Good: much more interesting than before, efficient too
Not so good: gutless diesel engine
Toyota needed to do something drastic to turn around sales of the Auris. It has been comprehensively trounced by the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, and, perhaps most revealing of all, outsold by Toyota's own Avensis saloon. And something drastic has been done. In line with the company's new remit, which seems to refocus on appealing to buyers' emotional side, the Auris was redeveloped, starting with a lower seating position and a striking design inside and out.
We'll leave you make up your own mind on the exterior, but there's no doubt that it's more distinctive than before. The same can be said for the cabin, which now features an upright dashboard that is, on one hand, more conventional than the 'bridge' design of its predecessor's centre console, but on the other more interesting - especially on the higher trim levels, where the space in front of the passenger is trimmed in an unusual textured plastic. Indeed, space itself has been improved too thanks to reshaped seats and the boot is larger than before.
But we never criticised the Auris for its lack of space. Toyota has certainly answered calls for more interesting design, but what about the driving experience? That lower seating position is a good start (unless of course you prefer a higher 'hip point'...) and it helps reduce the Auris' centre of gravity too. That shows on the road, where the Auris corners with little body roll and loads of composure. The steering is still lifeless, but once you learn to rely on the front-end grip the Auris can be driven with surprising enthusiasm when the road turns twisty. Aiding that is polished damping, leading to excellent wheel and body control. While all that makes the Auris better fun to drive it also means it's more comfortable and more competent than before.
Just as importantly, Toyota has enhanced the efficiency of the Auris thanks in no small part to weight reductions across the line-up. The 1.4-litre diesel engine under the bonnet of our test car is remarkably quiet and, as expected, frugal, but it is quite slow, so don't go for it if you like a bit of power under your right foot. Likewise, forget diesel power if you travel less than say 20,000 kilometres a year, as the petrol-powered Auris line-up starts at a considerable €2,000 less at the entry-level. And the 1.33-litre version is still in Band B1 for relatively low annual road tax.
None of this is likely to turn the sales charts on their heads for 2013, but it's a clear indicator that Toyota is back on the right path with its bread and butter models.