By Jonathan Crouch
More dynamic, better equipped and cheaper to run than its predecessor, the original version of Toyota's second generation British-built Auris family hatchback offered more confident, sleeker styling, improved ride and handling and more efficient engines. Plus it continued its leadership in this segment when it came to hybrid power. The car represented a big step forward for the brand but does it represent a strong used buy?
We buy cars for all sorts of reasons, some sensible but others rather more personal. While it's the extreme designs that tend to grab the headlines, there's still a lot to be said for cars that simply work ever so effectively in the real world: like this one, the second generation version of Toyota's Auris.
It's a family hatchback developed from experience that bought us the best selling car of this kind of all time, Toyota's Corolla, 35 million examples of which were sold in its lifetime before the first generation Auris model took over in 2007. This original Auris, its name derived from the Latin, 'aurum', for gold, arrived as a safe and sensible choice that built upon the strengths of its predecessor without threatening the Focus and Golf fraternity in any particular way. It did though, have the distinction of pioneering hybrid power in this segment back in 2010.
But the world's biggest brand needed to do more in a market increasingly demanding more dynamic, appealingly styled, hi-tech and efficient products. With tough competition not only from the mainstream makers but also from up-and-coming Korean budget brands, it needed to bring us a car like this, the second generation Auris model, launched here at the very end of 2012. At its introduction, this model still led the way with hybrid power but could also offer more. Toyota claimed that the more mainstream choices had become more efficient and crucially, more desirable too. This car sold until mid-2015, when it was replaced by a facelifted version with a smarter interior and a much improved engine range.
What You Get
If you're familiar with the look of the first generation Auris, then you won't be expecting what Toyota served up with this MK2 model. The original MK1 version wasn't a bad looker, just a little bit anonymous. With this replacement design though, it was as if everything had been sharpened and optimised to offer the much more extrovert visual statement that Toyota called its 'Keen Look'. The front features what in 2012 represented the brand's latest family face, with smeared-back headlight units that lent the look a bit of attitude and also visually widened things.
It's not all stylist smoke and mirrors either. This car really is lower-slung than its MK1 model predecessor, the overall height 55mm lower and the chassis positioned 10mm closer to the ground to offer a more purposeful stance echoed by the more sharply raked windscreen. The belt line is angled a bit more sharply too to give a more dynamic wedge shape than the old car's frumpier profile, while blacked-out centre and rear pillars also aim at providing a sportier look.
Despite an overall length increase of 30mm,Toyota is proud of the fact that this remains one of the most compact cars in the family hatchback class, though you might not think this to be a particularly good thing if you've a family of five to carry about. Fortunately, some very clever design ensured that buyers didn't tend to notice the slightly smaller dimensions. Take the reduced roof height, disguised by the way that the roof gently bulges over the passenger's heads. As usual in this class, three passengers will be a squash on the back seat, but thanks to 20mm more rear legroom and seat backrests that recline for greater comfort on longer journeys, two will be quite comfortable.
Out back, there's slightly more bootspace than was offered by the MK1 model - 360-litres, which is more than you get in a Focus or an Astra of the period - or indeed other segment contenders of the time like SEAT's Leon or Peugeot's 308. That figure also applies right across the range, even to the Hybrid model, thanks to the relocation of that's car's battery pack to a position under the rear bench. It's easier to get at the cargo area too, thanks to a tailgate opening that's 90mm wider than that of the MK1 model. Once you've got your stuff in, the wide loadbay length is versatile to use thanks to a dual-level deckboard. Plus of course, if you need more room, there's the option of pushing forward the 60/40 split-folding rear backrest. If that's something you're likely to be doing quite often, then you're probably better off considering the 'Touring Sports' estate bodystyle which is 285mm longer and features a bumper sill 80mm lower for easier loading.
Plenty of thought has also gone in up-front, where the seats have a wide adjustment range, plus there's a wide angle of steering wheel adjustment make it easier for drivers of all heights to find a comfortable position. As for the dash, well owners of the original Auris might be a little disappointed that the designers of this MK2 model dispensed with original version's dramatic-looking centre console that housed the handbrake and gearlever and arched up and way from the floor to form a kind of flying buttress. Instead, with the second generation version of this Toyota, they tried to smarten things up with various soft-touch plastics and brushed metallic finishes but despite all this effort, it doesn't feel as plush and up-market as some rivals.
Still, build quality from the British Burnaston factory was strong, plus the layout remains ergonomically sound and is at least quite interesting than before, with the centre console in most variants dominated by an informative 'Toyota Touch' multimedia screen. Plus it's a practical interior, with four cup and four bottle holders, a sunglasses holder, a coin box, a sliding centre console armrest, three 12V accessory sockets and an AUX external input plug. A cabin, in other words, that you could really live with.
What to Look For
You are joking, right? In all seriousness, very little goes wrong with the Toyota Auris. Look for the usual parking scuffs and scraped alloy wheels. Check the wear on tyres for signs of suspension misalignment and check that the car has been regularly oil serviced. Otherwise, there's not really much else to worry about. The interiors have proven hardwearing although the one moan existing Auris owners repeat about their cars is that the complex dashboard mouldings can creak and rattle.
(approx based on a 1.6 five-door Icon) Parts are pitched a little above what you'd expect to fork out for Vauxhall or Ford spares but Toyota would counter that you'll need to buy them less often. A clutch assembly will cost in the region of £150, whilst an exhaust is around £350. Repair costs have been kept down with a consequent effect on insurance premiums.
On the Road
With the first generation Auris, you could pretty much skip over this driving experience section. Or that was the common belief. In fact, providing that, like most family hatchback buyers, your priority was driving comfort, it offered roadgoing dynamics that were actually quite impressive. Until you started to push the thing along a bit, not something you'd really want to do out of choice in that car. But might you be tempted to do so in this one? You might have your doubts before getting behind the wheel, but you might be quite surprised at what's on offer if you do.
Perhaps you shouldn't be. After all, a company capable of creating the much-lauded GT86 coupe ought to be capable of making a family hatchback handle with a little vim and vigour. As this one does. We're not suggesting that it'll go round corners like a hot hatch, but it doesn't take too long a drive to realise that the chassis has been developed by people who really know what they're doing.
Of course, given that the engineers behind this MK2 Auris had to use the same platform and wheelbase that were originally developed for a car designed ten years ago, they weren't able to perform miracles and produce something quite able to match the dynamic excellence of class leaders like the Ford Focus or the Volkswagen Golf with their clever (but expensively developed) modular platforms and multi-link suspension systems. What has happened here though is that when it comes to ride and handing, this Toyota is as good - and in most cases better - than just about everything else from the 2013 to 2015 era in this closely-fought market segment.
The reasons why are really down to three things. Taking out weight. Stiffening the bodyshell. And lowering the centre of gravity. All key elements in improving handling, high speed stability and, as it happens, this model's traditionally strong attribute, ride comfort. A lighter car is a more nimble one and, if it's stiffer and closer to the ground, it'll roll less around the corners. Sure enough, that's the case here. It helps that the steering ratio has been quickened and as a result, you have a car that can be hustled through a set of bends with some poise.
Refinement isn't quite as impressive, despite the engineers' best efforts, unless of course you're in the clever hybrid model cruising along on silent battery power (as is possible in this variant for up to 1.2 miles if you switch into its 'EV' mode). This petrol/electric Auris is unique in this segment, combining a 1.8-litre VVT-i combustion engine with an electric motor to create a combined power output of 134bhp, accessible via a 6-speed CVT auto gearbox that's supposed to make a better job of matching vehicle speed with engine revs than its predecessor but still whines uncomfortably when you rev it hard or try to match Toyota's quoted performance stats of 62mph from rest in 10.9s on the way to 112mph. Better to chill out, throttle back and enjoy the journey, at which point this car transforms itself into a beautifully laid-back, efficient form of family travel.
As befits its hi-tech status, the Hybrid Auris gets the more sophisticated of the two suspension systems offered across the range, a double wishbone set-up also used on the more conventional 130bhp 1.6-litre Valvematic petrol variant. This doesn't have the all-round cleverness of rival turbo or three cylinder units but it'll probably suit undemanding Auris people just fine, with a respectable turn of speed that'll see you to sixty in 10.5s and on to 124mph.
Toyota has assumed that the two remaining choices in the line-up, the 89bhp 1.4-litre D-4D diesel and the 98bhp 1.33-litre VVT-i petrol, will be driven by people who care less about ride and handling, hence their need to make do with a simpler torsion beam rear suspension set-up. In a comparable Volkswagen Golf, you get cheaper suspension technology in cheaper models too: buyers at the lower end of the range don't tend to notice the difference, though you will feel it if you drive a cheaper Auris back to back with a more powerful one over a really poor surface.
If you're the kind of person who brings uncompromising reason to the purchase decision when it comes to getting yourself a family hatchback, then you'll bond with this MK2 model Auris right away. Optimal Drive technology, hybrid power, low servicing costs, impressive residuals: it'll all be music to your ears.
Much of that was offered by the first generation version of this Toyota, but what changed with this replacement model was that the car managed to offer a bit more, with sharper looks, extra equipment and better drive dynamics. As a result, with a choice of petrol, diesel or hybrid, hatch or estate, this generation Auris deserves to finally shake off its image as a family hatchback makeweight. And makes a very decent used buy.
There are, it's true, still more dynamic, more versatile and more up-market-feeling choices in this class, but few are now able to stack up as well as an overall ownership proposition. Finally then, a family hatchback with a Toyota badge that's class-competitive in almost every way. It was a long time coming.