Some of the media focus on new low CO2 emitting cars in the next few months will be the launch of the BMW ‘I’ brand, a premium brand range of lightweight plug-in electric hybrids and electric/petrol range extender models.
Given the potential short driving range of electric cars the ground-breaking new ‘BMW Access’ programme where owners can swap between ’I’ models and conventional petrol/diesel BMWs and Minis for longer trips will boost sales.
All manufacturers, under EU proposals, are likely to have to meet the overall average target of 95g/km of CO2 emissions for their range of passenger cars by 2020.
However Toyota continues to campaign its use of petrol/electric hybrid technology as the realistic and cost-effective way forward. To this end they are giving over their stand at the Frankfurt Motor Show next week exclusively to their hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell technologies. In 16 years Toyota has sold over 5.5-million hybrids globally and currently offers 23 different models in 80 countries around the world.
Their latest hybrid is the Auris Touring Sports, a C-segment estate car which sells alongside the Auris hatchback, both built in the UK. Both ranges offer 1.8-litre petrol/electric hybrid as well as 1.33 and 1.6-litre petrol and 1.4-litre D-4D diesel powered models. The Auris Touring Sports went on sales in the UK from 1 July this year at prices starting from £15,595 and rising to £22,845. There are Active, Icon, Sport and Excel levels of specification depending on the engine chosen. The range has two hybrid models, the 1.8 Hybrid Synergy Drive Icon priced at £21,095 and the same powertrain with Excel specification at £22,845. Both hybrid versions have an electronic CVT automatic transmission as standard, the 1.33 petrol and 1.4 diesel models are manual transmission only models but the 1.6-litre petrol has a Multidrive S auto option.
The hybrid models have CO2 emissions of 85 and 92g/km depending on the road wheel size with the Combined Cycle fuel economy of 70.6 to 76.3mpg, again depending on wheel size.
The 1.4-litre diesel versions emit 109g/km and return 67.3mpg. The 1.33 petrol 127g/km and 51.4mpg and the 1.6 petrol 140g/km and 46.6mpg. Not only does the hybrid model score over its petrol and diesel family members for better fuel economy, VED road tax is £0 cost and company car drivers will pay just 10% Benefit-in-Kind tax. The only down side is that the hybrid models cost more to buy, £2,850 more than the 1.33 petrol, £2,495 more than the 1.6 petrol and £1,495 more than the 1.4 diesel but the higher price is partially offset because the hybrid has a CVT automatic gearbox as standard.
Because of its low tax implications the Auris Touring Sports 1.8 petrol/electric hybrid will appeal to company car drivers in particular but the zero cost road tax will appeal to all UK buyers. The hybrid is expected to be the best selling model in the new Auris Touring Sports range taking 45% of its estimated 4,400 full year UK sales. The next most popular engine is likely to be the diesel followed by the 1.6 petrol and then the 1.33 petrol.
Where the new Auris Sports Touring, five door five seater estate will also appeal to UK customers, now bored with ‘samey’ family hatchbacks or bulky people carriers, is the load carrying space. With all five seats in use there is already a big 530-litres boot, fold down the 60/40 split rear seats using Toyota’s Easy-Flat system and this goes up to an impressive 1,658-litres providing a completely flat floor with access via a wide opening tailgate and a low height rear sill. This is ideal for a wide range of users - diverse as families with clutter, business users with goods to carry and mobility aids for the less mobile. Remember this is a C-segment family car, not a Ford Mondeo sized load-lugger. With an overall body length of 4,560mm the Auris estate does look long from the outside but its styling is smart with the all important kerb-appeal. It is just a shame that all that length does not provide for a bit more rear seat legroom.
My £22,845 test car had the top-of-the range Excel specification rather than the likely best selling Icon level which costs £21,095. Company car drivers will likely go for the Icon level as it has all the main items needed for business travel. Retail customers traditionally like a few more frills in the hybrid sector. Included are items such as electric windows/mirrors, climate control, stability/traction control, loads of airbags, cruise control, velour upholstery with leather bolsters, heated front seats, auto lights/wipers, parking sensors/park-assist/reversing camera, Eco driving monitor, on-board computer with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, roof rails, 17-inch alloys, front fog lights, LED daytime running lights and a roof spoiler. The controls are reasonably well laid out and become obvious after a while but overall the layout of the high level fascia looks a bit dull and not as appealing as the technology driving the car.
Despite its length it’s an easy car to drive and park thanks to the rear view camera and lots of parking aids and prompts. The steering is light and feel constant but with little feedback. The suspension generally copes comfortably with our poor road surfaces and provides for a relaxed ride over long journeys. Push it a bit more enthusiastically and the body control gets a bit flustered and the engine/transmission noise stress level rises. Keep it in its ‘happy zone’ and the 1.8-litre 98bhp petrol engine and the 80bhp electric motor provides smooth and seamless power delivery. The neat and easy to use CVT transmission can be a bit of a ‘power-sapper’ under hard acceleration but most of the time going with the flow of normal traffic speed its quiet and smooth enough. There is the usual EV electric power, ECO and Sport modes to choose from depending on your mood and the driving conditions.
One of my colleagues had a short test drive of the Auris Touring Sports Hybrid at the international press launch a few months ago but it is important to get ‘the feel’ of a new model over a longer period back on home territory where unique UK driving conditions prevail. Most of my UK test driving time I left the Auris hybrid estate in ECO mode, it suited the now commonplace busy driving conditions. Like most petrol/diesel plus electric hybrid power sources this Auris Touring Sports performed best for fuel economy away from motorway cruising. On normal A/B roads travelling on average at speeds between 40-60mph with some commuter stop/start driving, my road test average fuel consumption was 58.9mpg, not the 70.6mpg officially available with the Excel spec version and its 17-inch wheels. On a motorway cruising at 70mph the electric motor has much less input and less opportunity for the engine braking to recover energy for the hybrid system and reduced fuel economy by up to 10mpg.
Although some users will find the real-life fuel economy disappointing when compared to the official EU figures it’s more about what a hybrid does on paper that appeals to the majority of owners and drivers. The official figures mean no VED road tax to pay and only the minimum 10% in tax for company car drivers. In short the new Auris Touring Sports hybrid is less taxing on the pocket, less taxing to drive and less taxing on passengers when lots of load carrying space is needed.
MILESTONES: Toyota Auris Touring Sports 1.8 Hybrid Excel. Price: £22,845. Mechanical: 1.8-litre, 4-cylinder, DOHC, variable valve timing, 98bhp petrol engine PLUS 80bhp electric motor with automatic continuously variable transmission, front wheel drive. Performance: 109mph, 0-62mph 11.2 seconds, Combined Cycle mpg 70.6mpg (58.9mpg on test), CO2 emissions 92gkm, VED road tax £0, BIK company car tax 10%. Insurance group: 7E. Warranty: 5years/ 100,000 miles. Load space: 530 to 1,658-litres. For: Smart looks and a smart ownership proposition with low taxes, easy to drive and live with, roomy, practical passenger/load carrying, compliant ride. Against: More intrusive engine/transmission noise at high speeds, modest acceleration, actual mpg not close to official figures, dull instrument layout, limited rear seat legroom for adults, no spare wheel although there is space for one. Miles Better News Agency