Toyota Auris Hybrid 1.8 VVT-i review

Sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrids have passed more than 200,000 in the UK over the last 15 years, but while the Auris delivers a relaxing drive it doesn't move the hybrid game on and at times the lack of acceleration is frustrating in today's busy traffic conditions. Reliability should not be an issue though as Toyota says 95 per cent of its hybrids are still running. Like most, the Auris Hybrid makes most financial sense as a company car because of low benefit-in-kind tax. Cabin refresh is a big improvement and makes the car a more pleasant space in which to spend time.

Review by Russell Bray

PERFORMANCE

A mixed bag here to be honest. Cruising is super quiet and so is gentle acceleration which is either silent under electric power or quiet with electrically assisted petrol power. But call for maximum acceleration and the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) keeps the engine at fixed revs where it drones. The needle on the dashboard power meter turns a guilty bright orange as it moves into the power section of the dial telling you the performance is costing you more fuel. Acceleration to 62mph takes a pedestrian 10.9 seconds but is quicker than the slow turbo-diesel version of the Auris. Top speed is 112mph but with a maximum 134bhp available it will take you a long time to get there. Maximum power from the petrol engine is 98bhp at 5,200rpm. Maximum torque is 105 lb ft at 4,000rpm, compared to 152 lbs ft from the electric motor almost immediately. Maximum power from the electric motor is 80bhp.

HANDLING

The Auris has stiff suspension, though it has been softened compared to the previous model; not for sports car like handling, but to cope with the weight of the batteries and electric motor. There is enough sheer grip but the car feels lethargic if you need to change your line in a corner. Toyota has improved the weight of the electric power assisted steering but it is still vague compared to that class paragon, the Ford Focus. Cornering behaviour is safe but not inspiring and on wet roads in particular you are aware of the extra weight of the batteries trying to pull the car to the edge of the road. High speed stability and bump absorption was nowhere near as good as an Auris Touring Sports 1.2 petrol driven earlier this year. Around town the ride is quite lumpy but it becomes more supple at higher speeds on country roads.

BODY STYLE

With its new, more dart-shaped front and chiselled headlights the Auris manages to look modern but not outlandish. The back is modern too but somehow the car seems to lack instant identity like a Volkswagen Golf, now also available as a hybrid, but for much more money since it's a plug-in hybrid. The Auris's cabin has been restyled and upgraded too and is much better quality than before, though the seat material still doesn't inspire. Front seat space is generous for adults. The rear bench is less well shaped but reclines to offer extra comfort or it can be set upright for extra boot space. Because the car has no 'transmission tunnel' down the middle of the car there is good foot space for the middle seat passenger in the back. The back seats also split 60:40 so that you can carry long items and still seat two rear seat passengers. Boot volume is 435 litres with the rear seats up and 1,199 litres with them folded. The boot is flat and well shaped - in size terms it's between the Focus and the Golf. Length 4330mm. Width 1760mm.

COMFORT & CONTROLS

Toyota Auris Hybrid interior

Plenty of adjustment for height and reach from the steering column and a height-adjustable driver's seat should mean most sizes of driver can get comfortable behind the wheel of the Auris; especially when you do not need to be able to work a clutch or a manual gear change. The action of the electrically assisted power steering, while better than before, is still rather woolly and the ride firm at low speeds. There is a lot of noise from the tyres over harsher surfaces too. Controls are light to operate though and the instruments clear and easy to follow. There is a normal speedometer, but instead of a rev counter there is a 'power meter' which shows whether the engine and other systems are charging the battery pack, whether you are driving economically or using power to accelerate. The normal gear lever is replaced by a selector with a choice of R (reverse), N (neutral) and D (drive). There is also B for stronger braking with more energy regeneration. The braking response is rather stodgy from main road speeds and you can sometimes sense the slight grinding sensation you can get with regenerative brakes which save energy otherwise lost to charge the car's battery packs. The Auris's impressive quietness shows up the loud drone of the petrol engine when accelerating. A new start control gives quicker and smoother engine restart of the automatic stop-start system to save fuel in stop-go traffic.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

The official combined fuel cycle laboratory test for the Auris Hybrid Icon on 16-inch diameter alloy wheels produces a figure of 78.5 MPG. We averaged 50.7 MPG over a week's varied use, with a best of 52.3 MPG on a trip round the Cotswolds visiting friends, who were impressed with such fuel consumption out of a car with a 1.8 litre petrol engine. Toyota's own press picture shows 41.9 MPG. The Auris Hybrid sits into the current Band A for road tax which means there is no fee to pay. An Active trim model on smaller 15-inch wheels returns 80.7 MPG on the combined cycle. The Auris is covered by a five years/100,000 mile warranty and insurance is group 12E.

GREEN CREDENTIALS

The Auris power train is engineered to minimise the use of the petrol engine in city driving. Toyota's data claims the cumulative effect of full hybrid operation leads to high proportions of zero-emissions driving being achieved. The Auris Hybrid generates virtually no NOx and particulate matter emissions while CO2 emissions come in at 84 g/km - though on 15-inch wheels that drops to 79 g/km. The petrol engine's VVT-i system operates on both intake and exhaust strokes. This allows torque to be maximised at all engine speeds and for intake valve closing to be delayed. The upshot of this is that the engine can operate in both Otto and Atkinson cycles. The Atkinson cycle is used in extremely low engine load conditions. The intake valve remains open for a short period after the compression stroke has started, allowing part of the gas charge to be pushed back into the intake. This shortens the effective compression stroke. Pumping losses are reduced because there is less pressure on the piston so the throttle valve can be opened wider for improved fuel efficiency.
According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 30.

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Toyota has smartened up the Auris Hybrid's interior with piano black style trim on the door handles and dashboard. There is also stitched leather trim on the lower dashboard areas and centre console. The range starts with Active models. They have bright LED daytime running lights, automatic air-conditioning, hill-start assist and electrically operated and heated door mirrors. The Icon, as tested, gains alloy wheels instead of steel ones, a touch screen information and entertainment system, rear-view parking camera and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Business Edition versions have satellite navigation (a £750 option on the test car), heated front seats and cruise control. Design models get bigger 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and rear privacy glass. Top Excel versions offer parking assistance. The car steers itself into a suitable parking space while you work the pedals. A full leather interior is £950, a panoramic glass sunroof £500 and metallic paint £495.

MODEL SUMMARY

Toyota Auris Hybrid rear

Model tested: Toyota Auris Hybrid Icon
Body-style: Five-door hatchback
Engine/CO2: 98bhp 1798cc four-cylinder petrol engine and 80bhp electric motor / 84 g/km
Trim grades: Active, Icon, Design, Business Edition, Excel

On-road price: Hybrid models from £20,045. Price as tested £23,890
Warranty: Five years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 3.5 Stars

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Toyota Auris Hybrid details

Russell Bray

Author:Russell Bray
Date Updated:22nd Dec 2015

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