Work of art
Toyota is brilliant at making cars that are effortless to drive, comfortable to ride in, meticulously built and as long-lived as Kato’s ancient painting of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. Take the first Auris, the car that replaced the well-received Run X as the local Corolla’s hatchback alter ego. It was beautifully made, in Corolla tradition. It drove like a dream and had the bulletproof integrity of its notchback sibling. But it didn’t really catch on. The reason? Bland yet also somewhat awkward styling. Where notchback drivers are traditionalists and will put up with a touch of conservatism, hatchbackers tend to be younger, more trendy individuals, and I believe it was staidness that did in the the first-gen Auris.
Enter Auris 2. Now that’s trend for you, from the new signature ‘smiley’ grille – incorporating the headlights – up front, to the sculpted, Continental-look tail, this one’s going to appeal to the ‘early adopters’. Finished in dark red or ‘86-style’ bronze, the newcomer really makes a statement. Add in levels of quality and driveability that surpass those of the outgoing model – and, it must be said, the current Corolla as well – and you have a recipe that promises great things.
Sampling the newcomer on an official local launch drive from Johannesburg to the Vaal and back, I was immediately impressed by the style, practicality and quality of the interior, too. The wide, flat dash, simple instrument binnacle and switchgear are made in the finest materials, with higher-grade models such as the 1.6 XR I drove having a facia covered in genuine leather with baseball stitching.
The redesigned front seats have longer travel and greater height adjustment. Seat height has been reduced by 40mm and the steering wheel tilt angle lowered by two degrees, creating a more engaging driving position. A newly developed sports seat with additional lateral support is standard on XS and XR grades.
It’s a spacious cabin with all the ‘pluses’ one would expect in a hatchback. Split-folding rear seats provide the usual load flexibility. But, even with the rear seatbacks up, there’s plenty of load capacity, primary load space on the newcomer being quoted at 360 litres compared to the 283 litres of the outgoing model.
Spec is generous even on the entry-level 1.3 X and 1.6 Xi models. Among the standard items are remote central locking, air conditioning, a four-speaker audio system with CD player, switches on the steering wheel, USB/iPod connection, front and rear electric windows, electric mirrors and a leather steering wheel and shift lever to add an extra touch of comforta and class. The 1.3 X runs on 15-inch steel wheels and the 1.6 Xi is equipped with 16-inch alloys. Further up the pecking order, the 1.6 XS ‘mid-grade’ mode version gets display audio, ba reversing monitor with camera, six speakers, sports seats, fog lamps and Bluetooth connectivity. In flagship XR grade items such as full leather upholstery, automatic climate control, cruise control, front seat heaters, lumbar support, auto lights, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, keyless entry and push-button start are added.
Adding to the sportiness and refinement of the new Auris is a range of upgraded drivetrains, with two super-efficient petrol engines driving the front wheels through energy-saving six-speed transmissions (or, at the top end of the range, a CVT). A hybrid version, the HSD, will be added to the line-up during February.
At entry-level there’s the small-bore, long-stroke 1,3-litre petrol engine equipped with Dual Variable Valve Timing-intelligent (VVT-i) and a high compression ratio of 11.5:1 to increase thermal efficiency. It generates 73 kW at 6 000/r/minand maximum torque of 128 Nm at 3 800 r/min. Along with these substantial outputs, in the Auris the unit achieves an average fuel consumption of 5,8 litres per 100km and CO2 emissions of 134 g//km, slightly better figures than those of the outgoing model.
The 1,6-litre Valvematic petrol unit goes a step further, with class-leading efficiency levels, power and torque through a further development of the Dual Variable Valve Timing-intelligent (Dual VVT-i) system, adding lift and duration control to the inlet valve variable timing. This optimises intake airflow volume and velocity and combustion process management. Efficiency is further improved through the adoption of a variable length inlet manifold.
Driving through either a six-speed manual box or Multidrive S CVT unit, the 1,6-litre unit punches out 97 kW at 6 400 r/min and 160 Nm at 4 400 r/min. Manual transmission 1.6 models return a combined cycle fuel consumption of 6,2 l/100 km and CO2 emissions of 145 g/km. The Multidrive S transmission further reduces both fuel consumption and emissions to 6,1 l/100 km and 143 g/km.
Safety equipment – a full complement of airbags in all models, as well as dynamic aids such as ABS, BAS and EBD: pretty much the norm these days – is comprehensive. Suspension, by struts up front and a twist-beam set-up at the rear, is conventional but tuned for comfort and benign handling.
My drive to the Vaal confirmed the smoothness and flexibility of the 1,6-litre powerplant – and demonstrated the slickness of the gearchange, the light precision of the Auris’ electric power steering and the impressive absorption of its ride. These are all attributes that impressed me in the old model, but now they’re even better.
That, and the extra quality and new-found style of the all-new body – add up to an excellent package. I can’t wait to try the 1,3-litre and the hybrid…
1.3 X R195 000
1.6 XI R217 500
1.6 XS R228 600
1.6 XR R253 200
1.6 XR CVT R265 600