shape began to really grow on me - to the point where I now regard the Auris as one of the best looking cars in this part of the market. In a sea of mundane-looking family hatches, that's a great selling point.
Toyota's family hatchbacks have always been eminently practical propositions. The old Corolla was probably the greatest exposition of the car as an example of white goods: unexciting, utterly reliable and representing the classic 'low involvement' buying decision. Basically, it was a vehicle bought by people who had no interest or affection for cars. The gentle curves are cleaner on the latest Auris model which has a deeper bumper that can house integrated fog lights, a more shapely bonnet and headlamps swept back into the wings.
The cabin design is more striking, mainly thanks to the unusual dashboard design which raises the controls for the stereo and ventilation system up and within easier reach of the driver. The gearstick also falls easily to hand thanks to the elevated centre console and there's a 7-inch 'Toyota Touch 2' infotainment touchscreen included on most variants. Build quality is as good as anything in the sector and these facelifted models highlight this more effectively through the use of classier materials. There's soft touch plastic for the dash top and a nice chromed finish for the eye-catching centre console.
The floor of the Auris is pretty flat, so there's more foot room for back seat passengers than in most family hatchback models. In general, you won't want for head or legroom in any of the car's five seats and hatchback customers who regularly travel fully-loaded will appreciate this spacious design. The rear seat backrests even recline to make those in the back more comfortable and there's a healthy 435-litre boot behind.
The cabin features silicone-damped grab handles, soft-touch plastics on the fascia and doors that say thunk rather than ding when they close. Closer inspection showed little evidence of corner cutting. It's easy to obtain a comfortable driving position and the sheer ease and intuitiveness of all the minor controls is a testament to Toyota's understanding of how we interact with a car. There are no awkwardly located buttons that will have you fumbling around in the dark for or storage areas that will fling an apple Danish into your lap at the first twitch of the steering wheel.
Behind the Wheel
There isn't a great deal in the engine range to spark the interest of the keen driver these days but if efficiency is your thing, the Auris has some tricks up its sleeve. Opening proceedings is the 1.33-litre petrol engine with VVT-i variable valve timing and Toyota's Stop & Start technology. It's got 99bhp and can take the Auris through the 0-60mph sprint in 12.6s. Next up is the 116bhp 1.2-litre petrol turbo model, a fresh addition to the range and the version I tried. It's the quickest Auris engine with a 0-62mph sprint of 10.1s and a 124mph top speed.
If you want a diesel, there's a choice of two, a revised 90bhp 1.4-litre D-4D powerplant and a BMW-engineered 112bhp 1.6-litre unit. Finally, at the top of the range, there's the 1.8-litre VVT-i Hybrid variant that over half of Auris customers choose. It combines the ability to sprint to 62mph in under 11s with nearly 80mpg fuel economy and a tax-beating CO2 return of just 81g/km.
Value For Money
With prices starting from around the £15,500 mark, the Auris isn't going to send the Neary family bank balance to the wall, and it stacks up reasonably against its competitors. Reliability is virtually assured, and there's always a ready market when it comes to resale time. As with any upspec car, the plushest versions won't perform as well when it's time to sell on as a cheaper Auris model, but you'd live with that for all the additional equipment it comes with.
Could I Live With One?
Most definitely. The Auris has just the sort of practical attributes I like without being so bland that it extinguishes the will to live nor so racy my neighbours will think I've just divorced the old man. More of the same then from Toyota, but with an added - and very welcome - sparkle.