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Cutting through the bull: Toyota Auris

Dave Ross takes us through why the Toyota Auris isn't the Corolla it should be.


There's a supposed story about the Toyota Auris leading up to its 2007 launch.

Well I say Auris but originally, as the replacement for the Corolla, it was simply going to be the next-generation Corolla -- a name known all over the world and a Toyota badge since even before time and Twitter began.

Well into the design process, Toyota got hold of pictures of the new Honda Civic -- a car that had kept its name but changed beyond recognition in terms of design. Once the preserve of vicars and octogenarians, the Civic was now radically different. In fact aside from the name on the boot it had nothing in common with the old Civic.

The same couldn't be said of the new Toyota hatchback. This was a car that was easy to spot as the successor to the Corolla. And not a very exciting one. So the story goes that Toyota was so surprised by how daring the Civic was that its marketing people started to worry. Seriously worry.

The new Corolla was looking decidedly old hat compared with the Honda.

The problem was it was too late to change the design. So instead the company simply changed the name.

Out went Corolla and in came Auris. And just like that we had a new model. The idea being that if you wave a nice new shiny name in front of the car-buying public, they'll seemingly not notice the fact that the car you're selling them isn't actually that new. An insult to our intelligence? Perhaps.

I like to think that common sense prevailed. The Honda Civic proved hugely popular and redefined the model. It was everything a good hatchback should be: practical, well-built, and enjoyable to drive. OK so it only had three engines and one of those wasn't very good, but it still stood head and shoulders above most of the competition. People bought it because it was good -- not because it had a new name.

The Auris did have a shiny new name -- literally: it means gold -- but I remember driving one shortly after it was launched and being distinctively underwhelmed by it. Especially as I actually quite liked the Corolla. Even subsequent face-lifts and improvements never gave it the sparkle it needed. It was just "a car" and nothing more.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course. A lot of people want a reliable and fuss-free car that provides simple A-to-B transport. Of course that's not to say you can't do that with a bit of style and class. So now we have a new Auris, and guess what: it looks good. Really good compared with recent Toyota designs.

The irony is that this is a car that actually does deserve a new name. There's little to identify it with the outgoing Auris, and it's got quite an upmarket feel to it. It's exactly the kind of car you'd expect from Toyota. Yes it's still fairly dull to drive, but if you buy one at least you know exactly what you're getting: an Auris. Or is it a Corolla? Let me know if they bring back the Carina E. That's a whole different story.