Whenever I see a Toyota Prius, it is travelling in the outside lane on the M6 Toll road at a blistering pace. I have always assumed that the owners are keen to recharge their batteries, or that even worthy eco warriors sometimes like to let loose and cane their cars once in a while, when they think they can get away with it.
This seems a little incongruous because, despite city dwellers being the car’s primary target market, the City of London is hardly jam-packed with Hybrid Prius’s. One reason for this is that the Prius is expensive. The other is that they are pug ugly. I don’t care that Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz have one each, they can afford to take a couple of hits with the automotive ugly stick. In the real world I’ll take all the sex appeal I can get, thanks very much.
Now Toyota has added a hybrid to its compact family Auris range. The Auris HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive) is about as sexy to look at as it sounds. It’s fair to say that there are types of street furniture in London that attract more attention. Sure, the Auris is not particularly stylish but it definitely isn’t ugly. It would be forgettable if anyone noticed it in the first place. But then that’s the point because unlike the Prius – which trumpeted eco, like sandals reveal a hippie – the Auris HSD hides its eco credentials under a bushel. Save for a couple of blue coloured badges on the exterior, it looks like any other Auris and you’d be hard pressed to notice its green ambitions.
And this is a car with impressive vital statistics. Combined fuel consumption is 70.6mpg and CO2 emissions are a Congestion Charge-busting 93g/km. Powered by a petrol-electric powertrain good for 134bhp – 98bhp comes from the 1.8-litre 16-valve VVT petrol engine and 80bhp from the electric motor – the Auris HSD can run on battery only – albeit only over a small distance of a mile or so – petrol only or a combination of both.
Inside it’s immediately apparent that you are driving a Toyota. But the Auris HSD is different in that it hooks you in with a futuristic blue ambience reminding you that, actually, you are driving a vehicle that is rather special. I immediately get a kick from the small, stubby gear shifter, the design of which seems so agreeable as to render conventional shifters obnoxious. The instruments have a focus on frugality and restraint rather than speed and power. The dials show power and charge, so the meaner you are with the pedal, the more eco you are in reality and the display rewards you for driving responsibly. Switching the car on illuminates the dashboard instrumentation before moving away in blissful silence. Pootling about the City at speeds of 20mph or less is relaxing and remarkably satisfying. Under heavier acceleration however things are less refined. The engine kicks in with an uncomfortable sounding whine like a leaf blower. It’s not a nice sounding engine noise. It’s not a deal breaker but it is disappointing.
Surprisingly, out on some open roads, I find the driving rather engaging. Steering feel is sportier than expected, progress feels genuinely nippy and the ride is nice and firm. It’s no sports car, but the Auris HSD can at least be enjoyed beyond the counting of pennies saved. It’s a hybrid that doesn’t involve too much of a driving compromise when measured against diesel rivals offering similar economy.
For a City commuter, after an economical small family car, the eco frugality offered by the Auris HSD is enticing. But Toyota is just introducing a Plug-in Prius that can travel 14 miles on electricity only and a plug-in version of the Auris will almost certainly follow at some point. This will make these cars a far more compelling offer and only then will they really come into their own.
THE FACTS: TOYOTA AURIS HSD
TOP SPEED: 112mph
CO2 G/KM: 93g/km
MPG COMBINED: 70.6mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ***