Car reviews - Toyota - Aurion - range
Impressively quiet, seat comfort, interior space, engine and transmission combination
Room for improvement
Steering a bit light and lacking in feel, foot-operated parking brake
18 Apr 2012
ROLLS-ROYCE used to claim their cars were so quiet that the only thing the occupants could hear while driving was the ticking of the clock.
More than once during the drive program on the launch of the second-generation Toyota Aurion, all we could hear was the rush of air from the air-conditioning vents – and yes we were in motion, with one particularly quiet point observed while travelling at about 80km/h on a recently-resurfaced road near Adelaide.
This is all part of Toyota’s aim to tempt customers out of other large-car choices, particularly Australian-built establishmentarians in Holden’s Commodore and Ford’s Falcon, while sales in the segment they occupy appear to be falling through the floor with no recovery in sight.
Toyota reckons that if it offers a convincingly luxurious choice at an affordable price – crucially below the luxury car tax threshold – it may not only pinch sales from Ford and Holden but perhaps appeal to people that might otherwise be considering a premium product only to be dissuaded by the LCT.
The line-up remains mostly unchanged, opening with the AT-X and topping out with the Presara, with the mid-spec Prodigy and sporty Sportivo variants in between.
This time, though, the Sportivo ZR6 is more like a sporty version of the Presara, with a $4500 price increase to match the higher specification.
On the fairly short launch drive program, there were too few Sportivos on hand for GoAuto to get any time behind the wheel and feel the sportier steering and suspension settings or play with the tweaked transmission’s paddle-shifters, but we were able to sample a Prodigy and a Presara.
Externally, the non-Sportivo Aurion remains conservatively styled but with a more assertive, angular front end than its predecessor, which combined with a chrome-tastic grille on non-Sportivo cars, lends it a more Japanese-premium look not dissimilar to the Lexus ES sold overseas.
The Sportivos look slightly more like the superseded model, losing the chrome and gaining a boot spoiler, side skirts and redesigned bumpers that provide them with an aggressive appearance unique to Australia and unlike anything else in Toyota’s range.
The effect is polarising and we think they have gone a bit over-the-top with the Sportivo’s styling, almost into HSV territory, but it shows how serious Toyota is about injecting emotional appeal into its product as a way of securing more private buyers.
The interior is a big improvement, the stitched, leather-look material covering the top of the dashboard, like the current Camry on which the Aurion is based, is somehow executed more convincingly and the effect is a pleasing one and shows the plasticky Falcon and Commodore a thing or two.
However, Toyota has unfortunately plastered some interior surfaces of higher-spec Aurions with plastic woodgrain-effect trim, but to its credit the style is much improved over the vomit-coloured (and inducing) fake wood of the old car.
Avoiding the woodgrain – the Presara is caked in the stuff – means going for the base AT-X or one of the Sportivos, in which metallic or carbon-fibre-effect plastic replaces it. Apart from that, most of the surfaces and textures are well chosen, even for the cheaper, harder plastics located lower down.
Toyota wins back points with a clear instrument panel featuring three multi-purpose displays for all the information a driver might need, including an easy-to-read economy gauge with green LEDs indicating current fuel consumption and a needle to show the average.
A decent touchscreen audio system with DAB+ digital radio adds a bit of class and helps towards the upmarket feel, while the Sportivo ZR6 and Presara get a nifty seven-inch screen with satellite-navigation and SUNA traffic updates plus a premium JBL amplifier and speaker package.
Toyota’s efforts to improve the seats have paid off for they are supple, supportive and comfortable front and rear, with plenty of space available for your 186cm-tall correspondent, even in the back with the front seats set for similarly lanky occupants.
The Aurion has been hailed as a benchmark car by crash-test safety authority ANCAP, which awarded it a five-star safety rating, and it is the only Australian-built large car to feature a driver’s knee airbag as standard, bringing the total to seven.
ANCAP was also impressed by the Aurion’s safety assist technologies, which include standard seatbelt reminders for all five positions and reversing camera across the range, while the Presara gets blind-spot monitoring.
Once the irritating and old-fashioned foot-operated parking brake has been released (one to address for the facelift, Toyota) the safe and secure feeling carries through.
This is not a car we would drive to the hills for the hell of it, but the Aurion negotiates twisty roads competently, able to carry a deceptively high speed around bends and holding its line.
Our main complaint in this department is the over-light electric power steering, which could do with providing more feedback and perhaps a quicker rack to ease the negotiation of tight bends.
We also experienced the usual traction issues associated with powerful front-wheel-drive cars when attempting to accelerate hard out of bends or junctions – this is one differentiation against the other Aussie big sixes that Toyota may continue to struggle with.
We were surprised by the firm but well-damped ride, expecting more of a floaty magic-carpet experience, but perhaps because the cabin is generally so quiet we tended to hear larger bumps more than we felt them and overall the Aurion is a beautifully comfortable way to travel.
As mentioned before, Toyota’s work on interior quietness has obviously paid off and the company concentrated on making it easier for occupants to hold a conversation by deadening those frequencies that get in the way.
In our experience with the Aurion, usually intrusive road roar from coarse-chip surfaces remained purely background noise.
Power and torque outputs from the Aurion’s 3.5-litre V6 have remained static at 200kW and 336m, which is sufficient for steep inclines or overtaking. It is 5kW up but 55Nm down on the 4.0-litre straight-six of the Falcon and 10kW/14Nm down on Holden’s 3.6-litre V6.
With official combined fuel economy of 9.3 litres per 100km (down from 9.9L/100km), the Aurion is 0.6L/100km more efficient than Falcon and 0.2L/100km more efficient than Commodore.
On our drive programme through the winding, hilly roads near South Australia’s capital, bookended with suburban and urban driving, we saw the Aurion return average fuel consumption of 10.5L/100km, impressively close to the official figure considering some of the lead-footed driving involved.
On this topic, while quiet and refined in most conditions, the Aurion’s powerplant emits a terrific hard-edged growl under hard acceleration, at which point the car also feels pleasingly rapid.
The six-speed automatic transmission operates smoothly and responds admirably quickly to kickdown requests when bursts of acceleration are required.
Its sport mode is even more responsive, holds onto each ratio for longer and allows manual changes using the gearlever (with the steering wheel paddles and throttle blips downchanges for Sportivo variants).
Out back, the 515-litre boot has gained load-through access to the cabin via a split-fold rear bench, boosting practicality.
Despite a $500 price rise for the entry-level AT-X and Sportivo SX-6, the Aurion continues to undercut the Falcon and Commodore.
With the standard reversing camera, increased safety tech, dual-zone climate-control, audio system with colour display, USB, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, it presents slightly better value for money than before – especially for the top-spec Presara, the price of which remains unchanged.
Having evolved rather than revolutionised the Aurion formula and concentrated on making small improvements where they matter, Toyota has kept the product relevant and succeeded in its aim of moving it further upmarket.
It remains a viable alternative to the Falcon and Commodore and the whisper-quiet ride is a bonus.
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