First Drive: 2010 Toyota Auris

The Toyota Auris has always been one of life's 'grey' cars. The name isn't familiar or especially memorable like "Golf" or "Focus", and while it's not conspicuously unattractive, it isn't particularly desirable either. But Toyota is hoping to change all that with the car's mid-life facelift.

The Auris's styling hasn't been drastically altered, but the Japanese manufacturer has given the car a more prominent face with a new body-coloured grille and front bumper which incorporates a deeper, wider air intake that does make it look marginally sportier. The rear treatment is less noticeable, although again the rear bumper is new and has a more dynamic catamaran-style shape to it with inset reflectors at each corner.

The interior has been improved, with soft touch materials adorning most surfaces around the cabin, while the general fit and finish feels up to the kind of quality we'd expect in a Toyota. Everything makes good ergonomic sense and the switchgear feels admirably solid. As one of the more spacious cars in its class, the Auris offers plenty of room for two adults in the rear and a decent size boot.

The engine range has been simplified to offer two petrol engines; the 99bhp 1.33 dual VVTi – also found in the Yaris and iQ – and the132bhp 1.6-litre Valvematic plus a 90bhp 1.4-litre D-4D diesel unit. All Auris models come equipped with Optimal Drive, which boosts efficiency to offer lower fuel consumption and emissions whilst providing greater performance.

Disappointingly the lowest emitting Auris on sale here in the UK comes in at 126g/km CO2, while the rest of Europe will get a 119g/km version. Adding up costs, Toyota says that UK owners won't loose out as it only represents a very small saving over the life of the car – but we're not totally convinced. Either way, the firm is hoping a new full hybrid version of the car, called Auris HSD, will make a suitable replacement for the 2.0-litre diesel when it's launched in July. With emissions of less than 99g/km it should be promising.

Toyota claims to have tested the Auris extensively on UK roads to ensure the car's damping provides a decent balance between comfort and handling. The ride is nicely compliant, and while there's still some body roll when cornering, most of it is well-controlled. The Auris is by no means as agile or composed as the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf, but it's competent enough to give the driver confidence in its abilities.

The new 2010 Auris is a fine car, even if it remains a little underwhelming. Toyota has done enough to ensure the new car looks better, drives better and benefits from a much higher quality feel than its predecessor. There are plenty of reasons to add the hatchback to your shortlist; not least because it's one of the more affordable options in this segment. But if you're after a car with a bit more character, the Auris still falls someway short.

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