The Toyota Auris is a spacious, but unspectacular attempt at a high quality Golf rival. Only the availability of a hybrid lifts it from obscurity
There isn’t much that’s truly revolutionary about Toyota’s impressive new Focus-chaser, the Auris. Despite the fact that they’ve ditched the biggest-selling name in car history — Corolla — to emphasise the car’s importance and new sense of purpose, Toyota has concentrated on bringing its traditions of quality and functionality to a new but fundamentally conventional design rather than re-inventing the wheel. However, one thing about the Auris sticks out like a sore thumb: the hot-hatch version is a diesel.
Instead of powering its quickest version with a peaky normally aspirated engine or a thirsty petrol turbo, Toyota has given us the T180, powered by an advanced 2.2 litre turbo diesel which produces a distinctly healthy 175bhp at 3600 rpm, and even more importantly, a mighty 295lb ft of torque in a wide band which starts at 2000 rpm. The result is strong performance in all speed ranges and in all modes of driving: the 0-60 mph time of 7.9 seconds and 130 mph top speed don’t begin to tell the full story.
What's it like?
What makes this car special is the accessibility of its performance. In any gear except the 40 mph/1000 rpm top (a six-speed manual ‘box is standard) any right-foot request is instantly answered, provided the tacho is showing at least 1800 rpm. It’s a completely different exxperience from that of driving, say, a Honda Civic Type-R, but because of its easy responses the T180 is especially quick out of corners and in tight passing manoeuvres. It’s a kind of Detroit V8 experience: see a gap and go for it. No need for any deft gearbox management, and no waiting for your engine to hit the power band.
The chassis is well up to the job. The 180 gets its own spring and damper rates to control cornering roll and improve body control, as well as coping with the extra nose-weight of the engine. At the kerb, a T180 weighs 1450 kilograms, nearly 200 more than the 1.6 litre petrol vertsion we tested a couple of weeks ago. Best of all, the T180 ditches the lesser Auris models’ twist-beam rear suspension in favour of a unique double wishbone rear suspension, which Toyota engineers say provides better control of the “exceptional forces” the T180 can develop when driven and cornered as fast as it can go. (This points, we suspect, to the eventual emergence of a petrol T-Sport version of the Auris). Why no fully independent rear for lower-spec Auris models? Three reasons: the twist-beam gives more boot space, it’s lighter, and it’s cheaper to make.
The car corners flat, understeers if you press it hard enough, but feels very faithful, always turning more if suddenly required to by a corner whose radius tightens. There’s no throttle-off oversteer, just a well-tamed tendency to tighten its line. The ride is firm but the damping feels sophisticated, and the whole car rides quietly. In that way it matches the engine refinement: the subdued idle and smoothness of the 2.2 litre engine when dawdling in town belies its impressive power and torque when roused.
Should I buy one?
The T180, scheduled for first British deliveries in April, comes in three- or five-door versions. At £18,295, the three-door is £500 cheaper, better-looking, and has identical interior space, so it would be our choice. The car gets good-looking 17-inch wheels with 45-series tyres but no spare at all, only a tube of get-you-home tyre repair mousse. Otherwise, equipment is impressive: you get traction and stability controls, climate control, a quality radio/CD system, a tilt/slide sunroof, electric/heated exterior mirrors and a cruise control with speed-limiter function built in. The only thing you’ll really need to pay for is Toyota’s efficient (but at £1500, hideously expensive) integrated sat-nav.
Traditionalists will probably want to debate whether the T180 is a true hot hatch, given its lack of an 8000 rpm redline, an inspirational exhaust note and various other “Type R” trappings, but on the road it’s poised and quick, which for many drivers is what really counts. Chuck in the refinement, the economy, the extended touring range and the depth of equipment, and you have a highly desirable all-rounder.