First drive review: Toyota Auris
What is it?
Toyota's brand new Auris - designed to right the wrongs of the Tim-nice-but-dim current model. There's nothing drastically wrong with the outgoing car, there's just no particular reason to buy it: And that's what this new version should help fix. Aside from an entirely new look, the car has received a make-over under the skin - with a lower centre of gravity (in theory) making for a racier drive.
What's under the bonnet?
Nothing new, sadly. You'll find either a 1.4-litre diesel, or a choice of three petrols - a 1.33, a 1.8 hybrid or a 1.6. We drove the 1.6 and, to be honest, it's a little underwhelming. It's not a bad engine, but the long gearing means you really need to wring it to death to get the Auris to move. It's reasonable fun for driving around a B-road permanently in second gear, but it seriously struggles on motorway inclines in sixth or even fifth - though the later gears do at least keep things quiet while cruising. Toyota admit this won't be the final lineup, though: More engines will appear later in the car's life, but frankly they could do with hurrying along a little.
What's the kit like?
Not bad. Base spec 'Active' models get air conditioning and... that's about it. Step up to 'Icon' - which Toyota says will be the best seller - and a touch screen stereo with DAB radio and Bluetooth is included, along with a rear-view camera. 16-inch alloys are thrown in for good measure too, as are front and rear electric windows, leather steering wheel and a few other niceties. 'Sport' throws on some larger alloy wheels and sports seats, while 'Excel' tops the range with automatic wipers and lights, parallel park assist, heated seats and so on. 'Active' is yours from £14,495, while 'Icon', 'Sport' and 'Excel' start at £17,145, £19,245 and £20,245 respectively - depending on engine selection.
Certainly. The old car brings to mind 'safe' choices like the Hyundai i30, Honda Civic and so on. The new model is aiming straight at the class best, though - so you're looking at Astras, Focuses (Foci?) and even Golfs. You won't find quite as much kit for the money in most of that selection, though, and Toyota's five-year 100,000 mile warranty is matched only by Hyundai and Kia.
Is it any good?
It is, actually. It's one of the more enjoyable cars in its segment to drive - no mean feat compared to the model that came before it. We threw it around some Portuguese hills and it proved surprisingly addictive to drive quickly, holding on well with very little body roll. It's surprisingly refined too, both in terms of ride quality and noise levels. At around 80mph it's very quiet indeed in the cabin, while even the most treacherous cobbled streets will have difficulty making themselves known to passengers. We even like the way it looks. In fact our only issue, apart from the weedy engine selection, comes down to the design of the interior. Certain bits just don't look - and certainly don't feel - premium. The dash-mounted digital clock for example is just a horrid addition, and the type of afterthought we haven't seen for years.
The AOL Cars verdict
The old Auris was never a car to stir your soul, and in many respects the new model is no different - a gutless 1.6-litre engine keeps it from being called anything near 'sporty'. However, it really isn't half bad to drive - in fact we wouldn't say no to the opportunity to throw one around a B-road again. With refinement taking pretty big strides too, it's now hard to ignore the very competent Auris if you're looking for a car of this size. Now please, Toyota, get rid of that dreadful clock...
Model: Toyota Auris 1.6 Valvematic Excel
Engine: 1.6-litre, petrol
Power: 130bhp, 160Nm
Max speed: 124mph
MPG (comb'd): 46.3