Turbo Auris punches above its weight

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Steve Sharpe drives the new Toyota Auris

Petrol / electric power systems are widespread throughout the Japanese company’s stable of cars, including the Auris hatchback, with the first hybrid model appearing in 2010.

Whereas many of the major manufacturers have invested a lot of effort and money into plug-in electric green technology, Toyota feels that hybrid technology is the way forward.

It meant that the Auris was the first car in the compact family sector to be available with a choice of three powertrains – petrol, diesel and petrol/ hybrid.

But the latest engine to feature in the Auris isn’t a hybrid at all – an all-new 1.2-litre direct injection turbocharged engine joins the existing petrol line-up.

In addition to the new engine, the Auris’s exterior has been updated primarily in the front and rear and the cabin has been upgraded too, with a redesigned dashboard and a new 4.2-inch colour TFT multi-information screen (on all hybrids and higher trim levels).

Toyota have tried to give the Auris a wider and lower stance, and a more “prestigious, sophisticated road presence”, as they say.

It’s a definite improvement on the previous version. The front end appears more aerodynamic and is quite striking with its V-shaped light set-up and upper grille, and a lower grille with LED lights.

It’s couldn’t be described as revolutionary in the sector but it’s pleasing to the eye.

Inside the cabin Toyota have upped the quality with its redesign.

In comes a new-look dashboard, which has been de-cluttered, and there’s a central section with a media screen which has been sunk into the surface to produce a smooth, glossy finish.

Features such as the air vents, door handles and gear lever surrounds have also been redesigned to give a higher-quality appearance, while the materials have been improved, and the upper half of the cabin is full of soft-touch springy materials.

The switches and dials are pretty easy to fathom, while the blue-light on black controls on the media screen make it extremely easy to work in all light conditions.

While it doesn’t propel the Auris to the top of the class it certainly makes it a comfortable and well-put together place in which to travel.

The seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of room in the front and back for five adults.

Luggage space in the boot section is comparable with most big-name rivals, with the added practicality of a split seat arrangement.

Under the bonnet the new 1.2 petrol turbo is a welcome addition to the family.

Although it’s far from transforming the family car into a hot hatch, it’s punchy and sprightly as long as you keep the revs high – low down the revs acceleration is steady but when you hit mid-range there’s a pleasing jolt of speed.

The 1.2 engine is nice and smooth, too - while idling it’s almost soundless and even with higher revs it never intrudes upon the cabin’s calm.

There’s some wind noise whipping through the side windows and a bit of road noise coming through the tyres but all in all the Auris is a refined family car.

Out on the road the Auris is an all-rounder happy on the town run or on long-distance jaunts.

The ride is a little jittery at first but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. Take the Toyota out on twisty B roads and it copes well with whatever’s thrown at it, with the help of a revised suspension in the recent revamp.

The steering’s a little on the light side but there’s enough feedback to corner comfortably, while there are good levels of grip to navigate you safely around bends.

Body roll is not particularly noticeable and the hatchback handles itself well with few dramas. The manual gearbox in my test car was pretty precise, too – although as it was long geared you want to avoid the combination of low revs, high gear and hills.

The upgrades inside and out, plus the introduction of the plucky 1.2 litre turbo engine, has definitely improved the Auris as an all-round family car.

While not built for a white-knuckle driving experience, there’s a punchy performance to be enjoyed, joined with an easy and comfortable drive.

Toyota has improved equipment levels and there’s an impressive list of safety equipment as standard, and even more as options.

All Auris models are equipped with the Toyota Safety Sense option, which features a Pre-Collision System and Lane Departure Alert, together with Automatic High Beam and Road Sign Assist systems.

Equipment levels are decent with even entry-level Active grade getting automatic air conditioning, power front windows, LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights and Bluetooth.

At the top of the range, Excel models display numerous advanced technology features, including the more sophisticated Toyota Touch 2 with Go Plus package, which includes voice command recognition and WiFi hotspot function. Additional features include Intelligent Park Assist, LED headlights, smart entry and push-button start, 17-inch alloys, heated part-leather seats and dual-zone climate control.

All through the range there’s also the attraction of Toyota’s five-year/100,000-mile new vehicle warranty.

Many Aurises are sold to fleet buyers and those with an eye on the bank balance will be interested.

The new engine returns average fuel consumption from 58.9mpg and CO2 emissions from 112g/km, attracting significant cost of ownership benefits for customers

The Auris is also extremely competitively priced, with prices starting at just over £15,000 rising to £25,000.

Toyota’s revamped hatchback comes across as a family car that’s safe, easy to drive and which is backed by Toyota’s well-documented reputation for reliability.

What it lacks in a driving experience it more than makes up for in many comfort, refinement and practicality.

If those assets feature highly on your wish list then this family hatch is well worth your consideration.

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Toyota Auris

Engine: 1.2 petrol

Transmission: Six-speed manual

0-60mph: 10.1 seconds

Top speed: 121mph

Economy: 58.9mpg avg

Price: £21,190 OTR