Evolution rather than revolution with Auris

First impressions are that this car is an evolutionary upgrade rather than a revolution

Toyota Auris 1.4 D-4D Luna

Make: Toyota

Model: Auris 1.4 D-4D Luna

Year: 2013

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: May 28, 2015

Fri, Mar 1, 2013, 13:26

   

ROAD TEST: "The best built cars in the world,” is the pitch that drove thousands of Irish motorists to put their money in Toyotas for the past 40 years. It was ingenious, playing on the strengths of the Japanese brand at a time when it was common to see sleeker and sportier cars sitting by the side of the road, steam rolling out from under their bonnets.

Toyota had a bumpy road in recent years but it’s back with a bang. Profits have hit five-year highs and the production lines are humming. Yet there is a promise of more change with the motoring behemoth.

The issue, as evinced by its current boss, is that for all its success – becoming the world’s biggest car producer and a benchmark for manufacturing production of every type – the brand has lacked passion.

The scion of the Toyoda family who now runs the firm, Akio is honest about the firm’s public perception and ambitious. If anyone can deliver a new-look Toyota, he can.

And he has a solid foundation. The big- selling models may not set pulses racing, but the Land Cruiser remains one of the best cars ever built, while the new GT-86 revives its sports car heritage. Yet these are peripheral models with limited market appeal: the real change must take place at its conservative core.

So what does the new Auris say about Akio’s Toyota? First impressions are that it’s an evolutionary upgrade rather than a revolution. Lines are a little sharper, the creases a little crisper and the front nose design a little softer, yet it doesn’t look very different from the outgoing Auris. That said, in this relatively conservative segment of the market all the competitors seem to have morphed into the same look. From the Ford Focus to the VW Golf and recent Korean arrivals, the hatchback market doesn’t offer much in the way of revolutionary design.

The biggest revamp is inside, where Toyota has taken on board criticism of the cheaper plastics and finish on the original Auris. This is a big improvement on the outgoing model, in function and finish.

The controls are not as complex as its Ford rival, but that could be regarded as a boon. For all the extra features in the Focus range, its central console and steering wheel is too cluttered with fiddly buttons and tiddly switches. The Auris controls quickly become easy to use without taking your eyes off the road.

Unlike its rivals, Toyota is not pushing technology in its family hatchback. Where others offer lane-keeping assist, speed limit sign alerts, and emergency automatic city braking in their smaller cars, Toyota has eschewed turning the Auris into a tech showcase.

It’s not that the firm doesn’t have the technology – its Lexus models are awash with tech innovations – but it seems to have decided not to load the car with kit. Instead it offers functional features like bluetooth and a decent touchscreen media system.

Practically speaking the space inside has also been improved, giving the Auris a sense of mini-MPV. In the back there’s room for three adults in relative comfort; not quite Avensis leg-room but good for the price. Bootspace at 360 litres is fine for family needs.

On the road the Auris is not a match for the Focus or mid-range Golfs. Take rear-end cornering – in the Focus you feel the rear is fighting the physics of the cornering motion. In the Auris the rear end is more a neutral observer.

On a particularly windy day the test car also seemed quite prone to be thrown about.

The 1.4-litre D-4D diesel in our test car is a solid performer and relatively refined, offering up a competitive emissions range of 99g/km in the Terra and Aura spec, and 103g/km in the Luna. However it doesn’t set new standards in terms of performance. A 0-100km/h time of 12.5 seconds and an official fuel consumption figure of 3.9 l/100km (72.4mpg) sum up its performance: impressively frugal but not fast.

While the Auris entry level price is very competitive, its specification levels are a bit perplexing. Three specification grades are on offer but the middle grade Terra only differs from entry-level version by having automatic air-conditioning. For this upgrade you pay €1,000 on the diesel version and a whopping €2,075 on the petrol one. It means the Auris buyer has a choice between entry-level Terra or top-level Luna. For features like Bluetooth you need to opt for the higher grade, which is a pity given that most motorists have mobile phones and would find the feature useful. It’s time for car firms to make Bluetooth a standard feature and not just bundled in with the more expensive high-end packages.

On a like-for-like comparison with our Luna test car there’s still a sizeable price gap in the market between the Hyundai i30, a finalist for the European car of the year, and the equivalent new VW Golf.

The new Auris sits in the middle of the price spread, which is fitting for a car that falls in the middle of our list of favoured hatchbacks.

The Focus remains more fun to drive, the Golf a quasi-premium entrant, while the i30 is an impressive package at a really competitive price. The Auris is a mix of all these without standing out in any one area.

The decision to split the established Corolla brand in two several years ago – renaming the hatchback version as the Auris while keeping the Corolla name just for the saloon – has fed a misperception that Toyota are not as strong in the family market as it once was. Add sales of the two together and you find that Toyota’s Auris/ Corolla range is the second-biggest seller here this year with 800 registrations last month. That shows the loyal following Toyota retains and why its bosses are loathe to go for a complete overhaul.

Akio Toyoda’s ambition to add passion to the brand has a way to go before it delivers. The GT86 – a car of the year finalist in Europe - shows Toyota can deliver motoring desire. Yet at its heart is a conservatism that’s evident in the new Auris.

The problem is that the Auris risks getting squeezed in the middle ground. Rivals like Hyundai and Kia have closed the gap in build quality and value, while the Golf and Focus are pushing expectations further upmarket. The new Auris is an evolutionary improvement when a bit more revolution might have made more of a statement of intent.

The lowdown: Toyota Auris 1.4 D-4D Luna

ENGINE: 1364cc diesel putting out 90bhp @ 3,800rpm and 205Nm of torque from 1,800rpm

0-100km/h: 12.5 seconds

FUEL ECONOMY: 3.9 L/100km (72.4 mpg)

FEATURES: Standard spec includes: seven airbags including driver’s knee airbag; stability and traction control; daytime running lights; stop/start technology; electric front windows; USB/iPod connection; electric heated wing mirrors; 15” wheels; Aura adds: climate control (automatic air conditioning). Luna adds: 16” alloys; Toyota Touch System with 6.1” touch screen; rear-view camera; Bluetooth mobile phone hands free system with music streaming; electric rear windows

PRICE: €23,995 (starts €18,995 for 1.3-litre petrol Terra)

THE RIVALS: Ford Focus 1.6 TDi Titanium – €24,535; Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDi Comfortline – €25,295; Hyundai i30 Deluxe – €20,495
 

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