Recently DTW tested the arch-mainstream car, the VW Golf. This week we sample the joys of Toyota’s Auris and find out a little about how the two cars compare.
I don’t imagine that many people accept the keys of an Auris with much sense of excitement. However, I experienced a small burst of what many would call satisfaction when I found myself cupping the Auris’ keys in my hot little hand. A few weeks back I tested what many consider the benchmark C-class car, the VW Golf. Driving the Auris so soon after experiencing the Golf meant I had a good frame of reference for the Auris. I’ve also driven most of the other C-class cars, apart from the current Astra. That means I think I can offer this review with some sense of perspective.
Technically, the Auris is very ordinary: a 1.6 litre petrol engine drives the front wheels and a manual gearbox does the ratio-changing work. McPhersons fore and twist-beams aft serve suspension duties. That’s as ordinary as the Golf and as ordinary as the Megane and Focus, give or take the options for blue- or eco- trimmings. Those cars have slightly fancier suspensions, perhaps but nothing exotic.
The only hint of the Auris’s technical character is to be found under the rather heavy bonnet where it says Valvematic on an ugly black plastic engine cover. I’ll have to find out what Valvematic means: it means that the engine speed is controlled by varying the opening height of the intake valves and it works the same way the BMW version does. You can read a short explanation here. From the driver’s seat I noticed nothing different other than that the engine required a lot more revs than normal to avoid stalling in first gear.
With reference to the Golf, the first thing I detected when I sat into the Auris was that I detected anything at all. The seats are immediately comfortable, both front and back. The engine started up quickly and quietly. The Auris may be fitted with some kind of variable-assist steering. Around town the steering is delightfully light and effortless: fingertip twirling is invited. At higher speeds it gains weight and is responsive and provides feel which I noticed I didn’t notice on the Golf. Toyota’s six-speed gearbox is slick and smooth. Either
I am getting used to six speeds or these six were properly spaced as I never found myself lost in the tree. Reverse is engaged using a collar under the gear-lever knob. When you engage it a reversing camera kicks in and shows a realistic and credible view of the world behind the car. The vehicle has radar which can detect small bushes quite a long way from the car’s body.
In town driving I felt like I was simply oozing around the streets, twirling and changing gears, one arm draped on the window ledge. You’d call it laid back whereas the Golf lacked that side to it. The Auris managed the tricky feat of being relaxed but not invisible whereas the Golf presented nothing at all to latch on to. Somehow Toyota have made a car that is clearly nice to drive about in rather than something that has merely vanished into the background.
On the town to town part of our most gruelling 200 mile test, the Auris demonstrated a smooth ride and low levels of noise, both from the tires, engine and wind. The air conditioning made more noise and only then on its highest settings. An adjustable armrest provided a perch for my elbow. Passengers in the rear also benefited from a centre arm-rest, with drinks-holders built in. And there are some in the doors as well so you can stock up on quite a lot of mineral water in the Auris. Rear seat passengers had a useful amount of room. Sitting behind myself left enough space to spread out. Pockets are fitted to the front seats, unlike the stingy VW Golf where one only finds a stitched line that says “spec me up, tightwad”.
At the very back of the car, the boot. As with the Golf, I found it smaller than expected. However, Toyota have designed the boot with a false floor, leaving a space of about ten centimetres depth under the panel. It might hold a lot of cartons of milk, maybe, or hide plenty of socks. If I owned the car, I’d pull it out and dispose of the panel. The Golf has a false floor as well, under which is a spare wheel and about 100 litres of useless odd-shaped space. The Auris has a light on the left side of the boot (which car has two?) and two small plastic cups for holding small bits of this and that. The rear seats fold 60:40 with no trouble at all. And they fold flat too. I still think the loadbay seems smaller than is suggested by the Auris’ external dimensions.
Traditionally, DTW puts its cars through the mountain-track test. The Auris dealt with it smoothly, with a very compliant ride. On the short country lane rally, the Auris again managed to my satisfaction. Among the things I noticed were the grippiness of the Michelin tyres and the crisp-turn in. You can sense the rubber biting as you add more lock and the response to inputs is legibly signposted. All in all, the Auris is simultaneously a languid urban lounger (I am reminded of my old Buick Century, oddly) and also quite fun to drive in what the ads refer to as “a spirited manner”. And on longer, steady trips it’s a pleasant and stress-free background for covering the miles.
The only outstanding operational demerit of the Auris is that the centre console screen is hard to read in bright sunlight and the HVAC controls are industry-standard rubbish. Especially annoying: that one has to press a button to change the direction of the flow of air.
All in all, the Auris has demonstrated enough a visible personality to allow me to churn out 900 words so far whereas the Golf was as memorable as a Granny Smith.
In the room there stands an elephant. That elephant is the styling and craftsmanship. Before detailing some of that, I will reflect on the fact that if one was rational, one would overlook the Auris’ unsettled appearance. By the same token, a rational person would not be taken in by the VW’s rational styling and almost-but-not-quite flawless design.
Starting with the exterior, I found a car I had to look at for a long time in order to understand it. I concluded that expediency drove the shape of the rear lamps and their junction with the rear window must have been a bodge. The overall profile and gross shape of the car is actually alright – the main photo above shows the car in a flattering light – but there seems to be a second, similar design fighting for expression. The sculpting around the front wheel arch recalls something Peugeot and Honda should not have done but did. The removal of these secondary shapes and the tidying of the details so they were aligned would have left a quite smart-looking car with a nice window line and one, strong feature-crease on the bodyside. The Golf on the other hand lacked anything to gaze at. The two cars are polar opposites in this regard: mess versus sterility.
Turning to the interior, we find a cliff-like dashboard with a few too many elements. The concave metallic bezel to the right of the steering wheel is supposed to form part of an arc running around the wheel, something you won’t notice unless you are a car designer. That leads to a rather hopeless matching rib of plastic on the left side of the wheel. You don’t get the sense that the forms and method of assembly were harmonized. The front door and the dashboard meet in a wholly expedient way: the plastic is simply kneaded into the right shape to fit to the awkward dashboard-to-door gap. When the door is open it looks quite rough. The top of the door casing and dash is another careless conjunction of parts. Other examples are shown in the photos. The last two details are the rather cheap digital clock and the uneven stitching on the vertical panel on the right side of the dash. Even viewed dead on it’s not straight and not parallel to the edge of the viny piece it joins. If you care about such things, the glovebox is not flock-lined and nor is the bin on the door. Overhead we find lamps that are not fixed to the roof but to the headliner so they flex when you touch them.
So, at the end of all that, how much does any of that matter? Would one howl in dismay every time one sees the wobbly stitching and is a hard-surfaced glove box really a big issue? Similarly, the exterior. It’s not bad as such, it’s more that it’s not quite close enough to good. Hyundai and Kia have nailed exterior design in a way that is “non-Golf” and also distinctive. The Focus and Astra are correct and bland, like a wan chicken tikka. Nobody won’t like these cars and nobody will love them. Who is the Auris aimed at? That class of people who don’t care about formal design correctness but who Toyota imagine want something so expressive as to be almost hysterical? Only the Honda Civic is a worse confection.
I feel Toyota would do just as well if they aimed in the same direction as Kia and Hyundai. Toyota customers would be quite happy with neatly reserved design or even something of the flavour of Mazda and Renault. There are lots of options which I think Toyota could consider.
And now we get back to reality. On our three day test the Auris covered 206 miles and consumed petrol at the rate of 50.1 mpg. The tank holds 50 litres or 11.1 gallons. That means you could travel 550 miles between fills. Assuming heavier consumption on a motorway jaunt, 450 miles seems probable. On the DTW standard trip of Folkestone to St Jean Cap Ferrat, an Auris will refuel somewhere west of the Massif Central, and will be running on empty just as you coast into your Ibis Hotel.
In conclusion, the Auris is a likeable car with nugatory demerits of the quantitative kind. The problems the car might have are purely of a philosophical nature: how much does it matter that your car is visually refined? It is a terrific paradox that the laid back and sloppily composed Auris is the rationalist’s choice. The Golf, for all its commendable design seriousness offers very little beyond the near-absence of errors. In base-model spec, you’d be mad to prefer the Golf just because of its icy rationalism.
[For other opinions you can read Top Evans here, Honest John here and Carbuyer here. They all seem to think the current Auris looks better than the previous version. Some of them are taken in by the materials and all of them think less of the ride than I do. None of them really like the car very much and view it as an appliance. I want to know why the VW isn´t also an appliance?]