The current Toyota Auris Hybrid was built as something of an afterthought, by all accounts. Squashing the entire Prius powertrain into the smaller Auris bodyshell created a nicely frugal car, but not one without compromises. Noticeably, the boot area wound up looking distinctly half-baked, or at least half-full of batteries.
The 2013-model Auris is due to roll into the light at next month’s Paris motor show, and this time the hybridisation won’t involve hammers, shoehorns or wondering where that last bit might fit. The car has been designed with batteries and motors in mind from the outset.
Like the even smaller Yaris Hybrid, the new petrol-electric Auris will stow its cells under the rear seat. If it follows the Yaris template the petrol tank will shrink to make room, relying on the hybrid’s improved economy to preserve a reasaonble range between fill-ups.
The new car itself is 30mm longer and 55mm lower than the somewhat dumpy and frumpy current Auris. At 4,275mm long and 1,460mm high, it’s a fraction longer and lower than most of rivals, which should yield aerodynamic benefits. The new bodyshell also uses high-strength steel to produce improved stiffness, despite a 40kg drop in weight.
No doubt Toyota will continue its prior tactic of carrying over the Prius propulsion system virtually unchanged, although the company does now have the option of choosing the more compact lithium-ion battery used by the Prius+ estate and Prius Plug-in, as opposed to the nickel-metal-hydride powerpack used in the standard Prius hatchback.
No doubt we will find the bulkier, cheaper option lurking under the seat given the need to keep prices keen.
Toyota says interior quality will be noticeably improved, which is definitely an area where the old Auris fell short. There will be greater use of soft-touch materials and even a leather-trimmed dashboard on higher grades, according to the company.
The new car will be assembled in the UK, and I’m optimistic that it might be as pleasant to drive as the French-built Yaris Hybrid I sampled earlier this year.
Despite its packaging issues the outgoing Auris Hybrid wasn’t a bad car, but it offered little to really like and nothing at all to love. If the new one can combine its innate economy with a bit of proper charm – maybe even an inkling of character – then Toyota will really be onto a winner.