Toyota is proud of the British-built Auris Hybrid, which mates Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive with the Corolla-replacing midsize hatchback. The bumf proclaims: ‘70mpg, 93g/km and a 700-mile range!’
‘Nothing to see here,’ whispers the standard exterior, with just discrete blue-tinted badging giving the game away. Unlike the Toyota Prius, which proclaims its earth-friendly image with a distinctive eco-car exterior, the Auris Hybrid is your standard humble Toyota motoring appliance, which just happens to qualify for zero road tax and escapes London’s congestion charge. But is it any good? Read our first drive review of the Auris Hybrid to find out.
Toyota Auris Hybrid T-Spirit: high-spec white goods
Our pearly white Auris HSD came in top-line T-Spirit trim, which includes Alcantara and leather seats, alloy wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic lights and wipers, and a reversing camera which displays in the rear-view mirror when activated. Whichever spec you choose you get a 1.8-litre 16-valve VVT petrol engine good for 98bhp on its own. Toyota claims you get a combined 134bhp from the full petrol-electric powertrain.
Drive is channeled through a CVT transmission to the front wheels, which offers standard D-for-Drive, as well as B-for-Braking to use on downhill roads where some additional engine braking is desirable. There are no pseudo-manual gears.
Drivers can select between 'EV', 'Eco' and 'Power' drive modes, with the former operating up to 30mph (but only for 1.2 miles on a full charge), the middle being the default mode, and the latter applying some aggression to the throttle map and transmission for performance over economy.
What's the Auris Hybrid like inside?
The interior is little-changed from a regular Auris, save for the addition of the Prius's stubby blue hybrid transmission shifter. Space is midsize-hatch comfortable front and rear, but alcantara and leather aside it's trimmed in materials seemingly chosen for economy and durability over desirability, in that grey Toyota way.
Our T-Spirit Auris includes USB and AUX inputs for your music player or phone, but lacks a sat-nav/infotainment screen as standard so you are denied the full eco-car plant cultivation graphics or powertrain flowcharts you'll spy in the Prius. This gives the driver more time to ponder what exactly the point is of the open space under the elevated gearshift console, and wonder why Toyota Europe is fitting a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel to everything from the Verso-S to the Rav4. It seems equally out-of-place here. Cupholders on the other hand are well sited for the caffeine-addicted commuter.
You'll struggle to tell this is the Auris Hybrid at first glance - only a few subtle badges and the 'hybrid battery pack' sign on the boot floor give the game away. But you do lose some boot space for your eco lifestyle choice - 279 litres, down from the standard car's 354 litres seats-up.
The car in front isn’t this Toyota
The instrument panel of the Auris aims to make the driver think economy, not speed. The tachometer is gone, replaced by a dial which makes ‘power’ an economy-sapping evil zone and rewards every throttle lift with a shot of energy recovery and green ‘eco’ light. Low-to-middling rpms is where you are encouraged to keep proceedings for economic driving, and while staying in ‘the zone’ you will find the Auris a quiet but not quick machine to punt along.
The CVT transmission adds to your re-education, whining like a sullen teenager as it offers up miserly portions of the 1.8-litre engine’s power and torque, before retreating to its eco mode bedroom. It doesn’t take long before you’re trying to conserve momentum, keeping the Auris moving on a light throttle lest you cop another earful of ‘Fine, have some more power, you eco-Nazi! I hate you!' from the drivetrain. If keeping ahead of traffic is more important than feeding the average MPG display, then get used to that CVT whine, especially in Power Mode.
The quirks (both EV-silent good and CVT-whiny bad) of the Auris Hybrid's powertrain overwhelm the other aspects of driving the car. You get light and reasonably direct electric power steering, a comfortable ride, and handling that errs on the understeering side of sensible.
Low-speed manouevrability is effortless and EV silent. The fashionably-raked A-pillars are the usual impediment to forward visibility when turning, but at least Toyota fitted front quarter windows as some mitigation. The hi-fi provided basic control of my iPod via USB, and the reversing camera worked well in practice. The only thing lacking from our test car's specification was the £1225 sat-nav. A loss I felt keenly at every missed junction on my Midlands road test.
Fine. But hurry up and tell us your MPG figure...
Did I achieve 70mpg? Or was I following the Ben Barry school of hybrid-unfriendly driving? I left the car in Eco mode, switched off the air-conditioning apart from occasional screen demist duties and kept up with traffic on a mixture of suburban roads, dual carriageways and motorways.
In the end I managed to coax an indicated average 52.3mpg out of the Auris. Your results may indeed vary, and perhaps a hyper-miling enthusiast can get close to Toyota's headline claims. But I fancy that for the average driver a turbodiesel hatchback would offer a greater sense of effortlessness for similar real-world economy in mixed use.
You really need to want a hybrid to choose the Auris over its conventionally-powered stablemates or rivals. If your driving is mainly around town you can enjoy the EV mode's silent acceleration from rest and have a much better chance of getting close to that magical 70mpg. But every time you embark on a weekend roadtrip or an intercity commute you'll be confronted with the CVT whine and an average consumption indicator charting the loss of all your hard-won eco points.
The Auris HSD Hybrid isn't a bad car. But it's debatable whether it represents a better way of achieving economical motoring versus its conventionally-powered rivals.