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Car reviews - Toyota - Aurion - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Build quality, accomplished ride comfort, taut handling, well-weighted steering, standard equipment levels, standard safety features, standard full-size spare wheel, cabin quietness, ergonomics, silky six-speed auto, smooth V6, impressive peak power figure, upmarket feel of AT-X, superior road-holding of Sportivo, value for money
Room for improvement
The fact it's no bigger than Camry - inside or out, the fact it's boot is no bigger either, the fact it shares its doors and roof with Camry, V6 lacks torque below 3000rpm, some steering kickback, seat base too short and high, fiddly foot parking brake, intrusive A-pillar, no split/folding rear seat, weird name

18 Oct 2006

PUT aside, for the moment, the fact that Toyota’s brand-new Aurion is really a new-generation Camry sedan clothed in a different body, powered exclusively by a V6 engine and stuffed with loads more technology and equipment.

And forget about Toyota’s last attempt at a Commodore-style sedan, the dead-and-buried Avalon, because – in its own right – Aurion delivers everything we expected from it.

Underneath the more muscular, more aggressive and, dare we say it, more blokey exterior styling and the neatly crafted, high-quality interior there is a superbly executed ride-and-handling package, motivated by a silky-smooth 3.5-litre V6 that delivers both power and economy neither Commodore nor Falcon can match, and is mated to a first-rate six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode.

Throw in, too, the fact that, unlike Holden’s new VE Commodore, every Aurion comes standard with side curtain airbags, a full-size spare wheel and body-coloured wing mirrors, (proper pull-type) door handles and exterior garnishes.

Yes, tacky plastic wheel covers remain the most glaring external giveaway the AT-X is the cheapest Aurion in the range, but inside there is an upmarket ambience that both Commodore Omega and Falcon XT drivers will immediately appreciate.

Of course, current Camry owners will also be familiar with the largely carryover dashboard and console, which presents an array of large, push-button controls in a logical arrangement that falls readily to hand. Lexus-style instruments look classy but probably do not provide incrementation that is accurate enough, especially in the absence of a digital speedo display. But the blue backlit centre console stack is all class.

A wide range of seating and steering wheel adjustment will suit a variety of body shapes and sizes, and is let down only by a seat base that is a little too short and too high.

The latter is exacerbated by a low-slung A-pillar that is almost as intrusive as Falcon’s and almost as thick as Commodore’s and, besides the fiddly foot-operated parking brake, is the only let-down in an otherwise highly ergonomic package.

Stretching room is adequate rather than generous and an almost-flat rear floor maximises rear legroom, which in isolation appears a good match for its rivals.

Twin rear air-vents, four soft-sprung overhead grabhandles, a large lockable glovebox and four decent door pockets are a boon, but the practicality of a split-folding rear seat like Falcon has is missing. Instead, there’s an even smaller ski-port than in Commodore and 380.

On the move, Aurion presents all the hallmarks for which Camry is now famous.

Feeling lighter on the road than Falcon and Commodore, the weightlessness of both hand and foot controls help to make Aurion confidence inspiring to drive immediately at any speed.

Noise suppression is excellent at most speeds on most road surfaces, though the lower-profile 17-inch Michelin rubber beneath Sportivo and Presara is noticeably louder and rougher on coarse-chip bitumen than the base model’s 16-inch Dunlops.

While the more firmly sprung Sportivo’s greater body control is worth the less-compliant ride, the AT-X is far from floaty. The local suspension development work is apparent in the way all Aurions hold the road with European, rather than American, levels of composure over all manner of cambers, corrugations and cavities.

Steering, too, is nicely weighted without being a chore at carpark speeds, and provides reasonably crisp turn-in and response in most situations – with only a whiff of steering kickback at the very edge of adhesion during hard cornering over bumps. There is no sign of bump-steer or steering rack rattle.

Torque steer, the bane of many powerful front-drive cars, is also kept well in check – certainly better than in the 380 – but one can’t help feeling the (unswitchable) stability control system plays a big role here.

Matching Commodore in its standard fitment across the range, it does a highly intuitive, effective and unobtrusive job of keeping the show on the road. For the vast majority of drivers in most conditions, switching it off (if you could) would be pointless.

Which brings us to the powertrain, the real reason for Aurion’s being. Sure, it feels like there is 200kW on tap somewhere before the rev-limiter cuts in at around 6500rpm, and the Aurion V6 is a sweet-revving six that works brilliantly with Toyota’s pleasingly adaptive six-speed. But at engine speeds below 3000rpm acceleration is, at best, sluggish.

Down low Aurion feels significantly more lethargic in terms of "step-off" torque than Falcon’s buxom 190kW/380Nm 4.0-litre six-pack and narrowly on par with Commodore’s 3.6-litre V6, which makes only modest gains to 180kW/330Nm in vastly heavier VE guise.

Luckily, the six-speed auto’s quick and smooth-shifting nature masks its lack of bottom-end torque effectively, and its manual-shift mode can be used to select a maximum ratio for decent response and engine braking. Thankfully, when in manual mode, it will change down but not up.

The 6-AT’s two overdrive gears deliver outstanding economy on the open road, but in spirited driving over 300km of wet, broken, undulating blacktop between Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo we saw a worst consumption figure of 13.9L/100km and an average of 12.5, which would only narrowly undercut Commodore and Falcon’s real-world figure in similar circumstances.

Driving enthusiasts will rue the lack of a manual transmission or extra power in the Sportivo variants, but as a cutting-edge V6/auto combination Aurion will please a far greater number of daily drivers than it disappoints – and probably many more with sporting pretensions.

Notwithstanding the fact Aurion’s boot is no bigger than Camry’s (but still larger than all its rivals’) and that interior space gains are also non-existent, Aurion should make a great deal of sense for a great deal of Australians.

Combine the powerful, sophisticated and well-priced Aurion’s standard safety, convenience and cosmetic advantages with Toyota’s legendary reputation for reliability, quality and resale value, and the AT-X should appeal as much to the demanding fleet buyers as price-sensitive private customers.

Unlike Avalon, the Aurion is significantly different to Camry in terms of both aesthetics and the driving experience. Given the high level of standard safety and equipment of the base AT-X, which should comprise almost two-thirds of all sales, we think Aurion should easily rob enough sales from Commodore, Falcon and even Mitsubishi's value-packed 380 for it to be successful.

The question is how many Camry sales it substitutes in the process.

And if Toyota’s multi-million-dollar marketing campaign cannot get large-sedan buyers’ heads around its clumsy name (two different Accords with different engines works for Honda, so why not Toyota?), then at least Aurion’s mere existence will have improved the big Aussie six breed.

No, if cars like VE and Aurion can’t turn the Aussie big-six market around, nothing will.

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