Let’s start with the headlines. The Auris gets an all-new platform and suspension design, has been developed in Europe in a bid to cater for our tastes and the five-door is built in the UK, at Burnaston, Derbyshire. Every model offers nine airbags, and the car has already gained five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests.
So far, so good. But if the Auris is really such a big step forward, why has Toyota played it so safe with the styling? European buyers like bold design, and aside from a chunkier, Yaris-style nose, the proportions and profile are barely changed from the Corolla’s. As a result, the Auris is rather anonymous. Its dimensions don’t break any new ground, either, although its roof is the tallest on test.
That’s allowed the packaging experts to mount the rear bench relatively high without penalising headroom. Legroom is more modest, with only 720mm of knee clearance, but at least the Auris has a flat floor all the way across, in common with the Civic. The 354-litre boot is also average – in fact it’s the same story with the packaging throughout. The Toyota offers nothing new.
The driving environment is braver – chiefly because of the ‘bridge’ running down from the tidy centre console. This allows the gearlever to be placed high, with a sleek handbrake behind it.
However, it also means there’s precious little accessible stowage, as the centre bin has been placed so far back. To compensate, owners get a large double glovebox, but the upper lid is flimsy. In fact, we found no evidence to support Toyota’s claims that the Auris has Golf-rivalling materials. The door trims, instrument binnacle and leather steering wheel don’t feel very special.
The controls are easy to get used to, and everything seems well assembled. But overall, the cabin is unadventurous – it doesn’t have
the Civic’s cutting-edge architecture or the Golf’s quality and airy ambience.
So can the new four-cylinder dual VVT-i engine make amends? With variable timing on both inlet and exhaust valves, it’s the most powerful 1.6-litre here, and while torque doesn’t peak until 5,200rpm, 140Nm is available from 2,000rpm.
Yet the unit doesn’t make much of an impression. Due to its light kerbweight and good aerodynamics, the Auris accelerated slightly faster than the Golf and Focus, but it’s aided by short gearing (70mph equates to 3,400rpm in fifth).
We also found it odd that Toyota chose not to fit a sixth ratio. Running at high revs on motorways and featuring only average sound insulation, the newcomer isn’t the most relaxing companion. That’s a shame, because it rides very well.
The stiff bodyshell has enabled the company to make the most of the new suspension set-up. Initially, it seems firm – roll is minimal through corners and the whole car is tightly controlled.
As a result, the Auris is rarely caught out, and that means it’s reassuring to drive. It can’t match the Focus’s sparkling chassis and soothing road manners, despite being equipped with Toyota’s most positive gearshift since the Celica and offering very well weighted steering. But the new hatch is a big step forward nevertheless.
Yet although the Auris will be welcomed by undemanding drivers, it’s flawed. The steering is uninformative, the A-pillars are intrusive and it weaves under hard braking, with the pedal soon becoming mushy underfoot. The price is tempting, though. Equipment is a match for rivals’, yet the T3 variant costs over £1,000 less than any rival.
Model tested: Toyota Auris 1.6 VVT-i T3
Chart position: 4
WHY: Styled in Europe, the Auris is new from the ground up. This mid-range 1.6 is set to be the big seller.
As our test car had covered less than 1,000 miles, we weren’t surprised the Auris was the thirstiest model, at only 31.3mpg. The low-geared five-speeder hampers M-way efficiency.
Our experts aren’t yet able to supply residuals for the Toyota, but analyst CAP predicts a 37.1 per cent figure over 60,000 miles. For 36,000 miles, that means a retained value of £5,192.
Dealers have yet to release service costs for the Auris, but judging by current prices you can expect it to be competitive. Yet the 10,000-mile intervals are short in this company.
Along with the Golf, the Auris puts out the most CO2 – a surprise as its engine is new. But the cheap price makes it a good company choice; lower-band owners pay £616 a year.
Suspension at rear has been designed to be unobtrusive, but Auris still offers narrowest load bay. Yet the seats fold flat in a single movement.