Day 1: If you want a hybrid car but worry that a Prius will make you look like a sanctimonious tit, this could be the answer. It has the appearance of a normal hatchback and you could always steam off the hybrid badges. Whether the design is a complete success is another matter. It looks like the front end was styled by someone talented and dynamic but who was then called away on urgent business before he could finish the back, leaving the job to a bloke who was recently sacked by Hyundai.
A plus point is that it’s made in Derbyshire rather than shipped all the way from Japan like a Prius so you could argue it’s more environmentally friendly, especially if you already live in Derbyshire.
Day 2: When the Auris was first put on display at last year’s Paris motoring show I sat in one and howled with laughter at how cack the dashboard was. It felt like the first effort from a provincial Chinese company whose previous business was disposable lighters. Since then someone at Toyota has clearly had a think and, although the design isn’t any more stylish, the quality of the plastics feels better. It also has that sense of light, precise quality that marks out cars from Derbyshire. And sometimes Japan.
Day 3: After three days of cruising about London in the Auris I have identified one bad thing and two good things. The bad thing is the ride, which could and should be better. The good things are the steering, which is much sharper than the expected econo-hatch mush, and the entire notion of hybrids for urban living. Harvesting kinetic energy every time you brake or coast down a hill, turning it into electricity and then using that electricity to move you along at low speeds is ingenious. It’s basically free power. Obviously the gubbins to do this is quite complicated but it’s a credit to Toyota that they’ve made it work almost seamlessly. If you’d like to see how hard it is to make a hybrid work, go and drive the cock-awful Citroen DS5 Hybrid4 which doesn’t.
Day 4: I have to be in St Albans. It’s a trip that involves a short section of motorway and here the Auris experience starts to peel apart at the edges. Clog the accelerator as you glide down a slip road and the whole car fills with a joyless lowing as the CVT gearbox holds the 1.8-litre engine at noisily constant revs until you decide it would be more fun to be clattered by a lorry and back off. It genuinely feels like the whole car is in pain. The Auris is much quieter once it’s up to a cruise but the damage is done on the way there.
Day 5: A man at Vauxhall once told me their Ampera has heated seats because they’re a more efficient and less power hungry way to warm up, which is important in an electric car. The Auris isn’t an electric car of course and, free from that range anxiety, you can use the heater and the heated seats with wild and ultimately sweaty abandon. Yet the Toyota’s heated seats are bizarrely inconsistent, sometimes starting off too hot and searing your arse like a cheap steak, sometimes giving up and switching themselves off before you’re even warm. Also, the low setting seems to be hotter than the high setting so either the switch is on upsidedown or I need to recalibrate my buttocks.
Day 6: There’s little pleasure in driving the Auris in a spirited manner and it feels like you’re torturing the car if you do, but if you drive it delicately around town it feels very happy and proudly brings you its homework which shows that it’s never doing less than 50mpg. I’m starting to suspect they’ve set the car up like this deliberately. I find myself checking the trip computer and trying to beat my previous average economy figures as if this has become some sort of competitive sport. This morning driving in a relaxed manner yet without dawdling or getting in anyone’s way I did eight miles across London at 61mpg.
Day 7: There are several things to like about the Auris Hybrid. The economy, obviously, and the cleverness of the technology which appeals to the part of a man’s mind that likes gadgets. I also enjoy being able to silently creep down my street on electric power, particularly if it allows me to sneak up on Keith from number 10 as he cross the road and scare the living crap out of him. There is, however, little fun to be had from the handling or giving this Toyota a good thrashing on an open road. All the pleasure comes from trundling about the city and knowing that, for a petrol car, you’re being unnaturally economical. If that’s what you want, it’s great. It feels more sturdy than a Prius and far less smug. I just worry that it’s like one of those speccy, badly dressed kids on University Challenge. They’re very, very clever but you might soon find their company rather wearing.
This car was a Toyota Auris Hybrid Excel with a 98bhp, 1.8-litre petrol engine and an 80bhp electric motor. Toyota say it can do 0-62 in 10.9 seconds and 112mph. They also say it can do 72.4mpg. It costs £21,745.