How this 60mpg Auris makes a case for petrol
New 1.2 litre a real option now
I find people always love to talk about their cars - to praise or criticise. I often fall into a conversation with complete strangers as I head for the bit of shopping or gym, or while waiting (window down) in a car park for one of the daughters.
As my youngest one would readily testify, I have a habit of getting into a fair chat. People also ask me a lot about whatever I happen to be testing. I enjoy it.
Recently 'we' talked about diesel and petrol. Those who had diesels swore by them and bragged about their mpg.
Those who had petrols were split down the middle. One lovely lady told me she was "feckin" robbed with her 10-year-old Corsa; another said she loved her Micra and wouldn't go near that "dirty, smelly diesel".
Invariably, most of them asked back: "And what about you? Which do you prefer?"
I tell them I'm a fan of diesel. I think it will be around a long time. But, I try to stress, not necessarily to the exclusion of petrol. They never seem satisfied with that answer. I try to make the point that petrol is a work in progress but I've lost them by then. Story of my life.
Recently, as you're probably aware, petrol has been making a return, though it hasn't yet convinced sufficient quantities of buyers to underscore what has been a revolution in technological, if not psychological, terms.
And sometimes the new-age smaller petrol engines don't necessarily translate too well into everyday driving or, indeed, into fuel consumption. That has been my experience anyway.
Part of the problem with some - I stress some - is they are small and have to rev highly to maintain the power needed even in moderately-sized cars.
High revs means harder work for the engine, which means using more fuel - which defeats the purpose. I've been impressed with some; disappointed with others.
It was with an open mind, then, that I took Toyota's revised Auris 5dr family hatchback to try its new 1.2-litre petrol - yes, 1.2 litre.
The car itself looks a lot better now (grille, headlamps at front, new LED lights, lower bumper at rear) and they have given the cabin a most welcome lift. The old one wasn't the smartest.
My Sol version had a large (7ins) integrated touch screen (easily one of the best to use) as well as redesigns around air vents, instrument panel and air con switches.
It's a welcome upgrade all round for a car that now looks and drives much better, though it is not as sharp as the Ford Focus, nor does it feel as solid as the Volkswagen Golf.
A couple of factors stood out. Its quietness on the road surprised me. It must have one of the best 'shush' factors around. I know tyre choice is important but this registered low on wind and engine noise too.
The second was the steering. Initially I couldn't decide whether it was too light or excellent. After half an hour, I acclimatised and decided it was excellent: real balance between feedback and lightness.
And so to the new 4cyl 1.2-litre turbo engine. It manages 116bhp yet, even with two passengers and a few yokes in the boot, it had plenty of power.
It was ideal around town, I must say, and a good cruiser on the motorway. And the revs didn't go mad up the counter to keep up the power.
One excellent petrol engine won't lead to wholesale changes of mindset. But this was especially good; it was quiet, smooth and had pulling power in the lower reaches where diesel so often outscores petrol.
They also claim it can cover 100kms with 4.6/4.7 litres which is as near to 60mpg as makes no difference. That is diesel territory. And with low road tax, it makes a good case.
It is an engine I can see Toyota having in their cars for years and years to come.
Will it hasten the switch to more petrols in family cars for people driving 12,000km or so a year? I think it will certainly help.
But like a good conversation, it will probably take a while.
Facts & figures
Toyota Auris 1.2T petrol (1,197cc, 4cyl, direct-injection turbo, 116bhp) 4.6 l/100km, from 106g/km/€190 road tax. Auris range starts at €20,750. 1.2T Sol trim on test: €24,500. Remember delivery and related charges are extra.
Luna trim has cruise control, rear-view camera, electric windows, Toyota Touch 2 with 7ins multimedia system; infotainment display.
Sol adds special 17ins alloys, privacy glass, rain sensors, automatic air con. Toyota Safety Sense (range of technologies to prevent or mitigate accidents) a €560 option.
My side of the road
I've complained about this before but after being hit for €2 for two minutes' parking last week I'm doing so again. I was two minutes over the allotted time and had to pay for a full hour.
In Spain, they charge by the minute. It makes absolute sense and reduces stress: you don't rush as much if approaching 'deadline' - it's only a few cent more. The current system is unfair.