Published on Monday 22 December 2014 12:00
Ten Second Review
The Toyota Auris Hybrid was the epitome of functionality in its first generation guise. With this second generation model, Toyota has made it better looking and a far more covetable commodity, whether you go for the hatch or the Touring Sports estate. It hasn't gone soft on the environmental message though. Expect as much as 74.3mpg and as little as 84g/km.
I'd be surprised if many Prius owners were even aware that there were other hybrid models in Toyota's range. To many, the Prius is the alpha and omega of hybrid cars and that's all there is to it. But alongside the big-selling Prius was sold the almost universally overlooked Auris Hybrid. I had the opportunity to drive the two cars back to back and came to the conclusion that I'd have taken the Auris given the choice. There was just something delightfully unshowy about it. It was solid, functional, it did a job and it wasn't particularly fussed whether people realised or not. This might have held some appeal to those who favour discretion, but it's really not a great template for big sales.
The second generation Auris is a bit more extrovert. It's better looking and created a few oohs and ahhs when the curtain was whipped off it at the 2012 Paris Motor Show. Like its predecessor, you can buy a hybrid version. Is this the moment the Auris Hybrid finally steps out of the Prius's shadow?
What are the priorities when it comes to hybrid vehicle dynamics? In order, refinement, then refinement followed by refinement. People don't buy these cars to fling round corners or smoke the tyres away from the lights. A good hybrid hatchback should be about pure relaxation and low stress. It should promote a calm, measured driving style and remind the driver that the journey can be enjoyed in ways other than outbraking someone into a roundabout. Extensive soundproofing in the engine bay, front wheel arches and dashboard has reduced engine and road noise intrusion in the cabin of the latest Auris Hybrid. The 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine was already one of the smoothest in its class and with the addition of the electric motor, it's also reasonably brisk. It'll make 62mph in 10.9 seconds on the way to 112mph.
The suspension has actually been softened, but that's only because the chassis is now so much stiffer and the suspension components so much lighter that you'll now get a better ride whilst improving handling as well. Improvements have been made to the electric power steering: a more rigid steering column attachment ensures a linear steering feel. Plus a new control unit suppresses changes in steering force to further improve the linear performance. It also helps that a high gear ratio gives greater responsiveness. The result is steering that is more direct with better feedback and quicker turning, making the Auris a good deal more agile. When operating its switchable all-electric EV mode, the Auris Hybrid generates zero CO2, NOx and particulates for distances up to 1.2 miles at speeds up to about 31mph, according to the level of battery charge and driving conditions.
Design and Build
Auris Hybrid buyers get to choose either a five-door hatchback bodystyle or the Touring Sports estate. We tried the ordinary hatch and found a few aesthetic hybrid-specific styling touches. The lower grille and lower part of the rear bumper are finished in a graphite gloss paint and the Toyota emblems on the bonnet and tailgate are finished in hybrid blue. Hybrid logos are featured on the front wings and there is a hybrid mark on the tailgate. Other features exclusive to the Hybrid also include LED rear light clusters and new 15 and 17-inch Turbine alloy wheels.
A hybrid meter and specific Eco Drive Support monitor feature on the dashboard. The gear lever is finished in hybrid blue and there is hybrid-specific ornamentation on the instrument panel. According to grade, the instrument panel has a hybrid blue brushed aluminium finish. Ice blue leather or black leather inserts will be available on higher grades.
Although it looks a much bigger car, the overall length of the Auris has only grown by 30mm and the wheelbase remains the same at 2,600mm. To those who appreciate a little symmetry, both front and rear overhangs have been extended by 15mm. The overall height has been lowered by 55mm (45mm in the cabin and 10mm in the ride height), making the Auris one of the lowest cars in its segment. The boot is more flexible in design, too, with a dual-level deckboard and 60:40 split-folding rear seats on all versions, including this Auris Hybrid. How? By moving the batteries below the rear seat. Luggage capacity has increased to 360-litres in the hatch as a result. In the Touring Sports estate version, you get 530-litres - or 1,658-litres with the rear bench folded.
Market and Model
Auris Hybrid pricing starts at around £20,000 - and there's an £1,100 premium if you want the Touring Sports estate version. That means you're looking at a premium of around £1,500 over the conventional 130bhp 1.6-litre Valvematic petrol model in each case.
This hybrid model is available in Icon and Excel trims. Icon features 15-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker DAB stereo, the Toyota Touch multimedia control screen with Bluetooth and a rear view camera, plus some leather on the wheel and gear shifter. The top Excel model gets the lot thrown at it. There's velour and leather seating, dual zone climate control, park assist, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, Smart Entry and Start, cruise control, dusk-sensing lights and so on.
That's on top of kit like seven airbags, a follow-me-home lighting system, Hill-start Assist Control, Vehicle Stability Control and LED daytime running lights. The Active grade includes automatic air conditioning, a four-speaker CD audio system with USB and AUX connection, electrically adjustable, heated, body-coloured door mirrors and electric front windows. All that lot for around £20k seems a big ask but Toyota has pulled it off. There's a premium of around £1,800 to find if you want to graduate from the Icon variant to the plusher Excel model.
Cost of Ownership
You probably don't need me to tell you that the overall three year running costs of a diesel Auris are going to be lower than those of a hybrid. Not by a massive amount but by maybe three pence per mile. Plus, there's the lower initial outlay to consider. So you don't buy a hybrid if ruthless cost cutting is what you're all about. Nevertheless, it's hard to be unimpressed by the latest Auris Hybrid's numbers.
The CO2 emissions and fuel returns vary a little with the trim level chosen. Icon hatch models can return 84g/km - or 85g/km in the Touring Sports estate. Combined cycle consumption is 74.3mpg. If you go for a plush Excel hatch though, the C02 figure is 91g/km and the fuel figure 72.4mpg.
Which means that overall, even a top Auris Hybrid model will cost less for a company to offer on its fleet than a more modestly specified, mid-grade Focus, Astra or Golf. For the company car driver, the personal savings are considerable too. More than £2,000 compared to a Focus with similar power output and more than £1,500 compared to a Golf over three years and 60,000 miles.
If there's one word that keeps being repeated by those who've driven the Auris Hybrid, it's 'civilised'. It changes the way you drive for the better. Nothing seems quite so important that you need to rush. It's far more pleasant to just waft along, enjoy some radio, take in the view and use all that spare processing power in your brain that was being devoted to trying to get the drop on the next guy into driving more courteously and economically. Personally, I don't do this in a diesel car. I just keep trying to prod the turbocharger with a stick. So while a diesel might prove a little cheaper to run, if you're anything like me, there are plenty of reasons why you might prefer a hybrid.
Even looking beyond the hybrid running gear, this Auris brings a lot more to the party. It's a whole lot better looking than before, with much more considered detailing. For what it's worth, the driving dynamics have improved across the range but the emphasis has been on comfort and refinement, which only serves to make the Hybrid feel even more hushed. If you feel like dipping out of the rush hour rat race, the Toyota Auris Hybrid makes a very attractive haven. Think of it as a detox for your commute.