Toyota has given its latest Auris new heart to make it a more exciting prospect, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

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Toyota Auris factbox

Auris 1.6 Valvematic Icon

Price: £17,495 (Multidrive S automatic £18,495). Range from £14,495

Engine: 1,598cc, 130bhp, four-cylinder petrol

Performance: 0-62mph 10.0 seconds; top speed 124mph (automatic 11.1 seconds, 118mph)

MPG: Urban 35.8; extra urban 58.9; combined 47.9 (automatic 38.2, 58.9, 49.6)

Emissions: 138g/km (134g/km)

Benefit-in-kind tax: 18pc (17pc)

Auris 1.8 VVT-i Hybrid Synergy Drive Excel

Price: £21,745 (Icon £19,995)

Engine: 1,798cc, 98bhp, four-cylinder petrol and electric motor – combined output 134bhp

Performance: 0-62mph 10.9 seconds; top speed 112mph

MPG: Excel 17in wheels. Urban 72.4; extra urban 72.4; combined 72.4 (Icon 15in wheels, 76.3, 76.3, 74.3

Emissions: 91g/km (Icon 87g/km)

Benefit-in-kind tax: 10pc

Warranty: Five years or 100,000 miles (hybrid system eight years or 100,000 miles)

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,275mm; width (excluding door mirrors) 1,760mm; height 1,460mm

When the Toyota marketing men talk about the new, second-generation Auris there are three ‘H’ words that come to the fore – head, heart and hybrid.

They admit that the previous-generation Corolla successor was hardly exciting – a car many people bought with their head. Now great efforts have been made to make the the new model more dynamic and engaging to drive so it appeals more to the heart.

The final ‘H’ is for Hybrid Synergy Drive – the model Toyota expects to be the big seller in the UK taking 40pc of sales. Now available in new mid-spec Icon trim and range-topping Excel, 75pc of them will be fleet sales with the ultra-low emission tax benefits making the hybrid appealing to business-users and the companies providing them.

The first thing that strikes you is how much more dynamic the new Auris looks – it’s 55mm lower overall, sits 10mm closer to the road, is more streamlined with a steeply-raked windscreen and clever styling touches to accentuate its width and that road-hugging stance.

The sharper look is backed up in the way it drives. It feels more entertaining, though still not as good for the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.

Reducing the height has lowered the centre of gravity leading to less body roll through corners. This has allowed Toyota engineers to fit softer suspensions prings and tweak the shock absorbers to improve ride comfort.

Driving the Auris on a wide mix of roads at launch from smooth fast motorways to undulating, pockmarked country roads showed just how adept it is at ironing out bumps and lumps while remaining well planted on the road. It feels composed through corners with a flat stance, the reworked electric power steering is light enough for parking yet weighty for straightline stability at speed. You still wouldn’t call the handling exciting – that’s not what the Auris is about – but even keen drivers will find it more rewarding. More to the point it’s a capable, comfortable and confident all-rounder that’s easy to drive and hard to fault.

Under the bonnet are revised versions of the 98bhp 1.33-litre and 130bhp 1.6-litre petrol engines – the latter now also offered with a Multidrive S CVT automatic gearbox as well as a six-speed manual – expected to take 40pc of sales, 89bhp 1.4-litre turbo diesel which should make up 20pc of sales and the 134bhp hybrid with 1.8-litre petrol engine and an electric motor. The big news is that all of them are more economical and less polluting with average CO2 emissions 13pc lower at 109g/km while adding stop-start technology has boosted the diesel’s combined economy by 15.4mpg to 74.3mpg while cutting emissions by 29g/km to just 99g/km.

At launch we drove the 1.6-litre petrol which, as you would expect of a Toyota, does a good job but despite its class-leading 130bhp and torque you need to stir it into life with the smooth six-speed gearbox to get decent performance, often dropping a couple of gears for fast overtakes. Long inclines will also have you dropping through the gears.

By comparison the hybrid is so relaxing to drive with its CVT automatic gearbox. The system has been refined further to make it smoother. It will run up to 1.25 miles on battery alone but in the real world with the drive battery charging when braking and the over-run you can make a lot of progress on the battery which contributed to 60mpg overall on a hilly test route which also involved a lot of fast motorway work.

Inside the new Auris will seat four adults comfortably with decent legroom and headroom in the back even with the sloping roof.

The boot is deep and well-shaped and luggage space has been increased to 360 litres even on the Hybrid – a 30pc gain – which now has the drive battery under the back seat rather than the boot floor. The loadspace is 50mm longer and the opening 90mm wider to make loading easier while a dual-level floor makes it more practical. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat.

The interior has a more exciting, upmarket feel – and that horrible floating centre console has gone. It looks better and trim materials feel good too. The driver’s seat is 40mm lower and the steering column angled lower to give a more sporty feel behind the wheel. The fascia works well with clear dials and switches and attractive trim highlights but it’s slabby on the passenger side but the stitched leather-trim option on top models lessens the impact.

Auris launches Toyota’s new trim levels, starting with Active and rising through Icon and Sport to Excel. And in a new move for Auris a Touring Sports estate model will be launched in July.

The British-built Auris is an important new car for Toyota, one it hopes will help achieve a million sales a year in Europe and a 5pc market share so it is also very much at the heart of Toyota’s future.

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