First drive: 2015 Toyota Auris

Toyota Auris

In a world where off-roaders and premium models are becoming increasingly popular, manufacturers selling standard hatchbacks have to try even harder to get car buyers to part with their money.

Unlike the immensely popular Ford Focus, the updated Toyota Auris doesn't offer dozens of engines and trim levels and unlike the VW Golf, it doesn't boast an upmarket interior, while the competitively priced Vauxhall Astra looks set to undercut it on cost, too.

What the Toyota does offer, however, is an frugal hybrid model, which returns claimed economy of up to 80.7mpg, with CO2 emissions being more than low enough to warrant free car tax, starting at 79g/km.

What is it?

The Auris is a sensible five-door medium hatchback and estate, which is available in petrol, diesel and petrol-electric hybrid form. Two petrol, two diesel and one hybrid model are available, with buyers able to choose from five specification levels,

Despite a facelift for 2015, which has updated the Auris's styling inside and out, this Toyota remains inoffensive rather than striking and is likely to appeal much more to those who follow their head than their heart.

It's not the cheapest car you can buy or the most exciting, but Toyota claims that the Auris offers the best balance of price and kit in its class. It's also been designed to be particularly easy to drive rather than being a machine to set the pulse racing.

What's under the bonnet?

Petrol buyers can choose from a weedy 1.3-litre unit or a much more punchy turbocharged 1.2-litre model, which produces 114bhp and accelerates to 62mph in 10.1 seconds - making it the fastest Auris - while being capable of up to 58.9mpg.

Those after a diesel have the choice of a 1.4-litre 89bhp engine or a 110bhp 1.6-litre unit, which lags just behind the 1.2 petrol in the acceleration stakes and returns fuel economy of up to 67.3mpg, falling into the £20 annual car tax band. Most economical of all, is the 1.8-litre hybrid, which is capable of up to 80.7mpg - matching the 1.4-litre diesel, while offering even lower claimed emissions - with both 1.4 diesel and hybrid qualifying for free car tax.

What's the spec like?

Entry-level Active cars get air conditioning, electric front windows and Bluetooth, with hybrid models gaining 15-inch alloy wheels. Stepping up to Icon trim adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a touchscreen media system with digital radio, reversing camera, electric rear windows and front fog lights.

Meanwhile, Business Edition specification offers a touchscreen sat nav system, cruise control, and heated front seats, while identically priced Design trim includes 17-inch alloys, tinted rear windows, cruise control, and different seat upholstery instead. Range-topping Excel spec, on the other hand features a more sophisticated sat nav system with voice recognition and WiFi hotspot functionality, plus a park assist system, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control and heated part-leather seats.

First drive: 2015 Toyota Auris

First drive: 2015 Toyota Auris

Any rivals?

The Auris takes on bestselling rivals including the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Nissan Pulsar, along with the much more spacious Skoda Octavia and the pricier Volkswagen Golf. Most similar in vein, though, is the bland Nissan Pulsar, which offers a spacious interior and a focus on providing high levels of comfort and kit.

What's it like to drive?

The predicted bestseller - the hybrid - takes some getting used to, with the engine screaming away furiously should you need to accelerate at all briskly - such as when pulling onto a motorway - while not providing much in the way of performance. The 1.2-litre petrol, however, is much more impressive, providing a strong spread of power across the rev range and a slick gear change, with little in the way of noise or vibration.

The hybrid does come into its own around town, when it can often run solely on electric power, in near silence. The brakes and throttle aren't the most responsive, feeling as though there are certain steps where the brakes suddenly bite harder or the engine suddenly jumps in speed. There is also noticeably more vibration from the hybrid car's engine too.

Both models, however offer a relatively smooth ride with light, precise steering and suspension that dispatches corners without fuss. Neither is particularly engaging or enjoyable to drive, though. However, refinement levels are good, overall, with little road, wind or tyre noise.

The AOL Cars verdict

Toyota expects that more than half of buyers will opt for the hybrid Auris - and while it is a unique proposition amongst its immediate rivals - it is not the most appealing Auris, weighing in at £2,400 more than the punchier, more refined and more relaxing to drive turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol. It also isn't tangibly more appealing than models from rival brands.

The Auris is comfortable, refined, easy to drive and reasonably economical in both petrol and diesel form. However, there is notably less space in the back seats than models including the Golf and Octavia, the interior still doesn't feel high quality, features flawed ergonomics and it lags behind rivals for its balance of economy and acceleration - even in hybrid form.

Take the Skoda Octavia, for instance, and 1.2-litre petrol models practically match the Auris for performance and economy, while 1.6-litre diesel models offer similar performance to the more powerful Auris diesel while beating the less powerful diesel and Hybrid in the fuel consumption and emission stakes.

The Auris is by no means a bad car, but several rivals cover many more bases for a similar outlay.

The knowledge

Model: Toyota Auris Touring Sports 1.8 Hybrid Excel
Price: £25,095
Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, electric motor
Power: 134bhp, 142Nm
Max speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 10.9 seconds
MPG: 72.4
Emissions: 92g/km CO2