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Car reviews - Toyota - Aurion - AT-X

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth V6, gutsy performance, reasonable economy, easy to drive, excellent rear seat, quiet cabin, standard leather, rear camera
Room for improvement
Ride quality on optional 17-inch alloys, torque-steer, centre console placement, centre screen graphics, instrumentation, no digital speedo, no lane-change indicator, foot-operated park brake, ugly dash blanks

Toyota logo22 Aug 2012

WITH the global ’90s revival in music and fashion, perhaps Toyota is right on the ball by exhuming that tired old “attainable luxury car” line for the second-generation Aurion sedan, just like when the Vienta first surfaced nearly 20 years ago.

Not coincidentally, both the Aurion and Vienta are just Australian-built Camrys with V6 engines. That isn’t luxury. Or even premium.

And they’re not even large cars, really, at least not in that big wide Commodore or Falcon way, but reliable mid-sized front-wheel drive family friendly fleet fodder created for the vast US market, where hundreds of thousands are churned out each year.

But please don’t think we’re saying that the Aurion is some sort of bogus ‘luxury car for schmucks’ proposition, because it isn’t. No way. This Toyota is far too good for that.

It’s just that, in base $36,990 AT-X trim fitted with optional $500 17-inch alloys and $1500 leather upholstery as tested, there’s just too much Camry here.

Pulses won’t be set racing by the homely Aurion styling, with a grille that looks as if somebody took a chrome gun and turned its setting up to ‘Buick’, but the overall effect is no duller than the Volkswagen Passat.

In fact, with those 17-inch alloys (the standard 16s seem too small) we’ve even admired the car’s neat proportions and clean surfacing. Compared to the Kia Optima, though, the Aurion’s styling is Snoozapalooza (if we’re going to keep the ’90s theme going).

And it’s no more exciting inside, where anybody would be hard pressed to pick the Aurion as a genuinely new car.

In an effort not to scare away traditionalists, it seems Toyota redesigned every single item to look like (and be where) everything was before. And we’re sure that digital clock dates back from the 1979 T18.

So familiarity rules. From the T-shaped dashboard with its vents-then-audio-then-climate controls layout to the three arc instruments, four-spoke steering wheel and horrendous ’50s-era foot-operated park brake, there is nothing intimidating here.

Yet tangible improvements abound. The newly redesigned front seats are wide and comfortable, there’s ample space for even the very tall – though not in the same league as a Commodore – the driving position feels immediately comfortable and storage space is considerable.

And, rather unexpectedly considering this Toyota is really a mid-sizer, the rear bench is one of the most inviting we’ve experienced in a long time, even though the headrests are fixed.

Large doors that open wide help entry and egress, there’s space to spread out and for feet to tuck in underneath the front cushion, the windows wind all the way down, there are knee-height air vents, seatback pockets, overhead grab handles, coat hooks and six beverage holders, and the centre armrest lives up to its name. Even the middle seat is tolerable (are you listening, taxi operators?).

There’s more progress to lap up in that every Aurion comes with climate-control air-conditioning, fancy Lexus-style backlit instrument dials, electric driver’s seat adjustment with lumbar support, and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming – although, annoyingly, the latter only worked sporadically in our test car.

The capacious 515-litre boot has a low loading lip, wide opening, and a long flat floor despite the presence of a full-size alloy spare underneath. For security reasons, the now-standard split/fold backrest can only be released via pulls located inside the luggage area.

Toyota fits a handy pair of bag hooks, a comprehensive trip computer and an Eco gauge that works a bit like the economy meter in a 1982 Holden Camira, except this one lights up green when you’re pussyfooting.

However, the Aurion suffers from a surprising number of foibles.

The centre console is so high that it is easy to hit your elbow, the base of the overhead grab handle is too low so taller drivers are liable to hit their heads on it during corners and the front headrests don’t reach up high enough.

And where are the lane-change indicators and digital auxiliary speedo? And what’s with all the blank switches below the right air vent?

Sparkly metallic trim highlights are a bit Bi-Lo and, while we applaud the illuminated satellite switches on the steering wheel and armrests (something Falcon owners would appreciate), why must we endure clashing shades of blue, white, green, yellow and red, and all in mismatching sizes and fonts? Even the graphics themselves are laughably low-fi. Never mind Audi Toyota needs only to look across to Korea to see how it should be done.

Finally, while the analogue speedo, tacho, fuel gauge and econometer look OK, the digital bits (trip computer, temperature readout, odometer) are cluttered and confusing. Remember when you used to make big, clear and beautiful instruments, Toyota?

These may be mere details, but they cheapen the experience.

The Aurion’s 3.5-litre engine boasts 200kW of power and 336Nm of torque, while managing to consume 6.1 per cent less fuel and emit 7.7 per cent less CO2 pollution than before – partly due to the car weighing 55kg less overall.

Quiet, smooth and no doubt utterly reliable, the V6 burbles benignly down low, just waiting for the driver to touch the throttle. The moment that happens, it roars into action, soaring up the rev range and piling on the power without raising a sweat.

From about 3500rpm to the red line, the Aurion is properly fast, pulling away deep into triple digit speeds with almost obscene ease. On a private track, our speedo easily exceeded 200km/h in no time with more in reserve.

After a week’s worth of puttering as well as pummelling the accelerator pedal, we were astounded at the 11.7L/100km average we achieved, underscoring the sheer efficiency of this modern quad-cam V6 powerplant. This is simply one of the great engines.

The auto transmission – a six-speed Aisin unit – does a decent enough job dealing with the heady performance on offer, though it occasionally gets caught out at higher revs, where you can get a slight hesitation and some engine flaring before it kicks down.

However, this complaint pales next to the torque-steer issue.

On dry roads at take off, you can spin the wheels despite the otherwise sensitively calibrated traction control system, but wet roads revealed precious little purchase from the low-profile tyres, with wheels spinning and rubber scrabbling about the road for grip.

It was almost like the old days of the VN Commodore, where even a little bit of pedal had the car wanting to go in other directions. Though this was nowhere as bad, the accompanying shudder through the front end was disappointing.

At least the new electric steering system improves matters significantly, with a happy balance between weight and response.

Find a smooth corner and the Aurion will zip right through, with little body roll and a natural, composed attitude.

But here’s our second big reservation. With so much torque barrelling through the nose, larger road irregularities will cause the rack to rattle a bit, and the driver must stay on it to keep the car from running wide.

While we wouldn’t call it a handful, there wasn’t the flowing ease of, say, a Falcon in the same conditions on our regular road loop. The Aurion just plods through at speed, with no incentive or reward for the keener driver.

Of course, the AT-X isn’t meant to be a sports sedan, but on those 17-inch wheels the suspension is constantly picking up and transmitting plenty of little bumps and road joins into the cabin, making for a restless – and at times drone-prone – ride. It is not far off the terse way Audis used to be until recently, so that’s one luxury marque trait this car emulates.

We would forgo the good looks by ditching the optional alloys for the dreary 16s in search of a sweeter ride.

That’s not to say the Aurion doesn’t cope with our conditions because there’s still enough wheel travel to traverse bigger speed humps, for instance, without any stress. Over our gravel course, only larger potholes were felt and corrugated tracks were ironed out with ease.

Jumping on the brakes over combinations of sealed and loose surfaces saw the car pull up straight, while there is nothing slouchy about the way the AT-X washes off speed at freeway velocities. Toyota says it undertook plenty of testing on local roads and it shows.

So the latest Aurion is a bit of a mixed bag.

It is gutsy, fast, efficient and refined on smooth roads, dynamically capable through the dry twisty stuff, and exceptionally accommodating inside (especially for back seat passengers).

However, the AT-X can become unruly in the wet and jittery about town, undermining Toyota’s cut-price Lexus aspirations. It ought to give up on pretentious marketing puff and call this spade the more compact Commodore and Falcon competitor that it really is.

What’s wrong with just plain Camry V6 anyway? The ’90s might be back, but in many ways the Aurion deserves to leave the old Vienta days well behind.

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