Car reviews - Toyota - Aurion - Prodigy sedan
Nicely resolved styling, spacious, well-presented interior, equipment levels, foolproof on-road behaviour
Room for improvement
Camry connections could deter some buyers
25 May 2007
By CHRIS HARRIS
TOYOTA is a mighty force to be reckoned with in Australia. Not because it has one strong model in the marketplace, but because it has a swathe of competent contenders covering just about every imaginable category and doing very well in all of them.
If the sales of one individual model – for example, the new Aurion – don’t appear to be all that spectacular, the formidable model spread more than compensates.
So what if the old Corolla has gone off the boil, or the RAV4 is battling head-to-head with the likes of Nissan X-Trail and Honda CR-V – the Yaris is in there doing more than its fair share of work in the light class, while the Prado and LandCruiser SUVs plug along steadily adding to the bottom line.
And that bottom line shows Toyota heading the pack so far this year, comfortably ahead of Holden by about 10,000 vehicles and virtually twice as strong as Ford.
Where Holden remains as the Commodore car company, the Japanese importer- manufacturer is, simply, Toyota.
The upshot being that, while the Aurion might not so far be a dominant contender as the big Australian car of choice, it is proving to be a more than handy accessory to Camry and will certainly become more prominent as it consolidates in the marketplace.
One thing is for sure the Aurion is a more acceptable all-round deal than its ill-chosen V6 forebear.
Okay the Aurion might be nothing other than a thinly made over Camry, but it certainly has the style and presence to impress those who may have quailed at the mawkish Avalon. Getting a car over the line, as far as customer acceptance goes, is helped a lot if it looks the part.
With its neatly aggressive grille and a reworked, cleaner version of the Camry rear end, the Aurion is, to most people, a good looker.
The fact that it’s actually quite a bit smaller than the new Commodore doesn’t rob it of any on-road presence and doesn’t show up too badly in useable dimensional comparisons either, where the boot is a generous 504 litres and the all-round legroom and shoulder room is comfortable for at least four adults.
And while we’re inside the Aurion, it’s nice to find the bland Toyota appearance has been jazzed up significantly, not just in the way it looks, but also in the neat attention to detail. There’s an air of finesse here, something that was not really noticeable ion the Aurion’s true predecessor, the previous Camry V6.
And even at base levels the Aurion is stunningly well-equipped where it matters. Electronic stability control, front side airbags as well as full-length head bags mirror what you’re more likely to find in a Euro luxury car while the entry AT-X gets full power adjustment for the driver’s seat (slide, recline, height and lumbar support), steering wheel audio controls, MP3/WMA CD audio, auto headlights and rear passenger air-con vents.
The only place where it gives way to the Camry is the use of a ski-port between the rear seats rather than a split-fold backrest – all because it gets extra body bracing behind the seats, which precludes a full load-through capability.
This also contributes to the boot’s being slightly smaller than the Camry’s quite amazing 535 litres.
In the third-rung Prodigy test car (AT-X is first, then Sportivo), the driver is confronted by a panel bearing Toyota’s Optitron instruments, slabs of leather and "wood" on the doors and dual-zone climate-control with an upgraded array of push-button controls.
The whole thing is clean and classy – even if some of our younger testers dubbed the Aurion as iPod inspired in its general instrument panel presentation. Maybe not quite appropriate for traditionally conservative Toyota buyers, but maybe just the thing for broadening the car’s appeal.
And, yes, there’s heaps more space (than the previous Camry) in front and back, with no complaints about leg or shoulder room although there is some tightness if rear passengers want to slide their feet under the front seats.
Firing up the Aurion is a classier experience than a four-cylinder Camry, but it’s not as audibly stimulating as you might expect from a 3.5-litre V6 punching out a decent 200kW.
The 60-degree all-alloy V6 offers a fair bit of sophistication with its dual camshafts per (alloy) cylinder bank, 24 valves and variable-valve timing on both inlet and exhaust sides.
Even though torque doesn’t build to its maximum 336Nm until a high 4700rpm, there’s plenty of response below that. The good thing is that the more-powerful-than-Commodore V6 is happy to spin through to its 6500rpm redline, conveying its pleasure through a refined, rather than thrashy engine sound.
That the engine isn’t exactly silky smooth actually helps, giving it a touch of character that stops well short of being intrusive or unpleasant.
The six-speed auto transmission that is standard in all Aurions helps a lot here too, shifting smoothly in full-auto mode and offering the choice of manual selection when required.
The end result is that the Aurion – which is about 150kg heavier than Camry – scoots to 100km/h in a slick 7.4 seconds while returning a class-leading 9.9L/100km on regular unleaded fuel.
Local engineers have traditionally had a lot of input to Toyota suspensions and the Aurion is no exception with its nicely sorted balance between ride quality and handling-roadholding.
For some, the Aurion might feel a tad abrupt in the way it deals with some bumps, but overall the spring-strut suspension is nice to live with, going about its business quietly enough and imbuing some sense of driver pleasure.
There’s nothing flash about the rack-and-pinion steering – conventional hydraulic, not electrically-assisted – but the system is well-weighted and responds accurately enough even though, to some tastes, it might feel a little dull in terms of feedback.
Taken as a whole though, the Aurion is anything but dull, from the way it looks, to the way it caters for its passengers, to the way it drives.
In the end, it could well be that the Camry benefits from being a relative of the Aurion rather than the latter being lambasted as little more than a slightly cooler-looking, punchier version of its four-cylinder-only sibling.
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