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Car reviews - Toyota - Aurion - Sportivo ZR6 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Handling, ride, body control, comfy cabin, big refinement qualities, Toyota reliability and durability, inoffensive styling
Room for improvement
Not sporty enough for intended image, no engine performance upgrade, some chintzy cabin trim, no split/fold rear seat

19 Jan 2007

THE Toyota Aurion, for all its taut surfacing and modern styling, is a Camry underneath –and the Sportivo ZR6, as tested here, is merely a Camry in drag.

The Aurion is indeed the Vienta of today… you remember the Vienta, Toyota’s Camry V6 from the 1990s?

Understanding this allows us to appreciate the Aurion for what it really is – a damn fine, upper-medium sized four-to-five seater, front-wheel drive family car in the mould of the Mitsubishi 380, Honda Accord V6 and Nissan Maxima.

Against the latter two, the Aurion Sportivo ZR6 is the undisputed driver’s choice, offering sharper steering, flatter cornering capabilities, better high-speed stability and greater levels of body control.

Really, at everyday driving speeds, the ZR6 is agile, eager and extremely forgiving, showing capabilities hitherto foreign in a large Toyota sedan.

However, against the locally made 380, also a front-driver, the Aurion’s steering seems a little low-geared and remote. Despite having a tauter suspension set-up and sticky Michelin 215/55 R17 tyres, the Sportivo will progressively lean more and run wider through fast, tight corners, although the non-switch-off-able stability control will always ensure things never go awry.

It also lacks the fluid cornering line of the sportier Falcon and Commodore sedans.

However, where the Aurion does shine, is in its silky performance delivery, which approaches luxury-car levels of quietness and refinement. From the driver’s perspective, it’s like you’ve suddenly slipped into a Valium-induced flow state.

By comparison, the Falcon and Commodore – though quite civilised in this department – are subject to gearbox whine, wind noise and – with recent experience in the latter – a repertoire of rattles.

Furthermore, neither can match the Toyota’s 3.5-litre V6 for engine smoothness.

Smallest in capacity, it produces a very healthy 200kW of power at a sky-high 6200rpm, but less torque than you might imagine (336Nm at 4700rpm a Falcon offers 383Nm). So, frequent visits to the top end of the rev range are necessary for maximum performance.

Nevertheless, floor it from standstill and, after a moment’s hesitation, the Sportivo springs into action like a sleeping cat that’s been startled, spinning the front wheels despite all that fat rubber, and generally making a hoon of itself. Pretty impressive!

Aiding progress is a smart witted, swift-acting yet smooth-talking six-speed automatic gearbox. In fact, so competent is this trannie in ‘D’, that slotting it into the sequential shift is pointless, particularly in a car so effortless in so many ways.

And here’s another thing: if you are in fact stepping on the gas, just be wary of your speed, because all that quiet refinement will lull you into a false sense of security... without knowing it, you might be making a date with the Magistrate. That natty little overspeed buzzer sure comes in handy (officer)...

On the all-important fuel consumption front, the Aurion seems measurably more frugal than its big-car rivals.

The trip computer readout varied considerably from an indicated 10.0L/100km to 18.5L/100km, settling to about 11.0L/100km over a wide variety of urban driving situations.

On rougher roads, the Aurion’s suspension – a MacPherson strut-front and multi-link rear suspension set-up – remains sturdy and controlled, absorbing bumps with ease and keeping the car steady. The same also applies to the brakes, which have a nicely modulated feel to them.

All in all, then, Toyota Australia has offered as an international family car that works extremely well for this big country.

But, being Camry-based, does it have four-cylinder seats?

The front ones in the Sportivo ZR6 are very well shaped, keeping you locked into place, propped up squarely where you want to be behind the steering wheel. Ample adjustment of both sure does help.

Sited right beside the driver, the auto’s lever falls to the left hand for when those manual Tiptronic-style shifts are desired.

But the deeply sculptured bench out back isn’t so great if you’re tall. The space around you is encroached on by the seat ahead, and the roofline above, while the raised centre section seems to have been made deliberately uncomfortable for anybody over 160cm.

Let’s face it this sedan’s overall interior size is of medium car dimensions. It isn’t tight – just not Commodore-commodious.

In ZR6 guise there is too much silver plastic blighting the centre console of the attractive T-shaped dash (that disappointingly is virtually identical to the Camry’s), but the rest of the cabin trim looks and feels extremely well made.

The Optitron instrumentation’s clarity is first class. The ventilation is more than adequate on a hot summer’s day (rear vents are a boon too), with the electronic heater/vent controls simple to use, and there are no complaints about storage facilities.

Fitted with Bluetooth and Toyota’s logical satellite navigation system, the Aurion can easily assume the identity of a Lexus inside.

We cannot remember the last time that we didn’t mention issues of restricted rear vision due to thick pillars, high waistlines and shallow rear windows… the Aurion is no exception. At least Toyota offers parking sensors and fits Dumbo-sized exterior mirrors to compensate.

Annoyingly, the Aurion does not offer the split/fold rear seat arrangement present in most Camry models either (because of the extra body stiffening in the boot).

Even though the boot is a capacious 504 litres in volume, for many people, this is a deal breaker. Especially, when the dynamic trade-off (the added rigidity a fixed rear seat bulkhead offers) doesn’t seem to be worth it in the Sportivo.

With its pleasantly anonymous styling, spacious cab-forward body, honed front-wheel drive chassis, powerful yet relatively frugal 3.5-litre V6 engine and its slick six-speed automatic gearbox, the Aurion is a very capable family car package.

But it’s not the Australian ‘Big 6’ game changer that Toyota will have us believing, no matter how Australian the design of the nose and tail treatments is.

When you strip down the Aurion, you end up with the best-ever Camry, one that is still targeted first and foremost at American consumers… just like the Avalon was, but just much, much better.

And probably for this very reason (and lucky for Holden, Ford and Mitsubishi), the Sportivo ZR6 is a less convincing sports sedan than the SV6, XR6 and 380 GT.

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