Civilised and sensible motoring

REGULAR readers will know of my general distaste for hybrid cars.

It is a personal thing and not something I expect everyone to agree with, but the bottom line is that I don’t like them.

Call me a behemoth if you wish; tell me I’m stuck is some primordial time warp and unwilling to move with the times; why, you could even call me thick, if you want. I don’t really care. I still don’t like these things.

The latest of them that we get to test is the Toyota Auris HSD (that’s Hybrid Synergy Drive to you and me) and it is basically a Toyota Prius dressed up in new clothes. Toyota is spending a fortune on a marketing campaign for the car and has even gone as far as to billboard it on the front of the Munster rugby team’s jerseys in certain of their games this season, rather than using the normal Toyota logo.

The best thing I can say about the Auris HSD is that it is a decent mode of transport. If you want something to actually drive, then look elsewhere.

Admittedly there are certain relatively fascinating things about theAuris HSD, but only really if you’re a tecchie-head. Sure, Toyota has just announced it will be entering its new TS030 petrol/electric sports car prototype in Le Mans this year, but it has to be said that this machine, while intended to highlight Toyota’s pre-eminence in the hybrid field, bears little or no resemblance – mechanically or otherwise – to anything Toyota might sell for road use.

Of course, hybrids are becoming something of a ‘soupe du jour’ right across the car manufacturing sector with everyone from BMW to the VW Group jumping on the bandwagon, but this, in my view, has more to do with the seeming failure of the industry to adopt the cleanest form of motivation – hydrogen – as a fuel source.

Indeed, a BMW executive told me recently that his company would be able to produce a hydrogen-powered car within a matter of months if it decided to do so. However, the problem of setting up a viable network of fuelling points in Germany, not to mention the rest of Europe, had killed the hydrogen project stone dead.

That being so and needing to be seen to move with our ever green times, BMW has chosen to go down the hybrid road instead. And many other manufacturers are following suit. Toyota, of course, and Honda to a lesser degree have a serious edge here because they are already clearly established class-leaders in the field and recent worldwide figures for hybrid car sales would certainly seem to suggest that the global buying public is slowly but surely adopting hybrid power as an alternative to conventional diesel or petrol engined cars.

But, the bottom line as far as I am concerned is that these things, while being all very well and good in their own right, do not provide any real enjoyment in terms of the driving experience. Sure they will get you from A to B without difficulty, but I for one don’t extract any enjoyment from them whatsoever.

The Auris HSD is powered jointly by an Atkinson-cycle 1.8 litre 132 bhp petrol engine and a 79 bhp electric motor. These can be used individually, but in my experience it is best to leave the car’s own ‘brain’ to do the thinking and chose the appropriate power source for the appropriate circumstance.

In fact, it is probably best to leave the car do most of the thinking in this case. All you really have to concentrate on is accelerating, steering and braking – the car pretty much does everything else itself. You know the bumper cars at the fairground – it’s a bit like that, without all the crashing.

This Auris is actually quite capable of brisk performance, but I have to say that the trashy CVT belt drive system which is utilised instead of a conventional gearbox does not like high revs. So, if you want to go anywhere quickly, brace yourself for an unforgiving din.

That said, if you want thoroughly civilised motoring at terribly sensible speeds, then the Auris HSD could be for you. And, if you want thoroughly civilised motoring at terribly sensible speeds which will produce an economy figure approaching 73 mpg, then it is definitely for you. Indeed the big attraction here, apart from its green credentials (which prompts a decent VRT rebate) is the dramatically reduced running costs as a result of the car’s frugality. To my mind, that is the only plus point involved here.

OK, so the car is decently specified and offers reasonable practicality, but as a one-on-one cost option with some of its more conventional rivals it doesn’t look great. Any pay-off from the hybrid will take some time to accrue.

Like it or lump it, hybrid technology is going to be with us for some time, it would appear. That being the case, Toyota is in pole position to profit if shifting consumer demand sees a concerted move in this direction.

I might not like these things, but that doesn’t count for much in the greater scheme of things. The fact is that the Auris HSD is a living thing and Toyota will sell a fair share of them.

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