SATURDAY - Spent a deeply enjoyable weekend driving the Toyota Auris Hybrid, a car that escaped my notice until company bosses invited the Steering Committee and me to a Cotswolds event to sample the firm’s latest cars plus a collection of past greats.
I’ve always liked Toyota’s values (whenever I’m asked what car to buy, I say: “A Volkswagen Golf or any Toyota”), but I suddenly see that my unchanging picture of dependability is at odds with the progress recent models have made.
This latest Auris is better looking than a Focus and more distinguished than a Golf. Its perceived quality is up there with the best, while on the move it’s one of those cars in which you forget to assess comfort, because there’s plenty. (Maybe if I ruled the Toyota world, I’d relax the damper rates a bit.)
The Prius/Auris accelerator gets rightly criticised for not responding as quickly as many, and the powertrain for having no poke to spare, but even this concern disappears once you ‘get’ the car. Its job is to deliver exceptional efficiency and frugality, so why blame it for not being a Nissan GT-R?
SUNDAY - Carefree morning reprising good Toyota times, first in a third-gen MR2 (the pretty one with no luggage space), then an early RAV4 (its sportiness has lessons for today’s SUVs) and a rear-drive Corolla TwinCam (with roistering 1.6-litre engine and 7700rpm redline). You forget how forward-looking some Toyotas have been.
Finished with a near-silent trip through Cheltenham’s suburbs in a 77,000-mile Mk1 Prius. It’s not the most beautiful car, and the underdeveloped suspension is distinctly bouncy, but its powertrain is amazingly refined.
You’ve got to admire the vision of the company’s management, which made a huge commitment to this technology when we road testers were moaning about hard dashboard plastics. Result? Seven million sales and counting. Now their successors are making comparisons between the Prius’s rate of climb and that of hydrogen-powered Toyotas to come.