In pretty much the same vein, the Toyota Auris faced an uphill battle when it replaced the RunX as the brand’s compact family hatch some ten years ago.
Despite being based on the same underpinnings as the E150 generation Corolla, as well as being bigger and offering more grunt than the RunX, the Auris, its name being derived from the Latin word aurum meaning gold, somehow never got close to matching its forbearer's popularity, with the introduction of an extensive facelift in 2010 seemingly doing little.
Now into its second generation and following a mid-life refreshment last year, the Auris had the chance to show why it deserves to follow in the wheel tracks of the RunX when a rather striking Metallic Blue 1.6 Xi recently arrived for a few days.
The bane of many a motoring scribe has been the touchy subject of Toyota’s often conservative styling language, with little in the way of flair or interesting touches compared to some of its rivals. As part of the facelift, the Auris received a redesigned front end with a downwards flowing bonnet meeting a much thinner grille embossed with a chrome Toyota badge, new headlights, a slightly revised front bumper and clear lens rear taillight clusters.
Being the second tier model in the Auris range above the entry-level 1.3 X, the Xi also receives extensive colour coding on the door handles, bumpers and mirrors, a boot spoiler, sporty 16-inch alloy wheels and indicators integrated into the mirrors.
While hardly a design classic, the somewhat disapproving drop snout appearance is a world away from the previous model's bland facade, although it still has some way to go to match the flamboyance of the new Renault Mégane or the understated class of the Volkswagen Golf.
Step inside, the Xi’s interior resonates more on the functional side with easy to make out switches and good quality plastics used on the dash. However, although the piano key black finish on the waterfall dash and on the door handles lends a sporty finish, the use of faux carbon inserts on the passenger side could have been substituted with more durable plastics.
Although some buyers adverse to the trend of touchscreen infotainment displays would appreciate the Xi’s touch button setup with a rather cool looking blue backlighting hue, they are likely to be less than impressed with space in the rear.
Popping the driver’s seat into my preferred position, very little in the way of legroom remained to accommodate my 1.84 m frame in comfort despite acceptable levels of head room. No complaints were however attributed to space in the front with boot space also being commendable at 360-litres.
In addition, the storing of valuables is taken care of by means of a cubby underneath the HVAC controls, deep door pockets with a bottle holder each, a compartment between the front seats which doubles up as an armrest, and two cupholders on the centre console.
Expected to be the volume seller in the Auris range, standard spec is somewhat on the spartan side compared to rivals from Honda or Opel, but nonetheless includes a four-speaker sound system with Bluetooth, Aux and USB, leather wrapped steering wheel with volume controls, electric windows all around, height adjustable steering wheel, electric mirrors, auto lock / unlock doors, six airbags and ABS with EBD.
In spite of the subtle upgrades having benefitted the Auris aesthetically, where it really should have made a bigger impact is underneath the bonnet. Instead of the 1.2-litre turbocharged engine used in Europe, the Xi uses Toyota’s stalwart normally aspirated 1.6 developing 97 kW and 160 N.m of torque.
It might sound strong on paper compared to the Ford Focus 1.0-litre EcoBoost’s 92 kW and the Mazda3 1.6’s 77 kW, but, at altitude at least, it simply feels underpowered and has to be revved to maintain forward momentum. This means constant shifting of the six-speed manual box which, despite featuring a slick action, is hampered by a much too high clutch bite point, resulting in the Auris being easy to stall on pull away or at the lights.
As part of the refresh, Toyota have also fettled with the Auris' suspension and mapping of the electric power steering for enhanced levels of feedback. The end result is a comfortable and well dampened ride with good levels of feedback through the wheel.
Confining very much to the usual Toyota mantra of "doing exactly what it says on the tin", the Auris 1.6 Xi makes for a competent and honest package devoid of any unnecessary fireworks. While our reservations on the lack of power remains, it is unlikely to face the greater percentage of buyers who value simplicity over the complexity of small displacement turbo engines.
|ENGINE LAYOUT||DOHC 16v Inline 4|
|MAX POWER||97 kW @6400 rpm|
|MAX TORQUE||160 N.m @4400 rpm|
|DRIVE LAYOUT||Front engine; Front-wheel drive|
|ACCELERATION (0-100 km/h)||10.0 secs|
|TOP SPEED||200 km/h|
|FUEL CONSUMPTION||6.2 L/100 km|