FIRST there was Avanté, then came Conquest, RunX didn’t stay too long, and now we have Auris. Whatever its name, there has traditionally been a hatchback counterpart to accompany Toyota’s incumbent Corolla. And in a market such as South Africa’s, which has become increasingly hatchfriendly, this is a vitally important model for the company. In fact, such is the hatchback’s popularity here that buyers were besotted with the outdated Tazz (Conquest) for way past its international sell-by date, while SA waited for its replacement.
But that’s history, and following the recent launch of Yaris to fulfil the role of entry-level model range (hatch and saloon), we now have, the Auris to contest the sub-compact hatch category. Launching the Yaris locally has given Toyota the opportunity to move the Auris slightly more upmarket – and into a different price bracket, a fact that, as you will read later, is not ideal.
From the outside, many people feel that the Auris simply looks like a revised RunX, not quite believing that this isn’t merely a facelifted model instead of the ground-up brand new vehicle it actually is. Of course, the family resemblance cannot be discounted. Take a quick glance, and those with less than motoring-tuned eyes may mistake it for a Yaris, albeit one that is a tad larger than normal. Amongst our test panel, opinion was split. Some found the Yaris-esque looks exciting, and a definite improvement over the RunX, whereas others found them dull. In all, a typical Toyota styling effort, not groundbreaking in any way, simply middle of the road conservative.
The quality of the paintwork, consistency of shutlines, and general exterior fitment, did however, draw compliments, which reflected a higher quality product than one is used to in this segment. Jump in and slam the solidfeeling, heavy-sounding door, and the good impression continues. We were all impressed by what we saw. A bold interior treatment that is aimed directly at a younger buyer. While there is a large expanse of facia to look at, it is curvaceous, with a good tactile quality, wrapping around front occupants as it blends in with the door trim. Panel gaps, too, are uniform. Both front seats are extremely comfortable, and occupants can easily find a good position, thanks to a full range of adjustment, including height. Separating the front passengers is a bridge-like console that extends from the facia. This houses the gearlever and near-vertically mounted handbrake. Ahead of the gearlever lie the manual airconditioning controls. Above the ventilation system is the standard 6CD changer with MP3/WMA capability, the performance of which is very impressive.
At the base of the centre console is an armrest that conceals a drinkholder. Disappointingly, this is mounted so low down and far back that it is difficult to access your drink or rest your forearm. In its defence though, there are a pair of pop-out holders in the facia, just below the outer airvents. Behind the sporty three-spoke steering wheel the driver can study all vital information, as well as info provided by the multifunction computer. The dials are backlit in an orangey hue, but we found that they are rather difficult to read when the driving lights have been activated, which is pretty often during a rain-soaked Cape winter. Other criticisms of the display include that fact that one has to take a hand away from the wheel to scroll through all the available information – why not a stalk-mounted switch? And the clock cannot be displayed all the time, but has to share display space with other info.
While the quality of the plastics may fall just short of the classleading Golf V, the styling is more attractive, though some expressed concern regarding the appearance of the faux-alloy stuff, which could be prone to scratching. Rear seats proved comfy, and the space felt noticeably larger than that afforded by the RunX. But, just as in the outgoing model, boot space didn’t impress us. Though the shape is good, the floor of the boot is just too high, making the luggage compartment quite shallow. Just 224 dm3 of space is to be found with the seats up, but it should be noted that a full-size steel-rimmed spare is tucked away below the boot board. The primary capacity extends to 928 dm3 of utility space when the rear chairs are folded away. And unlike some stripped down entry level Toyotas of the past, Auris is big on safety. In this high-level RS spec, the car features no fewer than seven different crash bags protecting front and rear occupants, ABS brakes (with EBD and BAS), five threepoint seatbelts, and ISOFIX child seat anchorage points.
But the most impressive feature is the Auris’ refinement. Even after firing up the little engine, on a number of occasions we found we had to check that it was running by looking at the rev-counter, such is the lack of mechanical noise. Drop the, initially, awkward- feeling handbrake (though this action was more natural later on), snick home first, and pull away gently. Again, in typical Toyota style, all controls are exceptionally light and devoid of feel. The clutch pedal action is so soft and takes up so easily that one can inadvertently ride the clutch. Moving along, the Auris feels much bigger than its outside dimensions indicate. The slightly high-up driving position, together with a gearlever mounted little more than a hand’s length from the steering rim, creates an MPVlike driving sensation. This is aided by electrically-assisted power steering, and major driving controls that are devoid of mass and sensation.
Refinement levels are particularly high in this car. New models are always released with fanfare about improvements with respect to NVH, and in this case the Toyota engineers have really delivered. We were all pleasantly surprised at the comfort levels, lack of noise, and smoothness of the ride quality. Damping characteristics are spot on, and road shocks are well-insulated from the cabin. The Auris is a very comfortable car to drive, and to be driven in.
Motivation comes from a 1,4-litre engine that is carried over from the RunX and remains unchanged, with 71 kW of power produced at 6 000 r/min, and 130 N.m of torque developed at 4 400. On our test strip, the smallest engined Auris performed virtually as claimed. It passed 100 km/h in just under 13,5 seconds, and went on to true top speed of 170 km/h. Not too shy for a little engine lugging 1 300-odd kilograms.
But, although these figures may be adequate for the coast, where we test, at higher altitudes, such as the Reef, we suspect that the lack of torque may prove frustrating. During our acceleration runs, we experienced a familiar notchiness in the cable-activated gearshift action, but only if you really rush the shift.
In the twisty bits, the Auris performed commendably. Suspended by a MacPherson strut front/torsion beam axle rear arrangement, the car has good levels of grip, though it does lack somewhat in excitement. This RS-spec car comes fitted with 205 mm section rubber, fitted on 16-inch alloys. The chassis doesn’t do much except grip, and when one eventually finds the limit, which is higher than one would expect, there is some gentle front-end push, ie understeer. In a word, the handling is vice-less, as it won’t scare your gran when going to the shops. But, on the other hand, it won’t really enthral your typical petrolhead. And you just know that that is exactly how Toyota prefers it. The rack and pinion steering is direct, but cannot override the lack of cornering exhilaration. If you were to overstep the
mark, then you could take solace in the car’s four-way ABS-modulated discs. With the help of EBD and BAS, in our emergency brake test procedure the car was halted from 100 km/h in an average time of 2,96 seconds, earning it a “good” rating in our braking classification.