Published on Sunday 20 April 2014 16:52
Ten Second Review
With sharper styling, keener driving dynamics, more equipment and extremely aggressive pricing, the Mk2 Toyota Auris is a big step forward. The interior might not be everyone's thing, but as an all round proposition it's a lot more compelling than you'd give it credit for. Factor in a five year, 100,000 mile warranty and it becomes a real contender in the family hatchback class. Especially in entry-level 1.3 VVT-i petrol form.
We buy cars for all sorts of reasons, some sensible and others rather more hedonistic. While it's the more extreme cars that naturally grab the headlines and set road testers trousers on fire, there's still a lot to be said for cars that work and work well in the real world: cars like this Toyota Auris. This is the second generation Auris model, and this model is the successor to the world's best selling car, the Corolla, so it has some huge boots to fill. The first Auris made some respectable numbers for Toyota but never really won many popularity contests in the UK. That's a bit of a shame as it was a good deal more interesting - especially inside - than it was billed.
So what of this second generation car? Stung by criticism that the old Auris was a bit dull, Toyota has sharpened the styling, focused the driving dynamics and priced it very keenly. Introduced at the start of 2013, it needs to be right on its mettle to compete in the hotly contested family hatchback market but it's got versatility on its side. And a decent entry-level 98bhp 1.33-litre petrol engine, the one on test here. Let's check it out.
With the old Auris you could pretty much skip over this driving experience section. With this MK2 model it's different. It doesn't take too long a drive to realise that the chassis has been developed by people who really know what they're doing. This 1.33 VVT-i model manages 0-62mph in 12.6s on the way to 109mph.
The rear suspension is an expensive multi-link arrangement that's usually reserved for plusher hatches like the Volkswagen Golf. It means that the Auris not only rides well but corners decently too. The ride quality is quite dependent on which size wheels you choose and if you prefer a comfortable ride, you should avoid ticking the options box for bigger alloys. Combine decent body control with accurate electrically assisted power steering and you have a car that can be hustled through a set of bends with some poise.
There's not a whole lot of feedback from the wheel but that comes with the territory with this class of car. The steering ratio has been quickened and you sit lower in the car than before which lowers the centre of gravity. The suspension system has been largely carried over from the old car but it has been comprehensively tweaked to offer better composure through corners.
Design and Build
While it's probably not my job to tell you whether a car is good looking or not, I can't help but think Toyota's designers have done a decent job with this latest Auris. The old car wasn't a bad looker, just a little bit anonymous. This time round it's as if everything has been sharpened and optimised to offer a much more extrovert design statement that Toyota calls 'Keen Look'.
Although the wheelbase is the same as before, overall length has increased by 30mm but some 55mm has been shaved off the height of the car. That sounds as if there's less occupant room inside than before but Toyota has boxed clever here with some ingenious ideas. The front seats have a much greater adjustment range, and a wider angle of steering wheel adjustment make it easier for drivers of all heights to find a comfortable position. There's 20mm more rear legroom and there's more space in the boot - 360 litres with the rear seats in place.
Although the design of the dashboard probably isn't going to win any prizes for style, it's ergonomically very sound. The steering wheel follows a similar philosophy. It looks a bit odd but the controls mounted on it work really well after a bit of practice.
Market and Model
Recognising that the rivals from this car are priced more aggressively than ever, Toyota has sensible kept prices reasonable. You can drive away a 1.33 petrol model for less than £15,000 and discounts may be available to private buyers who are a bit handy at haggling. As it stands, the entry-level models come with electric front windows, air conditioning, heated door mirrors and a stereo with USB and AUX-in connections that can play MP3 files off a disc. Go for a top of the range model and you'll find gear such as 17-inch alloys, a park-assist system, and heated front seats.
Interesting options? The Toyota Touch multimedia system on all but the entry-level cars can be upgraded to Touch & Go, introducing satellite navigation and more sophisticated on-board connectivity and Bluetooth functions. Then there's a Skyview panoramic roof, measuring 2,340 by 1,280mm and leather upholstery - two options that you can add to the range-topping model.
The Auris is as well endowed with safety gear as you'd imagine, with all models getting seven airbags, including twin-chamber front airbags and a driver's knee airbag; anti lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and brake assist; and (switchable) Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with traction control. There's Hill-start Assist Control and the front seatbelts are equipped with pre-tensioners and force limiters. Isofix child seat mounts are fitted to the outer rear seats. Youi can't find fault with that lot.
Cost of Ownership
Let's face it, you don't buy a Toyota Auris and then expect to be punted squarely in the wallet for the privilege. It's one of the cheapest cars in its class to run. Where the Korean marques earn a lot of good will because of their low pricing and are often forgiven for not having top drawer economy and emissions, Toyota - rightly or wrongly - is going to be judged by a harsher set of criteria. It stands up to that scrutiny as well. The 1.33-litre petrol we looked at still manages to return a combined economy figure of 52.3mpg and emissions of 125g/km.
Insurance is rated at groups 7 to 8. Residual values for such a clean and economical vehicle with a reliability record as good as this will also be strong. A five year, 100,000 mile warranty isn't going to do its future resale prospects any harm either.
Despite Toyota's best efforts, it's likely that most UK buyers won't appreciate how much the latest Auris has improved. But then family hatchback buyers tend not to be adventurous. Golf, Astra, Focus, Megane - they stick to the tried and tested. It's usually the case that choosing something a bit different from the main contenders results in a pretty serious monetary disadvantage when all the sums are calculated at resale time, but that's not the case with the second generation Auris. Particularly in the 1.33-litre VVT-i petrol form we've been looking at here, it's competitive against the best in class and its reliability record will probably ace all of the aforementioned usual suspects.
But then that's how you expect the Auris to compete. It's a number at the bottom of a bean counter's spreadsheet. What you don't expect is for it to be good fun to drive. You don't expect it to be sharp looking and you probably don't expect it to be seriously well equipped. This latest car is all of that and more. It still faces an uphill battle to get British buyers to place orders but those who do will be rewarded with a solid car that is - on the quiet - more fun than you'd ever give it credit for. I suspect this is going to be one of those cars that will grow on you as an ownership proposition. Toyota has thought long and hard about the latest Auris, priced it at little more than the Korean opposition and engineered it in a way that's thoroughly Toyota. It's made of the right stuff and it deserves your attention. Consider it rehabilitated.