Toyota's Auris is now a lot more of a competitive family hatchback proposition than you might think. Jonathan Crouch looks at the much improved 1.3-litre VVT-i petrol model.
Ten Second Review
With sharper styling, keener driving dynamics, more equipment and extremely aggressive pricing, the improved second generation Toyota Auris is a step forward for its rather unremarkable predecessor. The interior might not be everyone's thing, but as an all round proposition, it's a lot more compelling than you'd give it credit for. Factor in a five year, 100,000 mile warranty and it becomes a real contender in the family hatchback class. Especially in entry-level 1.3 VVT-i petrol form.
We buy cars for all sorts of reasons, some sensible and others rather more hedonistic. While it's the more extreme cars that naturally grab the headlines and set road testers trousers on fire, there's still a lot to be said for cars that work and work well in the real world: cars like this Toyota Auris. We're looking here at an improved version of the brand's second generation Auris family hatch, and this model is the successor to the world's best selling car, the Corolla, so it has some huge boots to fill. The MK1 model Auris and early versions of the second generation design made some respectable numbers for Toyota but never really won many popularity contests in the UK. That's a bit of a shame as they were under-rated and well-priced.
So what of this improved second generation car? Stung by criticism that the old Auris was a bit dull, Toyota has sharpened the styling, focused the driving dynamics and priced it very keenly. Introduced in the Spring of 2015, it needs to be right on its mettle to compete in the hotly contested family hatchback market but it's got versatility on its side. It's the entry-level petrol version we look at here, the 100PS 1.33-litre variant. Let's check it out.
With the original first generation Auris model, you could pretty much skip over this driving experience section. Since the introduction of this MK2 model in 2013, it's been different and the most recent changes have improved the dynamic recipe still further.
The Auris' suspension has been revised, with a choice of two rear ends. For the slightly faster models, there's a double wishbone system (offered on the 1.2T and 1.6 Valvematic petrol variants, plus the 1.6 D-4D diesel and the 1.8 Hybrid). Less powerful versions like this 1.33 petrol variant though, get a simpler torsion bar set-up. Toyota has also reduced noise levels in the cabin and re-tuned the electric power steering to further build steering weight as vehicle speed rises, giving better feedback between 35 and 50mph. Performance is unchanged, so 62mph from rest takes 12.6s on the way to 109mph.
Design and Build
Toyota really gave the Auris a bit of attitude with the Mk2 car that appeared in 2012 and this improved version builds on that by featuring 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. There's also a Touring Sports estate version on offer if you need a bit more hauling space.
Market and Model
Recognising that the rivals from this car are priced more aggressively than ever, Toyota has sensible kept prices reasonable. You can drive away a 1.33 petrol model for around £15,000 and discounts may be available to private buyers who are a bit handy at haggling. There's a premium of around £1,000 if you want the extra space of the Touring Sports estate version. Entry-level models come with electric front windows, air conditioning, heated door mirrors and a stereo with USB and AUX-in connections that can play MP3 files off a disc. Go for a top of the range model and you'll find gear such as 17-inch alloys, a park-assist system, and heated front seats.
The Auris has always had its work cut out competing with segment rivals such as the Ford Focus, the Volkswagen Golf and the Peugeot 308, not to mention up-and-comers like the Hyundai i30. It's not let down by its safety provision, that's for sure. It already has a five-star Euro NCAP safety score tucked under its wing and the latest car also benefits from an optional Toyota 'Safety Sense' pack. This comprises a Pre-Collision System, a 'Lane Departure Alter' system, Automatic High Beam and Road Sign Assist, functions which process information provide by a laser and camera unit mounted on the top of the windscreen.
Cost of Ownership
Let's face it, you don't buy a Toyota Auris and then expect to be punted squarely in the wallet for the privilege. It's one of the cheapest cars in its class to run. Where the Korean marques earn a lot of good will because of their low pricing and are often forgiven for not having top drawer economy and emissions, Toyota - rightly or wrongly - is going to be judged by a harsher set of criteria. It stands up to that scrutiny as well. The 1.33-litre petrol we looked at still manages to return a combined economy figure of 52.3mpg and emissions of 125g/km.
Insurance is rated at groups 7 to 8. Residual values for such a clean and economical vehicle with a reliability record as good as this will also be strong. A five year, 100,000 mile warranty isn't going to do its future resale prospects any harm either.
Despite Toyota's best efforts, it's likely that most UK buyers won't appreciate how much the latest Auris has improved. But then family hatchback buyers tend not to be adventurous. Golf, Astra, Focus - they stick to the tried and tested. It's usually the case that choosing something a bit different from the main contenders results in a pretty serious monetary disadvantage when all the sums are calculated at resale time, but that's not the case with this improved second generation Auris. Particularly in the 1.33-litre VVT-i petrol form we've been looking at here, it's competitive against the best in class and its reliability record will probably ace all of the aforementioned usual suspects.
But then that's how you expect the Auris to compete. It's a number at the bottom of a bean counter's spreadsheet. What you don't expect is for it to be good fun to drive. You don't expect it to be sharp looking and you probably don't expect it to be seriously well equipped. This latest car is all of that and more. It still faces an uphill battle to get British buyers to place orders but those who do will be rewarded with a solid car that is - on the quiet - more fun than you'd ever give it credit for. We suspect this is going to be one of those cars that will grow on you as an ownership proposition. Toyota has thought long and hard about the latest Auris, priced it at little more than the Korean opposition and engineered it in a way that's thoroughly Toyota. It's made of the right stuff and it deserves your attention. Consider it rehabilitated.