For a long time one of my tests of a car's worth was whether, when I had cycled out to pick it up, it could take my bike in one go. Obviously, I got to love estates and large hatchbacks in particular; with some MPVs and SUVs promising a lot more than they delivered. It sometimes wasn't just a question of size. Nasty obstructions, sill heights, low roofs and badly folding rear seats all conspired to make the job more difficult. One of the greatest delights was finding that the three-door sporty version of the Peugeot 207 was a master class in bike-loading simplicity. The ease of the Luas, laziness, some companies' delivery polices and a massive change in the locations of some of the main importers have meant that I have been cycling out less to collect cars; which hasn't been good for my health or expanding waistline.
New Year resolutions and all that had me cycling on a bitterly cold day this month from Dublin's city centre out to Killeen Road near Ballyfermot, where Toyota Ireland has its HQ. I was to pick-up a redesigned Auris, the family-sized compact hatchback which is now available as a conventionally powered car and as a hybrid. I wasn't overjoyed by the prospect as the Auris has been more workman-like than inspiring and colleagues, who drive one, go misty-eyed talking about their past Rover and Alfas which had "character" rather than the soul of a washing-machine.
I couldn't have been more wrong with the latest Auris. OK, it isn't going to be competing in Formula One but it will get you to the circuit in fine style. It looks good resulting from of a more sculptered design and a lowering overall to give a better sporty feel. It is especially impressive from the front and rear. A colleague, who is driving a three-year-old Auris, was particularly bowled over by the new looks and thought it gave the VW Golf a good run for its money. Toyota seem happy to take some of the best styling touches around and integrate them. The lower profile does improve the driving dynamics and, together with the lighter body, gives a very confident, precise feel. Except, I've read, for the hybrid version which is heavier. I found in my 1.4 90bhp diesel that you needed to work the gears a lot to get the best performance which, of course, is never rivetting but more than adequate. The diesel and hybrid models both claim more than 72mpg, but that's very much on the optimistic side.
The interior is very good now and uncluttered with a good touch-screen. I found the rear reversing camera very useful. However, the steering wheel was a bit low for me and with the seat in the high position was almost difficult to get my legs under; but maybe that's age! Space, including the enlarged load area, always seemed really good and I would think the panoramic roof, which is available as an option, would add to a lovely feeling of lightness. Prices start at €18,995 for the 1.33 petrol models, with diesel stepping in at €2,000 more and the hybrid at €26,460, including a €1,500 VRT refund. Posting and packaging is about €500 on top. The test car, before p&p, was €23,995.
The Corolla/Auris compact models from Toyota have sold 39 million units since their introduction in 1966 and the Auris has sold nearly 15,000 cars here since being launched six years ago. The hybrid version is now the second best selling type in Europe. The company's president Akio Toyoda made a recent commitment that all Toyotas in the future should be "more engaging to drive and more rewarding to own". He has certainly succeeded with the new Auris.