Not everyone is going to love the look of Toyota's new Auris, but it does represent something of a shift in design terms.

In recent years most Toyotas have erred on the subtle, safe and even somewhat bland side of the design continuum, but new products like the 86, Auris and upcoming Corolla - previewed by a concept at Detroit - have a sharper design infused with more attitude.

Toyota attributes this to the leadership influence of its charismatic new President, Akio Toyoda, who is known for being far more of a car enthusiast than a bean counter.

LIGHTER, LOWER

The new Auris is 50kg lighter and 55mm lower, while the suspension (albeit still using a basic rear torsion beam) has been tweaked to make it more nimble and responsive.

Of course, its sharper design attitude has made its way through to the cabin, where the dashboard has a more angular and driver-centric design and parts of the dash on top models are covered in leather with 'baseball' stitching.

The front occupants sit on newly designed seats perched 40mm lower and the seat-shape increases rear knee room by 20mm. The Auris has also gained some much-needed boot space, the volume having increased from 283 litres to 360 litres.

WIDE RANGE

Base models (X and Xi) come with aircon, remote central locking, four-speaker sound system with USB/iPod connection, electric windows and mirrors as well as dual and front-side airbags, ABS and stability control.

The midrange XS adds a six-speaker audio system with screen display and reverse camera, sports front seats and Bluetooth while the flagship XR goes the whole hog with leather seats (heated up front), climate control, cruise control, auto lights and keyless go with start button. The XR also adds curtain-level airbags and one for the driver's knee.

TWO PETROLS, HYBRID COMING

The initial range offers a choice between two petrol engines - with a hybrid scheduled to join the range in February.

The base 'X' model is fitted with a 1.33-litre dual-variable-valve-timed motor that puts out 73kW at 6000rpm and 128Nm at 3800rpm. Toyota claims a combined fuel consumption figure of just 5.8 litres per 100km and a 12.6-second 0-100km/h sprint at the coast.

The rest of the range is moved along by a 1.6-litre Valvematic petrol engine that's good for 97kW at 6400rpm, 160Nm at 4400rpm, 6.2 l/100km consumption and 10-second 0-100.

Its Valvematic technology takes the dual-VVT-I technology a step further by adding lift and duration control to the inlet variable valve timing.

SIX-SPEED OR CVT

All engines are mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, but the flagship XR version can be ordered with a CVT transmission, which does at least have a stepped seven-speed Sport mode for those that want to break the monotony of continuously variable automatic gear shifts by swopping the cogs themselves.

BUT CAN IT COMPETE?

While the new Auris certainly appears to be a more enticing package than its predecessor, Toyota will have to look at introducing more powerful engines (preferably turbocharged) and more advanced gadgets if it's to really hold a candle to the new VW Golf. The new Auris can't even be had with satnav at this stage.

On the upside, the Auris does at least have a price advantage. Prices start just below the R200 000 mark and they include a service plan that'll do you for five years or 90 000km, whichever comes first.

THE BOTTOM LINE

1.3 X - R195 000

1.6 Xi - R217 500

1.6 XS - R228 600

1.6 XR - R253 200

1.6 XR CVT - R265 600

Take a closer look at the new Auris on video: