To its credit Toyota has done an incredible job with its petrol-electric Prius. From humble, and it must be said, less than glamorous beginnings, the car has been embraced by buyers from all walks of life. The car has sold well around the world and done wonders for Toyota’s green credentials and overall image.
If there is one shortcoming with the Prius, however, it’s that the car has never really been viewed as a family car. The futuristic styling of the second and third generation models might have something to do with it. Keen to broaden the appeal of an affordable hybrid, Toyota’s latest phase of development involves something more conventional: an Auris that also happens to be a hybrid.
The Auris has been a core model in Toyota’s family car range for some time now. So what better car to further advance the hybrid cause among a wider audience than the Auris.
Outwardly the car gives little away as to its hi-tech underpinings. Save for its subtle hybrid badging it’s almost impossible to tell it apart from a regular example.
It’s the same inside, save for one small detail. Look closely and you’ll see a Prius-like gearshifter, as this Auris shares much of the engineering that underpins its close relative. Instead of a conventional gearbox, the Auris HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive) comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to further boost the car’s overall efficiency.
The video game-like gearlever snicks so effortlessly between Drive, Neutral and Reverse that you wonder why more cars aren’t like this. Factor in the Auris’ push button start plus its light and accurate steering and it’s clear that ease of use is an important part of the ownership experience.
So much so that it’s easy to forget that the Auris HSD is a hybrid: you get in, press the start button, engage Drive and off you go. For many families this offers the perfect introduction to hybrid motoring in a car that looks, well, normal.
What’s not normal, at least to anyone brought up on a diet of petrol-powered cars, is the Auris HSD’s economy and emissions performance. For anyone whose driving routine is a largely an urban one, this Auris has the potential to generate considerable savings.
Boasting an official combined economy figure of 74.3mpg and a 89g/km CO2 rating, the entry-level T4 variant on 15-inch wheels rivals the diesel competition. Move up to the higher specification T Spirit with its 17-inch wheels and the car is a little less green at 70.6mph and 93g/km. Mind you, it’s all relative and you’ll still escape paying road tax and London’s congestion charge whichever model you choose.
Looking solely at the numbers, it’s hard to ignore the Auris’ appeal. In everyday use, the car easily slots into your life and behaves almost identically to a regular petrol-powered model. And, whisper it, the Auris offers comparable economy to that of a diesel car but with greater levels of refinement.
Like the Prius, the Auris HSD offers drivers a three-mode driving experience, as you can switch from an eco mode with its conservative throttle response to a regular mode and one delivering more power at the expense of economy.
And then there’s the car’s other Prius-like feature. The Auris is also capable of running on electric power only for a short periods at low speeds. It might sound like a novelty but you soon adapt your driving style to maximise its usefulness.
Consider this: all those times you’re creeping along in traffic and maneuvering when parking you would ordinarily be burning fuel – not in the Auris HSD. This electric assistance also acts as a welcome boost when you’re accelerating and driving at high speed, taking the pressure off the car’s petrol engine. Factor in the engine stop-start feature for when you’re stationary and the car’s economy figures suddenly don’t seem out of reach.
With its family friendly five-door hatchback layout, Toyota’s Auris HSD offers buyers seeking a conventional-looking petrol-electric hybrid something to cheer about. Mirroring the Prius with its wallet-busting economy and emissions performance and high level of standard equipment, the Auris delivers a thoroughly conventional ownership experience for buyers seeking real-world savings.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Toyota Auris T4 HSD 1.8 VVT-i 5dr, from £19,139 on the road.
Engine: 1.8-litre petrol unit plus electric-hybrid system developing a combined 134bhp.
Transmission: Continuously variable auto transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 112mph, 0-62mph 11.4 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 89g/km.
By Iain Dooley