Toyota Auris Hybrid review
The latest Toyota Auris Hybrid is efficient but it still falls behind rivals for quality and excitement
The Toyota Auris Hybrid is pretty much alone in being a mainstream family hatchback with a hybrid powertrain. That allows for the lowest CO2 emissions in the class and some seriously impressive fuel consumption figure, too. But apart from its efficiency, the Auris struggles to keep up with the class leaders in terms of driving thrills, performance and quality. The styling is a big improvement over the old Auris and Toyota’s reliability record is enviable, but that won’t be enough to draw in buyers who are after something a little more thrilling and a little more premium. The Hybrid version uses the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) set-up from the Prius, featuring a 1.8-litre petrol engine, 650v electric motor and nickel metal-hydride batteries. There's a £20,395 Icon version and a £22,145 Excel model.
Our choice: Auris Hybrid Icon
The overall shape of the Toyota Auris Hybrid is a typical compact hatch, but it’s been enhanced with distinctive styling front and rear. It shares its looks with the Verso MPV, with a pointed nose, angular headlights and a large grille below the front bumper, while at the rear are sharp LED tail-lamps. On top of this, Hybrid models get their own unique touches in the form of blue highlights on the Toyota badges front and rear, and HSD badges on the front wings and tailgate. The Excel model in our pictures comes with 17-inch wheels, while Icon trim gets smaller 15-inch rims with skinny tyres that help to keep emissions low. Inside, the Auris is a disappointment compared to its rivals here. The layout is a bit messy, with a mix of rectangular air vents on the centre console and ball-type vents at either end of the dash. Even more fussy are the climate controls, while the dated digital clock is set apart from the other displays, far to the left of the driver. Toyota’s touchscreen is clear and easy to use, though, while the central display between the dials is almost on par with the Golf’s similar digital read-out.
One good thing about the Auris is that you don’t have to change your driving style to make allowances for the hybrid system. However, there’s no avoiding the fact that the Toyota is starkly different to its rivals here. Start the car, and a beep and a ‘Ready’ light indicate that it’s running – you don’t hear the engine fire into life. If there’s enough charge in the battery, all you’ll notice is the whirr of the electric motor as you pull away. When the charge drops, the engine cuts in, and while it’s quiet and smooth compared to its diesel rivals here, there is a slight shudder from the drivetrain as it engages. There’s no manual gearbox option. Instead, Toyota persists with a CVT. So whenever you accelerate, the engine revs freely while the car gets up to speed. It sounds like it’s being thrashed, but for little benefit, as the Auris managed 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds – a full second behind the Golf. The Toyota is much better when you take things easy. Keep the needle of the power dial in the Eco section, and it’s quiet and smooth, although the firm suspension means it’s not as comfortable as its rivals here. Sadly, the taut ride doesn’t translate into an engaging driving experience. The Auris bounces and wallows in corners and suffers from excessive body roll, too. That can be put down to the extra weight of its hybrid drivetrain. Add in lifeless, ultra-light steering, and brakes that are extremely sharp and offer little pedal progression, and there’s not much fun to be had.
Toyota has a very strong reputation for reliability, and its entire range comes with a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Plus, the brand covers the hybrid system for eight years and 100,000 miles. Toyota’s confidence in its cars is borne out by the satisfaction of its owners. In our Driver Power 2013 survey, the brand placed ninth out of 32 manufacturers – although the previous Auris finished 90th in the top 100 cars, behind other models in the range. This latest version earned a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, and is only slightly behind the Golf with its percentage scores for adult and child occupant protection, while its pedestrian safety rating was higher.
Unlike its predecessor, the latest Auris Hybrid’s extra running gear doesn’t cut into interior space. The 360-litre boot is the same size as the standard car’s. The Auris is five-door only, but this means it has a larger opening, and are easier to get in and out of. Another gripe is the small back window and tiny rear wiper - it doesn’t clear very much of the glass.
The financial benefits of running a hybrid are largely determined by where you drive the most. We've tested the Toyota Auris Hybrid on town and country roads, but the majority of miles were on motorways and dual carriageways. Sadly, this didn’t show the Auris in the best light, and we only managed 44.9mpg. That can be put down to the fact the engine runs continuously at higher speeds, and the nature of the CVT gearbox means it instantly pulls higher revs as soon as you press the throttle. If you do most of your driving in stop-start traffic, the figures improve dramatically. The electronics attempt to cut the engine and rely on electricity in most situations, and we returned 83.9mpg on one city run in the Auris. Company car users will see big benefits in running the Toyota, as even higher-rate taxpayers will face an annual tax bill £200 cheaper than the Golf’s, thanks to the Auris’ super-low 10 per cent company car tax bracket and lowest list price. The benefits for private buyers aren’t quite as strong, while the Auris will be more expensive to service and hold on to less of its value over time. There’s a reasonable amount of kit, but you have to upgrade to the Excel model for luxuries such as two-zone climate control or keyless entry.