A Toyota Prius says a lot about its driver. Many of them are good things: the driver is likely to be someonewho cares about the planet and is unafraid of new technology. Some, though, might find the green halo of eco-virtuousness a tiresome statement of outlook, a message too concerned with the means rather than the end. What thesepeople need, who like the idea of a hybrid but don’t want to come over all Friends of the Earth, is a normal-looking car with hybrid innards. All the advantages, none of the image baggage.
Several carmakers have promised such hybrids, but none has actually produced a mainstream hybrid hatchback, until now. Toyota, again, is the manufacturer. Its new Auris Hybrid, built in theUK(and nowhere else), uses Prius mechanicals and electricals all wrapped up in a package that looks almost exactly like a regular Auris, apart froma fractionally lower ride height, a different front grille and some blue-tinged badges.
Diesels used to be on the fringe, but are now entirely normal, mainstream and unremarkable. This Auris is the first step towards doing the same thing for hybrids.
Somefigures. The attention-grabbing one is the paltry 89g/km of CO2 this Auris generates on the official fuel-test cycle, if you choose the smaller, 15in wheel option. Go for the vanity of racier-looking 17in wheels, and this rises to 93g/km, still comfortably within the realms of free road tax.
Then there’s the prediction that40 per cent of Auris sales will be of the hybrid version, though this is partly a clue that the regular Auris has hardly been a storming sales phenomenon. But perhaps most interesting of all: the Auris Hybrid is 25kg lighter than the Auris 2.0-litre diesel, despite adding an 80bhp electric motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery to its mass. That said, together these additions do make the Hybrid 105kg heavier than the 1.8-litre petrol Auris.
The whole Auris range recently had a mild makeover, and the Hybrid conforms to this, apart from having unique suspension settings. The Hybrid also helped to further improve the regular car, as prototype examples, showed uprattles and resonances normally masked by engine noise. The Auris’s aural disturbances were duly hunted down and eradicated.
Tempting, especially when you realise the Auris, from £18,950, is no more expensive than conventional 2.0-litre, dieselrivals, as well as potentially much cheaper to run, both in fuel usage and in taxation. Nor need the presence of the electrical parts be much of a worry regarding future unplanned expense, because the hybrid power train has so far triggered minimal warranty claims and the battery has an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
So, where’s the catch? There appears not to be one. The boot is slightly smaller as the battery encroaches. Theperformance isn’t as lively as that of rival diesels, but it’s brisk enough. The continuously variable transmission can make the engine revs soar too easily when you want vigorous acceleration, which can be annoying, but you learn to drive around that trait. Braking smoothly to a stop takes some practice, too, as you adapt to how the Auris blends its energy-recovering, electrical braking with physical retardation from the brake discs.
Against that, the Auris steers and corners tidily, is comfortable enough over bumps, and quiet if you can keep the engine at mid-speed or below.
The dials include typical hybrid information, such as how parsimonious or profligate you are being with energy sources and a moving graphic showing the energy flow between engine, motor, battery and wheels. This is a mean little diagram compared with the two-layered display of crisply presented cleverness in the Prius, but it makes the point that the Auris Hybrid is a means to an economical end, not an eco-statement in itself.
Crucially, that economical end is on offer all the time, not just in an official economy test. On a brisk drive through some sweeping, hilly roads, I saw an average of 62mpg, which was the moment when the Auris Hybrid made perfect sense. Would I have one?
I do believe I would.
Ford Focus ECOnetic:
The stop-start, rougher and cruder than the hybrids’ engine reawakening, is key to this Focus’s road-tax-free status. Good but dear.
Honda Insight 1.3 ES-T:
£19,303, 87bhp, 105g/km.
Top-spec Insight is well-equipped, but hybrid has a less powerful motor. Transmission is CVT like Auris’s, styling is mini-Prius.
Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI BlueMotionTech:
£19,195, 105bhp, 107g/km.
High-economy features, including stop-start, make a frugal Golf. Good, but doesn’t go the whole way.