Toyota's other hybrid model, the Auris

The benefit of being first to market is that you establish a name for yourself. So it was with the Toyota Prius – the first mainstream hybrid car – which was launched onto the Japanese market in 1997.

Since then hybrids have become more common extending into Toyota’s prestige Lexus range and now with other manufacturers, notably Honda with its Insight and most recently the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne.

But it has taken until recently for Toyota to widen the range of hybrids under the Toyota brand. The first non-Prius Toyota hybrid to come my way is the Toyota Auris Hybrid.

Toyota Auris Hybrid

It is very much like an everyday Toyota Auris, but there are changes to the controls and instruments to cater for the hybrid power units. The other change is when you go round and open the hatchback. The surprise is that the boot floor is so high. Toyota obviously feel that this will be noticeable, so much so that they have added a discreet notice that explains the battery pack is below the boot floor.

Shallow boot apart, the Auris is as practical in terms of accommodation as the standard Auris. When you get behind the wheel the differences are restricted to the Prius-style gearchange.

LIke the Prius, the gears are restricted to forward and reverse and 'B' for engine braking. Unlike most automatics, there is no ability to select gears. Not a problem for most drivers, the only ones who are likely to miss this are enthusiastic drivers who would like the option to drop down a gear to stabilise the car going into corners.

But, despite the inability to drop a gear on corners and despite the added weight of the battery pack and electric motor, I found the Auris handles well.

The start-up procedure, is exactly the same as Prius. It is extremely simple, if a little weird due to its silence. You prod the Power button and, apparently, nothing happens other than a green light on the dashboard telling you the car is "ready".

Press the accelerator gently and you move forward under almost silent electrical power.

As with the Prius, I find it quite fascinating the way that the Auris Hybrid does such complex magic all the time, but never lets you know what it is doing – unless you switch on the display that shows you where the power is coming from and going to.

It’s a bit like the old cliche of the swan – all serenity above the water, but frenetic activity beneath. If you switch on the power display, you can see that seamlessly the Auris Hybrid will juggle between the electric motor and its 1798cc petrol motor and from power to recharge without you being aware of all this magic.

For the driver it just goes when you press the right-hand pedal and stops when you press the middle one.

If you feel the need for some control over the process you can press to select the EV or power modes. Set to EV it puts the Auris into electric vehicle mode. Providing your speed is slow enough and there is enough juice in the battery pack, this will force the Auris Hybrid to run on electric power only. Or, in the power mode, the Auris Hybrid wil prioritise maximum power delivery using both electric and petrol engines.

Toyota Auris Hybrid

As always, for the inner geek in me, this is all hugely impressive.

Throwing care and economy driving to the wind, the Toyota Auris Hybrid will muster all its 98 bhp and accelerate to 62 mph in 11.4 seconds.

My problem with hybrids is that, for all their cleverness, the real-life economy is often no better than the best conventionally powered motors.

The Auris Hybrid, for example, has a combined fuel consumption figure of 70.6 or 74.3 mpg depending on which model you choose. Certainly, highly impressive economy is possible on the right road and with a feather-light touch on the throttle. With my best economy-driving hat on I achieved just over 60 mpg on a flowing B-road route.

But, in everyday use, on a mixture of B-roads, dual-carriageways and city streets, the trip computer gave me an overall average of 44 mpg for my five days.

Now, if you care to take a look at, say the Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion, you will see that it achieved an overall consumption over five days of B-roads, dual carriageways and city streets of... wait for it... 44 mpg! That’s without the complexity of two power units and a substantial battery array, with all the resources that entails.

I’ll leave you to debate the merits and de-merits of the two approaches to the same end – excellent economy and low emissions.

If you decide to choose the Auris Hybrid, you will be choosing an eminently practical, comfortable family hatchback that just happens to sip fuel and produce emissions of 89 or 93 g/km – so low that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will hand you your tax disk for nothing in the UK.

Prices for the three-model Toyota Auris Hybrid range start at £19,545 and rise to £21,325 for the T Spirit version.

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