LISBON – The international launch of the Toyota Auris sees the Japanese car giant taking a new tack with one of its competent, if somewhat conservative and forgettable, models in a bid to gain traction in the hotly contested C-segment. Will a dose of additional dynamic and visual verve make this Auris more of a hit?
To say that the previous Auris was nondescript in its styling is something of an understatement and Toyota has consequently sought to give its latest iteration a bit more character. The nose now sports Toyota’s latest corporate face, taking in a more aggressive LED DLR-equipped headlamp treatment with ‘eyebrow’ elements that flow into the flanking grille and a deeper front valance with a trapezoidal front air dam. The car is 55 mm lower, making it one the lowest cars in its class, than the model it replaces and sports a wedge-shaped profile rounded off by a slightly rearward-sloping tail with wraparound lights. Compared to its rather globular forebear, it’s a more dynamic looking package, especially sitting on its suspension lowered by 10 mm and sporting, as our model did, a set of 17-inch alloy wheels. From the images shown some will still deem it rather conservative, but in the metal it’s a noticeable improvement over the old model.
Although its wheelbase remains unchanged at 2 600 mm, a number of revised interior packaging measures make the new car feel spacious. Despite its lower stance, headroom both fore and aft is generous. Legroom in the back is very good for a car of its ilk (20 mm up on the previous car) and the upright facia adds to the impression of space. Aesthetically, the facia has been a sticky point with global press due to its similarity to the Yaris’ asymmetrical layout. Fortunately, it doesn’t suffer from the hotchpotch of textures and patinas that affects its smaller sibling. The design is uncluttered, linear (almost contemporary Lexus-like in its execution), benefits from soft touch materials on the upper facia and bereft of rattles. Our range-topping (Xr) model featured stitched leather facia panels, which are an interesting touch, but the brushed steel effect trim on the mid-spec (Xs) lends a dash of brightness to what is otherwise a fairly dark cabin. Ergonomically it’s sound, with legible, easily located switchgear, a good driving position on supportive seats and good all-round visibility. Boot space has also improved to 360 dm3.
Engine and dynamics
Toyota has invested a great deal of effort into making the Auris more involving to drive than before by trimming the fat (the new car is, on average, 50 kg lighter) and tinkering with the underpinnings. That lower stance is aided by a lower centre of gravity that, along with revised front springs and double-wishbone rear suspension, helps to rein in body-roll under hard cornering. Even on our car’s 17-inch alloys the ride was impressive, being pliant and quiet. The steering is an EPS system that, like many of its contemporaries, is a bit light and artificial in its feel but precise in its action. The new Auris does feel more dynamically capable than before, but this new-found dynamism is slightly hampered by the engine.
The 1,6-litre petrol unit features a Valvetronic system that adds to the existing VVTi by incorporating lift and duration control to the inlet valve variable valve timing (essentially letting the engine ‘breathe’ more efficiently to up power and reduce both CO2 emissions and fuel consumption which stand at 138 g/km and 5,9 L/100 km, respectively.
Although this unit is free-revving in its nature and develops a respectable 97 kW, its torque output of 160 N.m at 4 400 r/min means that uphills will knock some wind out of the car’s sales and necessitate dropping a gear or two via a light, if at times imprecise-shifting, six-speed manual gearbox.
In terms of visuals, dynamics and practicality, the new Auris is a palpable improvement over its predecessor and has the makings of a capable and viable player in the C-segment. The engine has to be worked hard at times, but for the vast tracts of its use is perfectly capable. The local range will comprise mid- and high-spec 1,6 models and a hybrid variant, both of which will be arriving in SA during the first quarter of 2013.
Model: Toyota Auris 1,6 Valvematic Xr
Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder petrol
Power: 97 kW at 6 400 r/min
Torque: 160 N.m at 4 400 r/min
0-100 km/h: 10 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5,9/100 km
CO2: 138 g/km
Top speed: 200 km/h