IN ANY discussion of the great pioneering vehicles of hybrid motoring, the Toyota Prius tends to get all the glory. When it came to bringing a supplementary electric motor into the mix, clipping emissions and doing the driving world’s equivalent of the soft-shoe shuffle, the Prius was the car that really took it to the streets.
But the Prius has always been a standalone, hybrid-only model and let’s not forget it was the Prius’s quietly dutiful sister, the Auris, that blazed the trail as the first family car to come in all three flavours — petrol, diesel and hybrid — a fact that surely guarantees the Auris its own room in the hybrid hall of fame, just as soon as they get round to building one.
Is that a museum anyone is interested in going to? I’m not sure. But maybe it’s worth putting one up somewhere on the old Kevin Costner Field of Dreams principle: build it and they will come.
And now here’s another model for its display cases: the Auris Touring Sports hybrid, which is, according to Toyota — whose grasp of the history in this area we have no reason to doubt — “the world’s first full hybrid compact wagon”. If the future hybrid hall of fame can’t sell a few postcards and key rings on the back of that distinction, it’s probably not trying hard enough.
“Compact wagon”, incidentally, translates as “small estate car” but estate now seems to be a word that the industry is even more allergic to than small — hence also in this case, “Touring”. Well, fair enough.
Touring seems to glimmer with the promise of sun-dappled, culturally enlightening, road-bound adventures, possibly in Alpine settings — perhaps even in a BMW — while all the poor, battered term “estate” is left to evoke is a lifetime of convenient yet achingly mundane weekend trips to the dump. If I were selling estate cars, I’d be calling them Tourings all the time.
This particular Touring is an extruded version of the reworked Auris, launched late last year and, in some senses, it’s at risk of coming over as a backwards step for the model. Toyota’s reappraisal of the hatchback Auris was designed to meet head-on the growing feeling among the customer base that the car was, well, as boring as hell, frankly.
Accordingly, its waist was attractively rounded out, it was generously hung with strings of LED running lights (it’s permanently Christmas in the car design departments these days) and the Toyota badge on the front was plumped up to agitate for our sympathies by resembling more closely a puppy’s nose.
Steps were also taken to make the hatch feel more involving to drive, including stiffening the suspension, lowering the centre of gravity and causing 8ft-long flames to shoot out of its exhaust pipe at all times. (I may have made up the last of those.)
Here in the Touring version, of course, those cool, sprightly design ambitions must bite down hard on the grim bullet of practical load space. The nose is still cute but the new waistline vanishes as the side panels flatly continue their journey out to the blunt back end. As for an involving driving experience, don’t expect one when your Auris Touring is loaded with people and stuff.
Your foot is so far ahead of the car’s desire to accelerate that a lull follows in which it would almost be possible to catch up on some emails. If you’re in no urgent hurry, though — you’re probably only going to the dump, so why would you be? — and are prepared to manage the car gently and steadily, you’ll soon be achieving the hugely restful if eerily quiet float that characterises part-electric driving. And to get a driver to feel restful in a car full of people and stuff is no common achievement.
My quibble with the Toyota hybrid arrangement is minor, albeit twofold. The skimpy shift-by-wire automatic gearbox control requires merely a thumb-and-forefinger pinch and the tiniest of tweaks to change from neutral to drive or reverse.
It’s not that one necessarily needs a fistful of stitched leather at these moments. It’s just that the gap between cause and effect is disconcertingly wide: “You mean, I only have to do that to make the whole car go into reverse?”
It has a parallel, of course, with Jaguar’s rotary dial system. But in the context of a Jag, the reduction comes across as an act of bravado: look how much work can be accomplished at the mere click of a jewelled dial. In Toyotas you appear to be toggling away at an ancient gaming console, and any sense that you might be operating a proper car rather than a pixelated one all but vanishes.
Part two of this quibble: the electric bleep generated by the selection of reverse. This exactly matches the warning noise made in identical circumstances by my mother’s mobility scooter. Couldn’t Toyota program it to play something else, such as the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night? Indeed, couldn’t customers choose their own sound?
Who knew, even as recently as 10 years ago, how far cars would end up lagging behind phones? One day surely the technology will be there to customise these moments. Meanwhile, that bleep needs addressing.
This Toyota is a long clobber-carrier that will beat all-comers in the class by emitting only 85g of CO2 over the distance of a kilometre. Which is a remarkable stride forward when you think that as recently as a couple of years ago I had an old Volvo estate that guffed only marginally less carbon dioxide than that straight away when you turned the key in the ignition.
All this, and it’s a future museum piece. Which, for a new car, is better than being a present museum piece.
Soft, strong and very long
- 1798cc, 4-cylinder petrol with hybrid electric motor
- 134bhp @5200rpm
- 105lb ft @ 4000rpm
- 0-62mph in 10.9sec
- Top speed:
- Road tax band:
- L 4560mm, W 1760mm, H 1460mm
- Ford Focus Econetic 1.6 TDCI Titanium estate, £21,745
For Impressive driving experience and ‒ just about ‒ class-leading economy of 76.4mpg Against With luggage capacity of just 476 litres, the boot is smaller than its rivals; no automatic gearbox option
- VW Golf 1.6 TDI DSG SE estate, £23,150
For Boot space is greater than Auris’s (605 litres versus 530 litres); diesel offers better real-world fuel economy and driving experience than hybrid Against Conservative styling; warranty is only three years (Toyota offers five years); expensive