ROAD TEST: Toyota Auris HSD XR
Despite the fact that various hybrid cars have been available to South Africans for years now, buyers have hardly been tripping one another up in a rush to the showrooms.
Toyota has taken a rather brave bet then, by introducing a hybrid into the Auris range without offering a diesel alternative this time around.
Mother Nature will no doubt welcome the move, and some potential buyers might feel inspired to unchain themselves from the trees they’re trying to save.
You see, while diesels drink less juice and emit less CO2 than petrols, that advantage is eroded to an extent by the additional harmful gasses that oil-burners emit. Petrol-electric hybrids, with their super-stingy consumption, ultimately offer the best of both worlds but they tend to be priced for the privileged.
That said, the new Auris HSD models are not priced too far above the diesel norm - in fact they undercut many similarly-sized diesel hatchbacks, while also offering enough kit to make you feel like you've spent your money on more than just batteries and a fancy diagram on the dashboard.
Even the entry-level XS, at R300 800, buys you climate control, touch screen audio system with reverse camera, rain-sensing wipers and keyless start. As they tend to do, Toyota gave us the fancy version. This R326 200 XR spices things up with Ice Grey leather seats, dual zone climate control, cruise control and a panoramic glass roof so you can see all the smog in the sky emitted by factories and power stations.
Hybrid models also have their own unique instrumentation with blue backlighting and other unique decorations to make you feel part of the hybrid family. In all it is more elegantly finished than the conventional Auris models and you don't even have to give up any boot space as the battery is perched beneath the rear seat.
Another thing this car comes with is a way of manipulating you to drive more economically. Instead of a rev counter, you get a gauge that tells you whether you're in 'eco' or 'power mode' and it soon becomes a challenge to keep the system in a frugal state of being.
Of course, you're assisted by an electric motor that supplements the 1.8-litre Atkinson Cycle petrol engine and even replaces it at lower speeds when it has sufficient charge. Toyota claims the HSD can chug along on battery power alone for up to 2km at speeds of up to 50km/h. I never quite quite managed 2km and found that it would generally add petrol power between 30 and 50km/h, but consumption was still mightily impressive. Despite creeping into power mode on many occasions in order to keep up with traffic, the car averaged 5.3 l/100km in city traffic.
While its eerily silent nature makes town driving an absolute pleasure, and even somewhat amusing at first, the drivetrain emits a strained sound on the highway and needs to be worked hard to maintain normal speeds on inclines.
The hybrid drivetrain, which is mated to a CVT continuously variable gearbox, boasts a total system output of 100kW, which should allow a 10.9 second 0-100km/h run and 180km/h top speed.
An extensive highway journey at 120km/h procured an average consumption of 5.2 l/100km, which once again proves that the real hybrid advantage is in city driving.
The Auris HDS is quiet, comfortable, luxurious and sniffs each drop of fuel like it's the last on earth, but is it a better proposition than a diesel model? Let's just say that it's not an instant winner in the value stakes, and its open road performance certainly lets it down to a great extent, but if most of your driving takes place in urban confines then this is probably the first hybrid model that's ever been worth a look-in.
Toyota Auris HSD XR (100kW) - R326 200 (XS R300 800)
Audi A3 SB 1.6 TDI S (77kW) - R329 000
Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi 5dr (120kW) - R275 500
Honda Civic 1.6i DTEC 5dr (88kW) - R308 900
Mercedes-Benz A180 CDI (80kW) - R350 500
Renault Megane 1.6 dCi (96kW) - R274 900
VW Golf 1.6 TDI Comfortline (81kW) - R292 900
Volvo V40 D2 Essential (84kW) - R288 800