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Toyota customers intent on saving icebergs in the last few years have had to pay quite a lot for having an environmental conscience. As planet-friendly as its fuel consumption and emissions are, a Prius hybrid isn’t exactly cheap at R370 000.
To redress this Toyota South Africa recently introduced a hybrid version of its Auris hatchback, which has fuel-sipping, planet-friently performance at a price that’s also much friendlier to your wallet. The two versions of the Auris HSD (which stands for Hybrid Synergy Drive) sell for R272 500 and R299 600 - between 70 and 100 grand less than the Prius.
It’s moved along by the latest version of the same hybrid synergy drivetrain found in the Prius, linking two sources of power: a 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine producing 73kW and 142Nm, and an electric motor wielding 60kW and 207Nm. The car’s motivated by either petrol or electric power alone or a combination thereof, with a continuously variable transmission helping to make these transitions smooth and undetectable to the driver.
Aerodynamic tweaks make the Auris HSD slip smoother through the air stream to further improve fuel consumption and lower emissions, making for a planet with fewer melting icebergs, more trees growing, and everyone sitting around in circles singing “Kumbaya”. Or 93g/km of C02 emissions and a 4.0 litre per 100km consumption, to be exact.
BUT HOW DOES IT REALLY DRINK?
Perhaps such economy is really possible, and I’d like to meet the driver who achieves it, but the Auris HSD we road-tested averaged 5.4 litres no matter how we tried to feather-foot a better figure. That’s very economical, and better than most non-hybrid petrol hatchbacks will achieve, but didn’t quite have me in a Kumbaya-singing mood because I’ve driven turbodiesel cars that have done similar or better.
We admittedly spent a lot of time on the open road with the Auris HSD, and in a hybrid car the more you’re stuck in traffic the better the consumption gets (because at lower speeds the car spends more time running on electric power). So I can easily imagine consumption dipping below five litres in the right conditions. But four? Hmm ...
As long as speed's kept below 50km/h the HSD Auris should be able to cruise several kilometres on electric power alone on a full battery. When driving with a heavier right foot, the battery’s drained quicker than a beer barrel at a rugby braai. When we tested acceleration figures, after just four 0-100km/h runs the battery was out of juice and the times dropped from 12 seconds to 16 secs.
As for its general driveability the hybrid Auris delivers adequate commuting pace and open-road cruisability. In fuel-saving Eco mode (which the driver can choose by pressing a button) the car feels rather pedestrian, with no more performance than you’d get from a standard 1.6 petrol. After you’ve driven solely in that mode for a few days, as I did in my fuel-saving mission, switching to Power mode suddenly gives this hybrid Auris a much-welcomed spring in its step.
With its continuously-variable transmission the power delivery occurs in a smooth and stepless fashion, delivering an all-round relaxed ride. But it has a “slipping-clutch” effect that can be quite annoying if you’ve grown up with the traditional feel of individually-selected gears.
The Auris hybrid lays on some generous safety and spec despite costing so much less than a Prius. An audio system with Bluetooth and USB connection, smart entry (the key stays in your pocket and the car locks and unlocks by touching the doorhandle), onboard computer, seven airbags and ABS brakes are standard to both versions. The higher-specced XR model we tested in addition comes with items like leather/alcantara upholstery, cruise control, and automatic headlights and windscreen wipers.
The electric-motor batteries don’t intrude on passenger or luggage space, which is the same as in regular-powered Auris versions.
The biggest opposition to hybrids has always been that they’re very expensive compared to turbodiesel cars with similar spec and fuel consumption. The Auris HSD narrows that gap considerably, costing just ten grand more than a 2-litre diesel Auris (40 grand if you opt for the high-spec XR version).
While it doesn’t quite have all the bells and whistles of the much pricier Prius, it has more than enough of them to satisfy fussy customers and proves you don’t have to be overcharged to drive with a clean and green conscience. If you can live with less legroom, wait for the even cheaper Yaris hybrid arriving soon. -Star Motoring
Follow Denis on Twitter: @denisdroppa