When the RunX first emerged on the local market back in 2003, its sporty styling caused quite a stir among those who had become accustomed to Toyota’s main products being competent, but otherwise uninspiring. The Auris has the unenviable task of building upon the solid foundation formed by its predecessor, and while it does bring something new to the fold, it still lacks the wow-factor required to lift the model above its competitors in this crowded segment.
The Auris is not the most eye-catching model that Toyota has released, but it is not offensive. I know the parallel between this car’s styling and that of the Yaris has been drawn on numerous occasions, but that’s because it is an apt comparison. The grille, lights and that gently curved profile do appear to lend a great deal to the styling of the Yaris hatch.
It’s in the interior where the big differences between this model and its pedestrian predecessor become more apparent. The centre hang-down section forms the focal point of a spacious cabin, but the effectiveness of this feature is mixed. While it does bring the gearlever closer to hand, the materials feel rather brittle and the shiny release button on the handbrake detracts from what is otherwise a nice touch. The hooded dials have a touch of Honda Civic about them, with ‘floating’ instrumentation that, while not as effective as that in the Honda, is certainly more interesting than the slab of Corolla dash in the previous car. What does come across very well in the cabin is the impression of space – the windscreen sits some way from the driver and the tall ceiling and ample glazing give the interior an airy feel.
The engine note is quite restrained and while the performance offered by the 100 kW 1,8-litre unit is not exactly electrifying, the power delivery is progressive and the overall feel is that of a flexible, well-sorted powerplant. The six-speed gearbox snicks through the ratios pleasantly enough, but I’m not sure if the engine really serves up enough torque to justify the sixth cog.
The RunX did not offer a particularly sporty ride and the same can be said of the Auris. While it doesn’t pitch or wallow through corners, it does not feel totally at ease when being chucked around. Under normal driving, however, the car does feel planted to the road, and this is part of what the Auris does well. It offers a very refined and grown up drive. There is a real ‘big car’ feel to proceedings – very little road noise permeates the cabin and the suspension does an admirable job of soaking up the bumps and corrugations with little drama. The steering is light, but uncommunicative.
The Auris has been met with a mixture of indifference and yawns from those who have sampled it. I agree that it is not the most exciting car on the road at the moment, but I would be loath to pillory this model. Let’s face it, you’re not eyeing this car up with designs of bolting on a gravel-ploughing body kit and London Eye-rivalling alloys. What most people looking at the Auris will be after is a practical and refined runabout that should prove reliable – and that’s what the Auris is…competent. Having said that, given the mounting competition out there (Mazda3, Golf VI on the way) , will competent be enough to make this car a winner?