There's no three-door with the second generation model but a wagon will follow from mid-year
No rival has followed Toyota Motor Europe into the segment it created in 2010 with the Auris Hybrid. Undaunted, TME has just launched a second generation model. Glenn Brooks tries it for size and finds it an intriguing alternative to a Golf TDI.
As I write this, the snow continues to fall over most of the UK and outside a Honda CR-Z press review car is parked on an icy, silent street. But last week, we had sunshine, mild temperatures and the roads near where I live buzzed with the usual passing traffic. How quickly things change. I'm itching to take the Honda out for a proper drive as it will be my first experience with a manual transmission hybrid car.
I wonder does a typical owner get excited about the idea of taking their Auris Hybrid out for a drive? I doubt it, but that doesn't mean it is a car unworthy of the interest of we who make our living from the automotive industry. As a piece of engineering, it's hard not to be impressed. There are all sorts of clever things going on beneath its bonnet, and also under its rear seat, where the battery pack now resides, Toyota having found a way to package the cells so that they no longer steal boot space, as was the case with the old model.
Other improvements over the first generation car centre include the automatic gearbox, which no longer sounds like it can't find the right ratio when you put your foot down hard. The E-CVT planetary gear transmission has had a lot of attention so that, in Toyota's words, there is a 'closer relationship between vehicle speed and engine revs'. It's still not perfect, mind: my other half asked "what's wrong with the car?" when I accelerated to climb a steep hill.
I don't want to give the impression that I didn't enjoy my time with the Auris. I drove it 200 miles to the UK market launch of the new Golf and another 200 miles back home, which was a highly relevant test. The inevitable stationary period that comes as standard with most trips on the M25 motorway lasted for 45 minutes, but in the Auris, silence and calm ensued. Then when the traffic started creeping forward, a light touch on the throttle was all that was needed – no constant pushing and releasing of the clutch pedal, no tiresome 1-2-1 gearchanges. It felt like being in a Lexus CT 200h but minus the sports suspension.
The day after the M25 had held me captive for an extended mix adventure, I was on another motorway when suddenly the SatNav spoke to me, suggesting I divert to avoid the standing traffic that it claimed was one mile ahead. I did so, and saw the jam as I passed over it on the B-road that I had been re-routed onto. Stupidly, I had dismissed the system's warning the previous day so decided I'd better learn from that mistake. Clearly, this is one of the best systems out there, especially as it's so simple to use. It has changed my mind about ignoring advice that so-often claims to be in real-time but isn't.
It wasn't all standing traffic during my time with the car. There were long, clear runs at motorway speed, during which the Auris Hybrid was exceptionally quiet. I even tried to play the game of keeping the normally white economy gauge needle from glowing red by being light on the throttle where I could be. There is also much satisfaction to be had from seeing your braking drop the needle out of POWER, down through the ECO zone and into the CHG (charging) area of the gauge. Then, next time you're in standing traffic, hit the EV switch and spend some of that kinetic energy. The car will run up for up to a claimed 2km on its batteries alone at speeds of up to 50km/h (30mph).
Toyota says the petrol-electric Auris will return a Combined 74.3mpg with 76.3 quoted for both the Urban and Extra-Urban cycles. I myself saw just under 50mpg but I did have a lot of cold starts and high-speed driving over the course of the week.
The car is said to accelerate to 62mph in 10.9 seconds, and has a maximum speed of 112mph. The output of its Atkinson Cycle 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine and electric motor is 134bhp (100kW). The 2ZR-FXE engine is, like the car itself, built in Britain. The Deeside plant in north Wales which manufactures the 1,781cc unit was in fact the first Toyota powertrain facility outside Japan to make hybrid engines.
TME envisages a Europe-wide sales mix of one third petrol, one third diesel and one third hybrid powertrains for the new model. In the UK, the hybrid is expected to be biggest seller for the full year 2013, accounting for fully 40% of all Auris registrations. Much of the reason for that perhaps surprisingly high percentage is the combination of this car's 87g/km Co2 average and category A VED band. Company drivers are the obvious target market.
The launch of the new Auris plus the strength of the UK market should mean a very good year for the TMUK factory in the English Midlands. The 20-year-old plant can presently build 100,000 units of the Auris per annum, with an additional 50,000 to come from the estate. The five-door hatchback comes down the same line as the Avensis sedan and wagon, as will the Auris wagon once production of that car starts in the summer. And yes, there will be an estate version of the hybrid – product planners see a new sub-segment opening up with the launch of that car.
The doubters were many when TME launched the first generation Auris Hybrid, and I was one of them, but the new model does now present a convincing case to a large minority of buyers in Europe's C-segment of the merits of going petrol-electric. UK prices start at £19,995 for the well equipped Icon model grade, but if you can't live without heated leather-trimmed seats and a variety of other luxuries, then the £21,745 Excel variant is for you. The Touch and Go Navigation system is an extra £650 but for reasons mentioned above, I wouldn't buy an Auris without it.