What is it?
It’s a sharper-looking second-generation Auris, with proportions and weight distribution reconfigured to provide the more engaging drive demanded by enlightened Toyota boss Akio Toyoda. So while both platform and wheelbase are carry-over, a lower roofline and reduced ride height have yielded a roll-reducing centre of gravity affording more supple suspension. Those worrying about heads striking headlinings needn’t fret, either. The height reduction has been in part prompted by the outgoing Auris’s taller-than-average proportioning, and Toyota is compensating with a roof that billows above each seat row. A reduced frontal area is a useful aerodynamic gain, with the Auris’s drag coefficient falling to 0.28, while its weight drops by an average of 50kg across the range.
Improved fuel efficiency, handling and ride are the aims, while criticism of the old car’s striking but ergonomically troubled flying-buttress centre console has provoked a major rethink of the dashboard’s architecture and finish. Of which more shortly.
The front suspension uses the same MacPherson strut layout as before but with tweaks, while the sophisticated double wishbone rear suspension, previously reserved for the most potent diesel, has now been bestowed on this 128bhp 1.6, the most sophisticated feature of which is its variable lift and duration valve timing. It’s hooked to a six-speeder, and you’ll be using it to chase a high-altitude, 4400rpm torque peak.
What is it like?
If some of the above sounds unpromising, the happy surprise is that this mid-range Auris gels rather well on the road, on smaller fuel-saving 16-inch rims at least. The ride is pleasingly compliant, the stiffer body feels satisfyingly robust, the old car’s cornering flop has gone and the electric power steering is accurate and more consistent, despite the leather-edged rim feeling over-light. And although it needs revving, judicious sound-proofing has smothered the 1.6 Valvematic’s threshings and tyre hum. Apart from a light flutter around the door windows, the Auris delivers calm high-speed cruising.
The cabin ambience is less than pleasing, however. An interior as dull as a cloudburst is one thing, but the crude cliff of fussily rendered dashboard is quite another. The facia is the most stared-at part of a car if you’re its driver, yet this new Auris has lost the old model’s appealingly multi-layered instruments, the multimedia system sits inside a cheap asymmetric plastiminium-rimmed panel and the turf-like slab of soft-feel plastic that caps this sculpturally dull edifice completely fails to suggest expense, even if the brushed aluminium ahead of the passenger pleases.
Should I buy one?
Volkswagen’s Golf Mk6 was the benchmark for this Toyota, but you won’t believe that when you sit in it. And that’s a pity, because the 1.6 has quiet appeal with its refinement, agility, convenience and low running costs. This is undoubtedly a better Auris, but it still flails in VW’s wake.
Toyota Auris 1.6 Icon
Price: £17,495; 0-62mph: 10.0 secs; Top speed: 124mph; Economy: 52.3mpg (combined); CO2: 138g/km; Kerb weight: 1270kg; Engine: 4 cyls in line, 1598cc, petrol; Power: 128bhp at 6400rpm; Torque: 118lb ft at 4400rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual