Motoring – I'll turn heads, slowly though

2013-05-05 14:00

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Underpowered Toyota XR still refreshingly different

Aah, Auris?.?.?.?the name certainly brings back a few memories. Oh, it doesn’t?

Well, for me it does. Yes, indeed – of a complete lack of character, personality and charm.

I remember it well: I had to choose between driving a top-of-the-range turbo-diesel Auris (the previous model) and the unattractive, cheap-and-nasty Renault Logan. After I had sampled the Auris for a day or two, I remarked that the car could explain Japan’s high suicide rate.

Not that it was a disaster as a means of transport. It was solidly built and its powerful diesel engine consumed little fuel. Yet it was a complete and utter dullard, mainly because of its frumpy design, especially at the rear.

In fact, the car looked like a?.?.?. well, a blob. A Samsung washing machine showed more design flair.

I begged my colleague to swap. He agreed, and I gratefully sank into the Logan’s budget-friendly seat.

Luckily, Mr Toyoda junior (whose grandfather founded the company and changed the “d” to a “t”) realised something was wrong with the “appliances” the Toyota Motor Company was spewing out and set about changing it.

The first hard evidence of this was the sublime Toyota 86 sports coupé (developed by Subaru) that stormed in here last year. This little tarmac ripper was closely followed by the Auris that you see here.

As a family car, it’s not as dramatically styled as the 86, but it’s a far cry from the model it replaces and is far more pleasing to the eye. We drove the luxurious 1.6 XR derivative.

Let’s start with its performance. If Toyota has its mojo back, then surely the new Auris should channel the legendary, high-revving character of the twin-cam GLi of the 1980s. It hasn’t got around to that.

Although the 96kW power output of the Auris XR looks respectable, its maximum torque is only 160Nm. This is much less than its turbo-charged competitors’ figures of more than 200Nm.

Its lack of vooma became clear when I had to change to first gear on a steep hill near my home, which normally only requires being in second.

So it’s no rocket, but the engine does go about its job quietly and in a refined manner.

This is one reason I’m willing to forgive the Auris XS for its few shortcomings. (Even its lack of the stability control that is standard equipment in all VW Golfs).

Not only is the engine refined, but the ride quality is probably the best in its class: it wafts along like an old Mercedes and yet its road-holding is very good, partly thanks to a lower centre of gravity than in the old model.

Go into a corner hard, and the front wheels maintain grip, while the rear doesn’t get any stupid ideas. There’s a little bit of body roll, but nothing alarming. Even surface imperfections in tight corners fail to unsettle the Auris. That’s reason number two.

The cabin is quite a tranquil place and the leather seats, dashboard and control buttons are generally good quality. The instrument panel has been criticised for being too upright and old-fashioned, but I find it refreshingly different to its competitors and not unlike that of the Toyota 86.

Safety and security features consist of seven airbags (including a driver’s knee airbag), the usual anti-lock braking system with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, a transponder immobiliser with alarm and Microdot paint identification to deter thieves.

Its luxury highlights are heated seats, the automatic aircon with separate controls for driver and front passenger, cruise control, rear camera for easier parking and a six-speaker sound system, including Bluetooth, a USB socket and iPod compatibility.

Although the new Auris certainly looks more exciting than the model it replaces, it won’t have the motoring press gushing as they did over the new Golf and it’s unlikely to excite the general public either.

Yes, although it no longer screams “I sell Sanlam insurance and listen to Kurt Darren”, it now seems to say “I hitchhiked once upon a time and I listen to Freshly Ground.”

It’s safe, is almost trendy, but still far from radical.

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