Concerned by lukewarm reactions to its mass-market models, enlightened Toyota boss Akio Toyoda demanded sharper looks and proportions aong with weight distribution reconfigured to provide a more engaging drive.
So while both platform and wheelbase are carried over from the Auris Mk1 – it has the same 2.6m wheelbase as the previous car and is a touch under 4.3m long – that’s about where the similarities end.
The Auris’s styling is a good deal more modern than that of its predecessor (and quite slippy, with a drag coefficient of 0.277). It is also one of the shortest cars in the Focus class, while weight drops by an average of 50kg across the range.
It’s decently spacious in the front, so there’s a lot to be said for the Auris’s compact package, especially in urban areas. Boot space, at 350 litres, is class average, although the false boot floor (which allows a flat loading bay when the rear seats are folded down) makes it harder to exploit.
Those seeking more load space, however, could always opt for Toyota's estate variant of the Auris, called the Touring Sports.
By lowering the Auris's roofline and reducing its ride height, Toyota has reduced the centre of gravity which in turn affords 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. The new front seats have impressively supportive and upright backs and the driving position is sound.
There are five trims to peruse through - Active, Icon, Business Edition, Design and Excel. Entry-level models get steel wheels, LED day-running-lights, climate control, front electric windows and USB connectivity as standard, while hybrid models get 15in alloys and keyless start added.
Upgrade to Icon and you get 16in alloys, Toyota Safety Sense technology, electric windows, a reversing camera, and Touch 2 infotainment system complete with a 7.0in touchscreen display, DAB radio and Bluetooth, while the fleet-friendly Business Edition adds cruise control, heated seats and sat nav.
The mid-range Design models gain 17in alloy wheels, Alcantara-clad sports seats, tinted rear windows and cruise control, while the flagship Excel Aurises get LED headlights, sat nav, auto wipers and lights, dual-zone climate control and parking sensors included in the package.
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. Higher specification cars – including the petrol-electric hybrid and the 128bhp petrol – get a double wishbone rear suspension arrangement, while lesser Aurises retain a twist beam.
The electric power steering has a quicker ratio (14.8:1, down from 16:1) and the steering column has been stiffened. The happy surprise is that the Auris gels competently on the road, at least when it is equipped with the smaller (and more fuel efficient) 16-inch wheel rims.
Many will be pleased to find that the ride is pleasingly compliant and that 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 steering wheel feeling overly light.
The Auris is stable and goes neatly where the driver wants to put it, but the steering still feels a little slow and the car’s nose could be quicker to come to heel. The beam axle employed at the rear of some models induces more than a little joggle to the ride when it encounters poor roads. The chassis feels straightjacketed, so the Auris lacks the fluidity and spark that you’ll get from a Focus or the delicacy of one of Volkwagen’s latest MQB-based cars.
Engine choices begin with the entry-level 1.33-litre petrol. It produces 98bhp and 94lb ft and emits 125g/km of CO2. The engine offers the potential for extremely low running costs, although the sheer effort required to wring reasonable out-of-town speeds from it is more than you would have to expend in plenty of other small petrol-powered cars.
The buzzy engine is never a relaxing or enjoyable motor to use. It feels strained even at normal motorway speeds and doesn’t provide the flexibility that you require for easy progress on a typical B-road.
A turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol is also offered, and it feels much more capable. It offers 113bhp and 136lb ft, while Toyota's claims suggest 52.3mpg is possible on the combined cycle, equating to CO2 emissions of 112g/km.
The oil burning options include a mechanically updated 1.4-litre turbodiesel that produces 89bhp and returns CO2 emissions of 99g/km in certain specifications and a 1.6-litre unit which produces 109bhp and 199lb ft of peak twist. The motor’s distinctive rattle from cold hardly changes even when the engine is up to temperature.
It’s not massively intrusive, but it’s hardly the most hushed. Performance is completely adequate in urban conditions although it has be coaxed along at UK motorway speeds.
The Hybrid variant is more than a casual nod towards green motoring; it’s an integral part of the hatchback’s range, accounting for roughly one-third of total Auris sales, sharing the market equally with the petrol and diesel equivalents.
Using the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) system similar to that found in the Prius, the second-generation Auris Hybrid has a relocated battery pack. Sliding the cells under the rear seats means less compromise in terms of boot space compared to the Mk1 vehicle. Toyota modified the Auris’s carry-over platform to achieve this.
The infamous whining band-saw revvings of the 1.8-litre HSD powertrain have been reduced, but this slightly unnatural sound is still there and doesn’t exactly encourage you to stretch the car’s legs.
The engine gets an Eco mode, which gives you a better chance of scoring a heart-warming economy figure, although you’re unlikely to see 70mpg. You also have up to 1.2 low-speed miles in EV mode.It all adds interest to a complex car, although you might end up preoccupied by the cliff-like structure and cheap detailing of the unprepossessing dashboard. It’s perfectly functional but not great to look at, somewhat spoiling this otherwise usefully upgraded Auris.
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.
The Volkswagen Golf Mk6 was the benchmark for this Toyota, but you won’t believe that when you sit in it. That’s a pity, because progress has been made in terms of refinement, agility, convenience and low running costs. This is undoubtedly a better Auris, but it still flails in the VW’s wake.
Despite Toyota’s attempts to inject some life into the Auris, it remains a deeply rational, unemotional choice for drivers who are not interested in uplifting interior design or ‘get up and go’ dynamics.