Latest Auris majors on quality, 450 miles in a Ferrari FF, Campbell's Bluebird runs again, Jules Bianchi remembered
Steve Cropley Autocar
3 August 2015

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.

Our Verdict

Toyota Auris

The new Toyota Auris is super-rational and a good ownership proposition, but it lacks character and dynamics of the best in class

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MONDAY - Debate in the office about the government’s plan to increase the period before which cars need annual MOTs from three years to four.

There has been predictable whingeing from garage groups, but as the owner of a motley bunch of cars and bikes, I reckon it can only be good. Means our newish cars are easier to own and those that need annual titivation continue to get it. What’s the problem?

TUESDAY/WEDNESDAY - Perfect excuse for a 450-mile round trip in the Ferrari FF: the National Motor Museum decided to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 150mph land speed record at Pendine Sands by using the actual car, restored in their own workshops, to recreate the event.

Arrived expecting an attendance of two men and a dog, but when it was time to run (4pm), the place was stacked. You couldn’t move for enthusiasts and curious tourists.

Driven by Campbell’s grandson, Don Wales, the car looked and sounded wonderful – as did Brooklands’ Napier-Railton, also along for the drive. How great to see what might have been viewed as an old-world event become such a popular success.

THURSDAY - Reading and watching coverage of the sad death of F1’s Jules Bianchi, killed in a freak collision with a recovery vehicle during the Japanese Grand Prix last year, I’m struck by the quality and generosity of the comments from what at times can seem a cheap and tawdry sport.

I never met Bianchi, but he seems to have been a fine young bloke. It’s some small compensation, I suppose, that his demise has brought better safety procedures. 

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3 August 2015
Nice to see an Autocar journalist "getting" hybrids. Perhaps when group testing them in future they can be compared to other petrol automatics, rather than diesel manuals. Now if only the boorish gender denigrations, such as "Steering Committee", can be eliminated, perhaps automotive journalism can enter the 21st century.

3 August 2015
I disagree that the Auris is better looking than a Focus. The facelift Focus is a big improvement, one that works really well. The Auris is a mess of shapes and lines. Being more interesting than a Golf is hardly difficult either. I know beauty is the eye of the beholder, but I don't find any in the Auris. Actually, I don't see any in Toyota's current range.

3 August 2015
superstevie wrote:

I know beauty is the eye of the beholder, but I don't find any in the Auris. Actually, I don't see any in Toyota's current range.

Doesn't the GT 86 deserve some grudging admiration in a world of jacked-up hatchbacks?

3 August 2015
PS I'm not saying the Auris is a bad car, I've never driven one. Many people slate my car (Citroen C4 hatch) for many reasons, and looks are one of them. I know it isn't class best, but I find it more than up to the job I need it to do, and I know an Auris would as well.

3 August 2015
The "problem" I suspect is that there are significant numbers of cars that do interstellar mileages in three years that will have a number of worn compnents by that age. If the interval changes to four years then we'll have taxis and company vehicles with shot dampers and brakes risking our safety and their drivers safety further.

Its alarming how often I see vans and cars at relatively young ages with extreme wheel hop when travelling on the motorway. The imapct on braking distances from shot dampers is alarming

3 August 2015
And similarly, those who "get" CVT will likely enjoy the Honda ones. I like CVT, in the right circumstances, and once in the right mental groove. Foot to the floor or trying to keep up with TDi's is definitely not the best way with them in my experience, and although I've not driven a Toyota hybrid, I expect rather the same applies to them too. I can fully understand why they are not popular with driver-focussed road testers though. Mind you, I did see a Prius beat an Elise "off the line" once, it was quite funny really.

3 August 2015
As an owner of a Prius and Avensis, I can only agree. It's especially gratifying to see my own sentiments about the Toyota hybrid drivetrain echoed by a journalist, most of who just seem to live on planet Nurburgring.

I've always been particularly mystified when reading new car reviews complaining about the "whining CVT gearbox", yet when I drive our Prius I find myself wishing that all cars were as quiet and refined in everyday usage. I'm glad Steve gets this too.

3 August 2015
The early Rav4 was mentioned. How come, with all this niche filling, no-one makes a compact, 3 door 'sporty' SUV? Back problems mean I now have to consider something higher built, short front doors are a problem for me on small 5-door models, and I only need a small car. Surely this niche isn't any more far fetched than some that are being filled nowadays?

3 August 2015
I really do think car testers (and hi-fi magazines) place far too much emphasis on subtle differences which are mainly evident when jumping from one car to the next. Live with any car for a period, and you'll notice benefits (as well as niggles) that were not evident to start with. I'm also a great fan of CVTs. Once you get over the "foot flat to the floor at all times" mentality, you come to appreciate their smooth, relaxed and economical nature. I also remember that they were one tested by the Williams team before being subsequently banned for F1 - so they can perform well too.

4 August 2015
A lot of sense in the article and the comments.I recently replaced a much-loved but subsequently written-off Honda Insight with a first generation Auris Hybrid. From road tests in magazines, you would think I would be dead with boredom within a week but I love the car. Being a car enthusiast, in my opinion, isn't just about relishing performance. You can get excited by tech, quality engineering and so forth. Our family has to drive automatics. My fuel consumption has halved going from conventional petrol auto to hybrid and I do 30k miles per year, so that matters more than worrying about very occasional CVT whine.


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