Toyota Auris Launch - Lisbon

Toyota The new Toyota Auris launch in Lisbon with motoring journalist attendees from print and web gathered to discover Toyota’s latest offering to the small family car market.

It has primarily been designed for the European market and will be built at Toyota Manufacturing UK’s Burnaston factory in Derbyshire, alongside sibling in the range Avensis. 

Toyota say that the new car sits with their ethos to create passenger vehicles that appeal to the heart as well as the head. This has already been demonstrated with their cult sports coupe baby of the moment – the GT86.

To combine these two elements in the decision-making process the new model promises better fuel economy, sleeker styling, higher quality interior design and most importantly to the heart – improved driving dynamics.

It will be available in petrol, hybrid and diesel – which they expect sales to be spilt equally between models. This is a surprise that hybrid models are predicted to be so main stream, however with class leading emissions of 87g/km and being able to run up to 1.25 miles solely in EV (Electric Vehicle) mode continuously at 30mph it should help keep fuel bills down and city centres smell a little sweeter with less poisonous toxins filling the air.

At Girl Racer we are mainly interested in fast cars and motor sport, so why do we need to know about small family cars? Well, what do people drive when they are not driving their race cars? We are also very excited about advances in technology, which are often developed in motor racing and carried over in to road cars.

Toyota cleverly developed a variable valve timing technology found in the Celica VVTi back in the late 90’s. This replaced the traditional high lift cam shaft which opened valves earlier and closed them later. More air, more fuel = more power, in basic terms. Cam shafts were a constant change to the valve dynamics, ie. Not variable. This had a negative impact on fuel economy, which was a trade off for the extra power. The VVTi only changed the valves at higher revs, bit like the Honda VTec system, which maintained better economy and smoother running at slower speeds and lower revs.

Toyota AurisToyota have developed that technology further and one of the engines in the new Auris is called ‘Valvematic’, which adds lift and duration control to the variable timing of the inlet valves as well as the use of a variable length inlet manifold. Remember more air, more fuel = more power? Well at higher revs the manifold opens fully allowing more air in to the combustion chamber as it takes a shorter route. This is very clever stuff and with motor racing now requiring a reduction in emissions, it is very important that technology is optimised to get the most amount of power at the right time. Constant fuel guzzling in the pit lane popping and banging as the unburned fuel clogs up the plugs and spits its way out of the exhaust pipe may sound cool, BUT we do have a planet to look after. This technology maximises power when it is needed – which is clever and with high profile teams needing to hit fuel targets as well as lap times, this is relevant. The 130bhp 1.6 petrol Auris, then, with this new system manages to get to 62mph in 10 seconds and return almost 48mpg on the combined cycle.

Aerodynamic improvements help this fuel consumption figure as well as complement the sleeker styling. For example the steeply raked windscreen and drag reducing stepped roofline. Changes also include the new Toyota family ‘face’ with daytime running lights, which always give a car stronger road presence. It has a low sweeping bonnet and a styling chrome bar ‘eyebrow’ over the more distinctive headlights. It has a more solid planted stance according to Toyota.

The interior design continues to impress as it features many soft touch materials and leather, uniformed lighting and matching font on all the switchgear make it feel good quality and cleverly thought out. The white dials, Nappa leather bound steering wheel and silver coloured trim make it a pleasant place to be.

Toyota AurisFinally, the driving dynamics that lead the heart. How does the Auris make you feel when you drive it? Is it possible to enjoy driving a small family hatch back? The answer to that question is yes; the electronic power steering is nicely weighted giving a natural feel and sense of greater driver control. It is also responsive, which is a breath of fresh air. The centre of gravity has been lowered and therefore springs with a softer rating have been used to enable a more comfortable ride without trading this for handling. It was competent through the winding mountain roads yet comfortably carried itself and its occupants over the cobbled streets of Portugal. Impressive.

The only negative points to speak of would be the ICE (in car entertainment) system. The stereo is weak as is the satellite navigation system because the sound quality is not very good and the touch screen looks old fashioned and basic. This is disappointing considering the mind blowing 17-speaker system found in the Landcruiser and sister company Lexus impressing us with the Mark Levinson, which does any of your favourite tunes justice. Is music important? Considering the target market is 36 – 45 and 56+, the former definitely rating good quality sound to complement their on-the-go music stored on their phones/iPods. It is almost an expectation not a ‘nice to have’ these days. There is the danger that sales will be lost on something so superficial, perhaps deemed as frivolous, considering the advances in design shielded by that sleek bodywork.

Toyota AurisCustomers may not appreciate or know ‘what goes on behind closed doors’; every 66 seconds an Auris rolls off the production line in Derbyshire. Every 66 seconds an Auris is tested on cobbled streets – yes that does mean every single one is tested in this way. That attention to detail combined with strict production values and techniques means Toyota is consistently up there in the reliability stakes; beating the famous three (Astra, Golf, Focus).

It is £615 cheaper than the outgoing model, it undercuts the competition massively; it would still do that if the ICE was remedied to match the quality of the car they have brought to market.

So a smart choice would be to save a few thousand pounds, pick the Auris and with change left over upgrade the stereo to the more ‘tune worthy’ JBL system with sub woofer.

Toyota have managed to bring an otherwise ordinary C segment car to the market and make it a pleasure to drive, comfortable, handle well and undercut the competition. Well done Toyota and thank you for a brilliant and engaging launch.    

By Rebecca Jackson RJ Internet Showroom
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