Ryan Bubear pilots the Toyota Auris XR HSD – a hybrid that flies under the radar.
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Toyota pioneered the mass-market hybrid with the Prius as far back as the late nineties. Love it or hate it, there's no arguing that the Prius took hybrid technology mainstream, with every pretentious Hollywood superstar and his brother queuing up to take a bite out of the trendy eco-conscious apple.
The Prius sported a distinctive look, and you got the sense — in the early days, at least — that owners were desperate for others to notice their new-found green tendencies. Thankfully, that trend appears to have passed, but purchasing a Prius is still an overt avenue into the world of hybrid ownership.
Enter the Auris HSD (that's Hybrid Synergy Drive, in case you were wondering). Here you have an established, conventional model, but available as a full hybrid. It shares its powertrain and batteries with the Prius, yet has none of the added look-at-me-I'm-saving-the-planet posturing. See one out on the road, and you're unlikely to think it's anything other than an ordinary, purely petrol-powered Auris.
And that — in my opinion, anyway — is a good thing. Why make a song and dance about owning one? If it is indeed the way of our motoring future (and that's a debate for another day), the hybrid needs to be something not too out of the ordinary, something not too unfamiliar to the average motorist. That's not to say the Auris hybrid is bland — it boasts its fair share of tasty visual features — but you can tell it isn't trying too hard to stand out.
There are, of course, a few visual clues to its "hybridity". The Auris HSD dons hybrid badges on the rear and each wing, and the familiar Toyota emblem features almost fluorescent blue highlights. And in a bid to improve aerodynamics, the Japanese manufacturer's designers included a few styling tweaks — a revised front bumper, lower grille, and rear spoiler among them — setting the hybrid apart from its Auris siblings and successfully reducing its drag coefficient.
Tasty 17-inch five-spoke alloys shod in low rolling resistance rubber, and refreshingly understated daytime running lights (made up of just three LEDs above each spotlight in the front bumper), are unique to the hybrid, which also benefits from a subtle suspension drop. For the record, the lower spec XS HSD runs on 15-inch rims, which aids its all-important fuel economy. Our test vehicle was the range-topping XR HSD, which features a few extra creature-comforts, and of course, those 17-inchers.
Power comes courtesy of a 1.8-litre petrol VVT-i engine and an electric motor connected to a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The petrol powerplant churns out 73kW at 5200rpm and 142Nm at 4000rpm — the focus here is on efficiency rather than outright power — while the electric motor makes an extra 60kW and an astonishing additional 207Nm, available from zero revolutions per minute. That sees this fuel-sipper hit 100km/h in 11.4 seconds, and run on to a top speed of 180km/h. Not that these figures would matter much to hybrid owners. Indeed, I found the Auris almost calming to drive.
Power is transferred to the road via an e-CVT (electronic continuously variable transmission). Put your foot down sharply and you get the familiar "slipping clutch" aural impression most CVTs pull off remarkably well, but there's no denying that such a transmission is far more efficient than a traditional cog-swapper. And drive it as you should drive a hybrid, and the drone is banished to the brink of silence. Indeed, it doesn't draw much attention to itself, which tells me that it's doing its job rather well.
So, how else does the Auris target fuel frugality? Well, four distinctive driving modes are featured. "Normal" sees the Auris itself decide which is mode is best; "Eco" reduces throttle response and optimises the air-conditioning for fuel economy; "Power" modifies throttle sensitivity in the opposite direction, resulting in sharper acceleration and well, more power; while "EV" allows the Auris to run on power from the electric motor alone, should a handful of conditions be met.
Silence is golden
It is this last feature that is the most interesting. At speeds up to 50km/h, the car can run in full electric mode, meaning it drives virtually silently, not pulling a drop of fuel from the 45-litre tank. I found this especially handy for delicate parking manoeuvres, such as reversing into a narrow driveway, as well as for dealing with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Stop/start technology — increasing in popularity with a number of manufacturers — is also standard.
An Eco Drive Assist Monitor replaces the tachometer, helping you adapt your driving style, and a rating even pops up on the display after each trip, ranking your last driving effort. The electric shift lever — dressed in blue and silver — always returns to its central position when released, with an indicator in the instrument cluster confirming each position. Intriguingly, there is no conventional reverse gear, with negative voltage instead converted to negative torque, which is then applied to the driven wheels.
An engine braking shift position is included, which allows the driver slow the vehicle on downhills, and simultaneously recover kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost as heat. The electric motor also works as a high-output generator to facilitate regular regenerative braking, storing the recovered energy in the batteries.
How did I fare in the fuel economy test, you ask? Well, Toyota claims a CO2 emissions figure of just 93g per kilometre and a combined fuel consumption of 4 litres per 100km (3.8 on XS model, which benefits from the smaller alloys). I didn't quite manage that, but I was nevertheless content with a figure of 4.6 after a few hundred kilometres of travel. I found that short trips inflated the economy figure rather quickly, as did the afternoon traffic fracas (luckily, my morning commute takes place before gridlock fever sets in). And, of course, my right foot is not easily tamed...
The battery pack mentioned earlier lurks under the boot floor, meaning the luggage area is quite shallow, but can still hold a usable 283 litres. Both front and rear dampers have been tuned for weight redistribution to compensate for the mass of the battery pack.
The keyless entry system on the Auris works a treat (as does the nifty blue start button), and a number of other luxuries come as standard on the flagship XR. Automatic wipers, automatic headlights, cruise control, electro-chromatic rear view mirror (with integrated reverse camera), Alcantara and leather seats, Bluetooth, multifunctional steering wheel and USB port are all part of the package. Storage space is ample, with upper and lower gloveboxes, and a centre console storage box, doing duty. The steering wheel fits nicely into the palms of the hands, and interior space is generous, with plenty of room up front and on the rear bench — even for the tall folk.
On the whole, build quality is decent, and the small details make all the difference: for example, the ability to operate the electric windows after switching the ignition off makes life just that little bit easier.
The Auris is touted as the only C-segment offering featuring a full hybrid powertrain in the country. That is, it is the only hybrid in its class that can run on just the petrol engine, just the batteries, or a combination of both. It comes with a five-year or 90 000km service plan, and a three-year or 100 000km warranty. Thankfully, the folks at Toyota point out that the major hybrid power components on all Toyota HSD models are covered by an eight-year or 195 000km warranty.
So, the Auris HSD is less about shouting "look at me, I'm saving the world," and more about actually using less fuel per kilometre, and thus saving some of your hard-earned cash. It's understated, practical and efficient, and effectively coaches you into becoming a more economical driver.
And what more could you ask for from a true hybrid?
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