What is it?
This is the new Toyota Auris which, according to Toyota’s PR blurb, promises a "stronger emotional appeal". The company says it recognises that Toyota has always been a "rational choice" for customers, but promises this car is for "people who want to feel more connected to their car through the way it looks and drives".
The Auris's styling is a good deal more modern than that of its predecessor (and quite slippy, with a drag coefficent of 0.277), although you’d be hard pressed to immediately identify the brand behind it. It’s based on the same platform as the previous model, with the same 2.6m wheelbase. At a touch under 4.3m long, the Auris is one of the shortest cars in the Ford Focus class.
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.
The new front seats have impressively supportive and upright backs and the driving position is sound.
The least enticing aspect of the Auris is probably the remarkably upright cliff-face dash, which is surprisingly intrusive and does little for what interior ambience the car possesses. The rest of the cabin – such as the centre console arrangement – is all perfectly logical and tightly screwed together, but the cabin complete lacks any kind of design flair or spark.
What's it like?
Under the bonnet is the relatively modest, but mechanically updated 1.4-litre turbodiesel engine, turning a six-speed manual gearbox. The shift action is clean, although the lever is long and it’s time for a new gearknob. 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.
This version of the Auris gets a beam axle at the rear and Toyota says the car is 55mm lower and 40kg lighter than the previous model, with a 40mm lower driving position helping lower the car’s centre of gravity. The electric power steering has a quicker ratio (14.8:1, down from 16:1) and the steering column has been stiffened.
All of which, sadly, doesn’t add up to much excitement. Yes, the Auris is highly competent, stable and goes neatly where the driver wants to put it, but the steering still feels a little slow and the Auris’s nose could be quicker to come to heal.
The beam axle at the rear 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 VW’s new MQB-based cars.
Should I buy one?
In Icon specification, the Auris is nicely specced (climate control, DAB, touchscreen, rear camera). It also gets a five-year, 100,000 mile warranty, it’s made in the UK and it’s a neat, well sized, package.
But despite Toyota’s attempts to inject some life into its Focus competitor, it remains a deeply rational, unemotional choice for drivers who are not interested in uplifting interior design or 'get up and go' dynamics.