Test drive: Toyota Auris Hybrid – Falling into a trance image

Toyota allures more and more customers towards its hybrid quest and the Auris compact hatchback stands right on top of the automaker’s efficient taskforce.

There is no other manufacturer in the automotive industry that has made such huge efforts to promote the hybrid technology than Toyota. The Japanese automaker has been a pioneer in this direction, launching the first mass-market hybrid in late 1997, namely Prius, the iconic model of the green movement. However, 19 years later, everyone from companies to customers would have been expected for the trend to be more overwhelming than is today. Even if technology has made some progress, the improvement is not that spectacular, making many customers skeptical.

But things are slowly progressing, also driven by Volkswagen’s diesel scandal- by a small extend though – which made some of the buyers look to more environmentally-friendly alternatives, especially towards hybrids. And this is because electric cars still have more hurdles to overpass before they become mainstream. However, hybrids are mainstream, as they are not much more expensive than the “traditional” models and their official fuel consumptions figures are very appealing.

Coming back to Toyota, the company keeps pushing forward with its hybrid idea and such persistence has started to pay its dividends, making the compact hatchback Auris the best-seller of the segment in Europe. In fact, the top 10 most wanted hybrids of 2015 on the continent show the first seven models to be made by Toyota and its Lexus division. But Auris is leading without any worries and more than half of all Auris sold by the firm are hybrids. So, why is that?

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Design. Interior. Trims
With the launch of the Auris Hybrid in 2010, Toyota became the first automaker to offer a choice of three powertrains in the segment. Today, in the face of limited, and expensive competition, the model remains a good proposition, as the VW Golf plug-in hybrid is way more expensive. To keep the movement flowing, the hatchback received last year a facelift treatment which significantly improved the dull look of its predecessor.

The front and rear of the Auris have been redesigned to give it a visually broader and leaner stance. The rework on the new pointy face includes new slim swept-back headlights, a smaller grille with a bigger Toyota logo and a lower grille that now runs the full width of the car. To the rear, there are also new sharply-angled backlights, while the lower half has been completely redesigned once again to fit nicely into the newer daring theme.

Moving inside, it definitely feels like an upscale step, but the overall layout is not that coherent in terms of design and materials used, decent though, and does not rise to the same levels that you would find on other hatchback rivals, particularly on the German ones. You will find all kinds of shapes, a mix of soft and hard plastics, white stiches, silver and black shiny finishes, some new switch controls for the AC, and flat and round buttons. The dashboard’s highlight is the 7-inch glossy touch screen (available depending on the market and trim level), while the driver’s instrument binnacle now features a tubed tachometer and speedometer dials either side of a new 4.2-inch colour TFT screen with all the info you need.

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The driver has a comfortable position up front and he has multiple adjustment levels for the steering wheel and seats. However, if you have a clear view of the road ahead, looking back could prove challenging, as the rear window is rather narrow and tiny. Therefore, it would be wise to choose the trim with the rear camera and parking sensors. In the back, there is a decent amount of shoulder and head space, but a little bit tight on the knees. Room is decent and within the average of the segment, but squeezing three passengers would not be advisable. The boot is also mainstream, with 360 liters for the luggage, to which you have easy access due to a wide opening. Furthermore, thanks to the flat-folding of the rear seats, the volume increases to 1,200 liters.

Pricewise, a hybrid is not such a scary business anymore. The “friendlier” Auris starts around 20,500 euros (23,110 dollars) for which you receive 15-inch wheels, LED lights with follow-me-home function, auto AC, multifunction steering wheel, the 4.2-inch colour TFT info screen, an entry level audio system with mp3, USB and Bluetooth. The higher trim goes over 25,000 euros, but it comes with many extra goodies, such as 17 inch wheels, sportier seats, 7-inch touch screen, dual climate, parking assist system, reverse camera, panoramic roof and with many active safety features, of course.

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On the road
The Auris hybrid features the well-known setup, made up of a 1.8 liter VVT-i underpowered 99 PS petrol engine, helped by an electric motor generating 82 PS and linked to nickel metal-hydride batteries. Working together, the whole system can develop up to 136 PS and push the hatchback from 0 to 100 km/h in 10,9 seconds. Toyota stubbornly sticks to its idea of fitting a continuously-variable transmission, which can be controlled via a joystick-like tiny stick.

In the hybrid world, patience is a virtue and the driver will have to adapt. It is not and disadvantage by any means, as in a chaotic and agitated traffic it is refreshing to be educated by your car to calm yourself. Auris silently starts after a push of a button, and only a blimp on the screen tells you that the car is ready to go. Gently press the gas pedal, and you move forward in tranquility without the interference of the petrol unit. If the batteries are full, it can go up to two kilometers continuously at speeds of up to about 50 km/h in full zero-emissions mode, but that means holding up all the traffic behind you. Of course, it is an idealistic situation that cannot be achieved in the real-world every-day traffic. But the learning process has just started for you.

You need more grunt to keep up with the flow, thus you need to squeeze a little harder the gas and the engine fires up, but without making its presence felt. However, you will hear it loud and clear when the need for power is greater and you only have to blame the CVT transmission. Put your right foot down firmly and the 1.8 liter VVT-i will yell back at you with a rather squeaky tone. But once it finds its rhythm, the overall hybrid system works surprisingly pleasant and in a peaceful manner. The cabin remains quiet even at high speeds, up to the point when, again, you will need more power.

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The driver is eventually forced into mastering the balance of technology and if he succeeds, the experience behind the wheel becomes a surprisingly positive one. There are also three selectable modes to play with, depending on the mood: Eco, normal and power. There is obviously no rev counter. It would pointless on a single variable gear. Instead, an analog dial shows in which state the system finds itself at that point.

Another welcoming surprise is Auris’s composed on-road posture, thanks to its firm but now upsettingly rigid suspensions, with double wishbone layout on the back. The only distress on curvy roads comes from the same CVT which makes the engine struggle, especially uphill, and from the light steering.

Fuel consumption
This is the era when everyone expects miracles from a hybrid, but there are no wonders here. The official specs show 3.4 up to 3.9 l/100 km in an urban environment, and this varies with the trim levels. The heavier the car, the more consumption increases, especially with a glass roof. The real-world city traffic is a cruel place and it would be a true miracle to achieve a figure under 5.0 liters/100 km. Depending on traffic, weather and the driver’s serenity, it is more likely for Auris hybrid to return somewhere between 5.5 and 7.0 l/100, which is still a good fuel consumption for a petrol-powered unit. The worst average fuel economy figure that the computer showed was 7.1 on a Monday morning, while 4.8 was the best one on some country roads at a very quiet pace.

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Final words
Auris Hybrid will not disappoint you overall and most importantly it will guide you to control your impulses behind the wheel. The CVT is likely to stir some grimaces from time to time though. It comes to the unavoidable comparison between this technology and any mainstream choices. It depends if you embrace the “greener” trend in the end and if Volkswagen’s scandal left some marks and rose some questions within you. Price-wise, it also a debatable subject, as many governments have appealing incentive policies to lure customers to this route and ticking all the feature-boxes of a rival model would mean comparable price-tags. So, which way will you take?

Technical specs:

Price
Starting price
Toyota Auris Hybrid “Terra” – 20,671 EUR
Tested version
Toyota Auris Hybrid “Sol” – 23,663 EUR

Engine
1,798 cc four cylinder, DOHC 16 valves, direct injection, start & stop
Power: 99 PS (73 kW) at 5,200 rpm
Torque: 142 Nm at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: CVT continuously-variable transmission
Electric: 82 PS /207 Nm / 202 V
System hybrid: 136 PS

Dimensions
Length – 4,330 mm, Width – 1,760 mm, Height – 1,475 mm, Wheelbase – 2,600 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 45 liters
Trunk Capacity: 360 / 1,200 liters
Weight: 1,310-1,430 kg

Performances
0 – 100 km/h: 10.9 s
Top Speed: 180 km/h
Fuel consumption – higher trim: urban – 3.9 l/100 km, extra urban – 3.9 l/100 km, average – 3.9 l/100 km
Fuel consumption – entry trim: urban – 3.4 l/100 km, extra urban – 3.4 l/100 km, average – 3.5 l/100 km
CO2: 91 g/km

Rating
4.2 / 5