Car journalists are a strange bunch. The word of the most famous of them is devoured assiduously by those of us who are maybe thinking of changing their wheels, or even just gathering information for a future, hoped-for purchase. And yet, those same writers are of course individuals, with their own unique collection of thoughts, preferences and idiosyncracies just like each of us. We all have our own likes and dislikes, which may or may not be the same as the writer. So what gives any individual writer the power to make or break the sales of any given car, purely on their own whimsical likes & dislikes?
It happens: car manufacturers quake in their boots in fear that one of those more famous writers takes it into their head to condemn one of their products.Take the Vectra, which may indeed not have been the best car in the world but was far from the worst. This was condemned to a mediocre market share after one larger-than-life “expert” condemned it roundly and quite unjustifiably. Indeed, rumours abound of other test cars being condemned simply on the basis of their colour.
Even away from the “first division” of motoring writers, the same level of personal idiosyncrasies prevail: recently I was looking through a respected monthly magazine – no names, no pack drill – and saw to my surprise that a car which I and many others had always considered to be a pretty decently riding vehicle was marked down as having an “unsettled ride”. Even more curious, on reading further reviews in the same rag, was just how many cars had the same “unsettled ride” epitaph applied to them, clearly from the same reviewer. Personal bias, or what? And what on earth does unsettled ride mean anyway!
You may by now be wondering just what this rant have to do with this review? Well, quite simply, Toyota products seem to generally come in for a bit of a slating in most press reviews, and the subject of this review is no different, having been marked down in other reviews on several grounds, not least that of “unsettled ride”. Pre-warned by such publicity, I was therefore in truth not expecting much when the Toyota Auris Touring Sports hybrid arrived for review.
However, as soon as it rolled up, the styling started to change my mindset. Gone are the days of anonymous Toyota “faces”, the family Toyota nose profile now appearing is quite distinctive and to my mind anyway smooth and stylish. Similarly, the extra length of the tourer and its steeply sloping window line gives the car an air of rakishness not dissimilar to, say, an Alfa 159 Sportwagon. So much for the exterior, what about the interior? Trim materials in this “Excel” spec seemed generally of good quality and well put together.
Some slightly untidy puckering of the half-leather panels of the rear seat was evident – although our family Audi A3 has exactly the same issue, despite being supposedly in a league above the Auris. Seats were both comfortable and supportive, with a wide range of adjustment, together with a very effective pneumatic lumbar support on the drivers seat. Not quite so good was the feeling that there was not quite enough fore-and-aft adjustment on the steering column – I’m a straight-arm driver, yet with the seat set in the right position for my legs, the wheel seemed to be just a touch too far away. But hey, we’re all individuals, and maybe I’m just a funny shape!
Whilst the facia controls and instruments were very clear and easy to use, the facia itself seemed to be a little too upright and “in-your-face” unlike say the latest Golf where the facia it close at hand where necessary to provide easy access to controls & gauges, yet curves away to give a feeling of space elsewhere. The upright nature of the facia also meant that the generally excellent multimedia touchscreen could be hard to see under certain lighting conditions. The screen itself was very easy to use, even without reference to the manual, and the optional integrated sat-nav was equally a model of simplicity – not surprisingly, being essentially the industry-standard Tom Tom in inbuilt form, even down to the delectable voice of “Jane” guiding us to our destiny.
Interior space was very impressive. Indeed, the clever packaging of the hybrid components is quite remarkable – they do not intrude into the passenger or luggage space in the slightest, unlike many hybrids. Despite the upright facia, front seat occupants had plenty of room, as did those in the rear seat. Luggage space was also impressive, with the boot swallowing an assembled 1 metre wide kitchen cupboard without resorting to folding down the rear seat. The boot also features a flat loadspace with no lip above the rear bumper, making for easy loading and unloading.
The loadspace is covered by a roll-up parcel shelf, the operation of which was a touch fiddly, although it could be removed altogether if so desired, as could the substantial rolled-up mesh load guard, although this latter item was particularly heavy and so tricky to remove & refit. Under the boot floor are a number of usefully deep and decently-sized hidden storage compartments, although unfortunately a spare wheel, either full-size or spacesaver, is not provided although there appears to be enough space for their provision.
So much for the static stuff, how about driving impressions? Well, first & foremost, the ride quality, even over the worst of Surreys potholes, was remarkably calm, and certainly far superior to the aforementioned A3. Indeed, we felt it to be approaching the standards of the Mk VII Golf, considered by many to be one of the best-riding mid-range cars on the market. Handling was smooth and unremarkable: not perhaps to the go-kart standards of a Mini, but entirely in keeping to a family car of this type.
Braking was very effective, although the pedal felt a little wooden, sometimes needing the pedal to be pushed a little harder mid-stop. Whilst other reviewers have found the car to be noisy, we certainly did not. Admittedly the sudden increase in engine noise as the CVT spools up on hard acceleration can be a little disconcerting, however this is short-lived and by no means excessive. Most of the time noise from all sources was very subdued.
I was particularly interested in how well the car performed, being a hybrid, and here I can say that performance was probably adequate for most people, although the press-on driver may find it a little sluggish. Three alternative driving modes are offered: EV, where the car runs on battery-only for a very limited distance at low speed and under gentle acceleration, thus in honesty of limited value. Then “Eco” mode, and “Power” mode. The difference between these latter two seemed to me to be that throttle response was much sharper in power mode, with the throttle pedal needing to be pushed much further down to achieve similar performance in Eco mode. Eco mode was fine around town and in stop-start traffic, however the Power button was soon eagerly sought once on the open road in order to make decent progress.
A plethora of information was available to the driver on the way in which the power available was being used. In front of the driver, where a rev-counter would normally be expected, sat a circular power meter, with sectors showing whether the car was being driven in a economic manner, whether the traction battery was being recharged by regeneration, or whether the car was being driven in a less-than-economic “power” fashion. In a neat touch, the needle of the power meter turned red whenever it entered the “power” sector.
As well as the power meter, the central multimedia display also gave the option of a number of screens showing for example fuel consumption, both instantaneous and minute-by-minute, as well as a pretty graphic showing in animated form the relative usage of petrol engine and battery power. In truth, whilst these screens may well be interesting to a passenger to while away the time, they were too fussy to be of real value to the driver, especially since a simplified version of much of the information was also available on the small multi-function information screen immediately in front of the driver. In fairness to Toyota however, they are not alone in surrounding the driver with a mass of information, we commented on exactly the same issue with the recently tested Range Rover Hybrid.
Fuel economy is one of the main reasons why people buy hybrids, and Toyota claim a remarkable 70.6mpg combined for the Auris Tourer. What we actually achieved on test was around 45-50mpg during legal-limit motorway driving, and around 55-60mpg on a mixture of urban & winding country roads – some way off the combined figures, but in reality very similar to what could be expected from a diesel version of a car of similar size and performance. Doubtless, these figures could have been improved by more economy conscious driving – at one point over 70mpg was indeed being maintained in urban traffic.
And that, to me, is the true comparison for a hybrid – not its petrol sister, but the equivalent diesel model with an auto box, against which would return, it appears, similar mpg at a similar purchase price, but without the concerns of Nox and particulate emissions, nor, hopefully, any of the diesels potential high repair bills in later life for items such as clogged particulate filters.
So there we have it – one individuals view on a much under-rated car which undeservedly seems to sail far below the radar of the average car-buyer. Business users in particular should put this one on their short-lists, given its extremely low BIK rating.
Thanks to John Brooks and the Toyota team for the loan of GU63 XEB for evaluation.
Price as tested: £24,545 (including sat nav & pearlescent paint options)
Engine: 4 cylinder in line 16-valve DOHC VVT-I 1798cc + electric motor
Transmission: electric CVT driving front wheels
Power & torque: petrol – 98bhp/73kW@5200rpm, 142Nm@4000rpm
– electric 80bhp/60kW, 207Nm
– total 178bhp/133kW, 349Nm
Economy claimed: 70.6mpg combined, 72.4mpg urban, 72.4mpg extra-urban
CO2 & VED rating: 92g/km (Band A)
Top speed: 112mph
Cargo space: 530 litres seats up / 1658 litres seats folded
Good and not so good:
Stylish, practical and comfortable load carrier
Easy to drive
Smooth ride and tidy handling
Clever hybrid packaging with no loss of interior or boot space
Very low BIK for business users
Plenty of toys in Excel trim e.g. auto lights & wipers, half-leather seats, self-parking etc.
Multimedia screen visibility could be better
Brakes a little wooden
Over-sophisticated driver information systems
Sat nav screen a bit small
No spare wheel or spacesaver
Very expensive pearlescent white paint option (£650)
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