Green cars might not be top of mind right now, but the threat of global warming and its ensuing calamities is persuading more and more people to sit up and take notice. In other words, green is becoming sexy. Does that make Toyota’s Auris HSD a desirable machine? DEON SCHOEMAN finds out.
The Toyota Auris is supposed to be the brand’s mainstream compact hatchback – a five-door runabout that epitomises reliability, low fuel consumption, decent dynamics and good resale value.
But as much as those core values remain valid today, it’s the emotional content of a car that has become increasingly important. Which is why Toyota is pinning its hopes on a hybrid version of the Auris.
In other words, the company’s hoping that those with a green conscience will connect with this hybrid version, rather than merely judging the Auris by its rather prosaic – some would say boring – appearance.
Remember, this is the same marque that managed to persuade a significant number of motorists worldwide to part with their money for a downright strange-looking, barn-on-wheels vehicle called the Prius, merely because it was a trendsetter in hybrid technology.
Photo: The Auris HSD doesn’t flaunt a spectacular body but is functional (and helps save our earth, don’t forget!)
The Auris HSD is by no means the answer to the world’s environmental problems. But Toyota believes it’s a step in the right direction. This greenest ever Auris uses the latest version of the Hybrid Synergy Drive that also powers the aforementioned Prius people carrier. The big question it whether it’s also viable as an everyday car.
Unlike plug-in hybrids, which can be charged overnight and run on battery power for significant distances, the Auris Hybrid Synergy Drive combines a petrol engine with an electric motor and a battery pack.
When coasting or braking, the starter motor acts as generator, which charges the battery. This allows a limited level of electric-only operation. Most of the time, though, the Auris relies on its petrol engine, while using the electric motor to boost response, performance and efficiency.
The exterior design is unmistakably Auris, which means it’s about as plain and generic as a five-door hatchback can be. At least, the HSD version gets revised upper and lower air intakes, a new front bumper with integrated fog lights, and handsome 17-inch alloy wheels – but glamorous it certainly isn’t.
There’s also a lot of blue-tinged HSD and Hybrid badging, blue being Toyota’s key colour for all its ‘green’ cars… Yes, I agree – very confusing.
The battery pack is located at the rear, and robs the car of some luggage space. The result is an odd configuration that sees a shallow boot floor, but with a fairly deep, removable storage tray concealed underneath. You need to remove this to get to the space-save spare wheel.
The engine bay is occupied by a 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle engine, configured specifically for economy and efficiency. But it’s not alone: there’s also an electric motor, cleverly integrated with the transaxle to act as an auxiliary power source. Drive is to the front wheels via a CVT stepless gearbox.
The petrol engine is notable for its reduced friction and improved efficiency, and is credited with 73kW of maximum power, together with a puny 142Nm torque peak. If that sounds a little modest, it is: until the electric motor kicks in.
The highly efficient synchronous unit brings another 60kW to the party, together with 207Nm of torque. Even better, the electric motor’s urge is on tap instantly. The result is a hybrid that actually feels sprightly and eager.
Photo: What it lacks on the outside, the Auris makes up for on the inside.
That’s borne out by the performance figures. The Auris HSD will pass the 100 km/h mark from rest in well under 12 seconds, and has a top speed potential of 180km/h. But much more important is the fuel consumption, which is quite remarkable: the claimed combined cycle figure came to 3.8-litres/100km.
Much depends on driving style, however. Pilot the Auris sensibly, and the claims seem attainable, if not completely plausible in real-life road conditions. But explore the instant-on power of the electric motor with glee (as I did), and you’re unlikely to see the consumption drop below 7.0-litres/100km.
Drive mode options include normal, eco, power and full electric EV functions. In each case, throttle mapping and other operating parameters are adjusted to best suit the chosen mode.
The gearbox is the car’s only Achilles heel. It works efficiently enough, but the CVT configuration (for Constantly Variable Transmission) suffers from the so-called ‘rubber band effect’, which means it sounds like the clutch slipping when accelerating.
Yes, the CVT is a more efficient system that makes better use of the engine’s output. But it just doesn’t sound right – in fact, it’s horrible – and perhaps, a pre-programmed set of virtual ratios, linked to paddle shifts, would have been a more convincing, more dynamic option.
Auris HSD buyers are rewarded with an interior that’s focussed on comfort, while showcasing some hybrid-specific switchgear. The short, electrically operated gearshift lever is unique, as are the drive mode buttons and the LCD instrument cluster, complete with multi-information display.
The latter allows close monitoring of the drivetrain’s energy flow, together with the usual trip meter functions.
The cabin’s overall execution is smart and modern, with a mix of cloth and Alcantara upholstery. The seating position is quite elevated, even at the lowest setting, but the driving position is comfortable, and overall visibility is good, too.
Toyota has also sweetened the hybrid deal by offering a long list of kit as standard. For instance, you get full support for Bluetooth, a multi-speaker CD sound system, climate control, remote central locking, keyless operation, and electric windows and mirrors.
Hybrid cars remain a rare sight on our roads, but they are definitely here to stay. The Auris HSD is a lot more convincing than expected, thanks in no small part to its frisky dynamics and user-friendly interface.
With fuel costs rising, good consumption figures have become more relevant than ever, while the car’s independence from plug-in power sockets adds further savings in operating costs. Add the chic and comprehensively attired cabin, and the Auris HSD is not only viable, but actually enjoyable to drive.
Does that make it a desirable choice in the dog-eat-dog hatchback market? That depends on how green-minded you are, because with a price tag knocking on R300k, the Auris HSD represents a sizeable investment.
But then, saving the world has never been easy… DM
VITAL STATS: Toyota Auris XR HSD
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí