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Over 2 million Toyota hybrids have been sold globally since the launch of the. By any measure, that's a great success, but the company believes hybrid sales would be even higher if it were to offer a hybrid car that was less expensive, smaller and -- crucially -- less weird-looking than the Prius.
Enter the Auris Hybrid -- a greener, cleaner alternative to the hybrid car everyone loves to hate. It starts from £19,139, but the T-Spirit model we tested will set you back £20,882. Let's see how it measures up to its big ugly brother.
Watching paint dry
The Toyota Auris Hybrid could be one of the most exciting cars on the road, but you wouldn't give it a second glance. Not once during the seven days we tested the car did a single, solitary passer-by even cast a glance in its direction -- and who could blame them? The Auris, in hybrid form or not, is the most anonymous, derivative, lacklustre piece of design seen since Roger Federer invented beige.
Toyota told us this was entirely deliberate. Its designers said people find the Prius a little too unconventional, and the Auris was created to make a hybrid that looks more normal. We can see their point, but we'd rather drive a car that makes people look and inspires some kind of feeling, rather than cruise around in a thing so nondescript that nobody knows it exists.
But there's plenty of reason to get excited about the Auris Hybrid once you take a closer look. Under its bland little bonnet is the same Hybrid Synergy Drive setup found in the third-generation Prius.
Power comes from a 1.8-litre, 16-valve engine that uses the Atkinson cycle -- a method of internal combustion designed to prioritise efficiency at the expense of power. The engine's power is supplemented by a 60kW electric motor connected to a 202V, 6.5Ah nickel-metal hydride battery.
Unlike the Honda CR-Z, which is a mild hybrid, the Auris Hybrid is a full hybrid -- perhaps the only thing about it that isn't mild -- meaning it's capable of running on battery power alone (though only for 1.2 miles at a time and only at up to 30mph), on petrol power alone, or on a combination of petrol and electric power when more performance is desired.
Method to the madness
To the uninitiated user, the Auris drives like a normal automatic, but car geeks like us will be mesmerised by how the engine, motor and batteries work together as they drive.
Caress the accelerator pedal with your knitted hemp boots and it'll take off in almost complete silence, using the electric motor alone to get things moving. Things become a little noisier at higher speeds, however. The internal combustion engine kicks into life if you venture above 30mph, at lower speeds if your battery level is low, or from a standstill if you hammer the go-pedal in search of ultimate acceleration.
Occasionally, during sedate moments of driving, the electric motor will stop helping the car accelerate and instead act as a generator, soaking up excess power from the petrol engine and diverting it to the battery for later use. Cruise down a hill and it'll sip morsels of power from the car's regenerative braking system, turning heat energy that would otherwise be lost under braking into usable electricity that's stored in the battery.