The last carmaker that attempted to sell cars like ‘white goods’ has only just met its maker, so to speak, but Toyota, explains Iain P W Robertson, is a past master of the art of motiveless, mindlessly numb automobilia, a factor that has never seemed to do much harm to its worldwide domination.

toyota-auris01Worry not. The explanation is forthcoming. The most loathsome swine of the motorcar business is General Motors, or GM, which owns the Chevrolet brand and has been the Number One car manufacturer in the world several times over in the past few decades.

I have mentioned it in despatches before but it is worth repetition. Every carmaker that has come into contact with GM over the years has either sloped off to die somewhere, or has simply never recovered from the experience. As evidence, I cite Isuzu, Subaru, Suzuki, Lotus, Saab and Fiat. Look at what GM has done to its own European charges at Vauxhall and Opel, plus the imminent removal of the Chevrolet brand from the UK and the cessation of Holden manufacturing in Australia. At least Toyota’s brief flirtation with GM in the late-1980s came to nought.

One of GM’s former subsidiaries, South Korean Daewoo, which it snaffled-up, after its prior owners had emptied the corporate pots, is renowned for introducing the ‘cars sold as white goods’ premise, from its own ‘no hassle, no quibble’ showrooms and, lest we forget, it is the brand that introduced the three years warranty to the industry. Okay. I know that Mitsubishi had done it first in the UK but Daewoo was responsible for waking up the entire industry to the longer warranty period.

While Daewoos are no longer sold in the UK, neither (from very soon) are its Chevrolet branded alternatives. However, Toyota remains unsullied and, seemingly, every bit as eager as Daewoo ever was to perpetuate the ‘white goods’ scenario. Even a name-change, made a few years back, from Corolla to Auris, cannot alter the fact that the company’s most prolific model is so bland that it might as well be a refrigerator (not a Neff, which has colour on its side), or a vampire’s victim, with most of its lifeblood sucked through its jugular.

toyota-auris02Enthusiasts wonder how Toyota can boast near world domination (it has vied with GM’s top-spot for years, even beating it on occasion, until some wise-cracking, GM shares-holding Republican decided that a major US recall would stop the Japanese brand in its tracks). The company dabbles occasionally in slightly lunatic machines, such as the Lexus LFA supercar, or its own Celica and MR2 models, which deliver slightly more than chunks of ice and chilled ham. Yet, Corolla, or Auris, remain central to its characterless, style-free presence.

Blue-rinsers and non-car-lovers the world over are drawn inexorably to Toyota, even though recent reliability events, true, or false, have scarred the firm deeply. Its latest Auris Touring Sports is a case in point. Since the compact estate car market started to grow in volume, thanks to a broader downshift to more compact models by the burgeoning fleet sector, the Golf, Focus and Astra estates have been enjoying a fresh surge of vitality. Toyota can join that throng…not that you would notice it.

The Auris hatchback has been re-jigged cleverly to reflect the market’s demands for a regular footprint equipped with a longer and more spacious load deck. Bear in mind that the Astra estate is actually roomier than its Insignia larger brother, while the Focus is not so far behind the Mondeo. Auris follows the herd. Its revised nose and tail (over the original Auris) are now classier, even though I still find it difficult to discern visually between most of the models in this sector, which includes the Hyundai i30 and Kia cee’d, although the new Honda Civic estate is avant-garde enough to make a statement of its own. Jolly well done, Honda.

Intrinsically, there is nothing wrong with the Auris’s interior. It is all very business-like and works well. Yet, it is comprehensively devoid of design flair, its plastics might well be durable but they are also horrible, unyielding and lacking in tactility and there is scarcely any interior fitting with which a driver might like to engage. If this all seems like damning with feint praise, I must keep reminding myself that the Corolla/Auris sells like hotcakes around the world.

toyota-auris03Although an ingenious hybrid version exists in its line-up, sharing much of the synergy-drive hardware of the company’s Prius, I opted for the 1.6-litre 130bhp petrol model instead. Naturally, it is less costly than the hybrid (which has a larger 1.8-litre petrol engine alongside its electric motor and automatic transmission) and for the buyer still unsure of the integrity of Toyota’s hybrid technology (there is no need to be so, as it is thoroughly dependable and intriguing to drive) such a saving of £2,245 might be perceived as beneficial. However, not intentionally loading the dice in favour of hybrid but, as it attains almost 30mpg better fuel economy than the around 45mpg figure of the 1.6-litre, its 85g/km CO2 emissions figure makes the 140g/km of the 1.6i look positively foul.

The 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine delivers a modest amount of power, even if it will not actually melt the tarmac, or its tyres, that is enough for getting about and not incurring the wrath of the law. However, it can be pushed to a top speed of around 121mph, despatching the 0-60mph benchmark in a zippy 10.2 seconds. All of the controls operate fluently. The steering is a touch light and the brakes feel slightly over-servoed but its overall performance anf handling is consistent, if lacking in character. The Auris Touring Sports’ price of £19,995 (in Icon trim) is market competitive, even though I feel that it is over-priced. Mind you, I think that ALL car prices are over the top at present.

The bottom-line is that the Auris does nothing badly. In fact, it does everything quite well. It is simply that it lacks any sense of urgency, or style, or playfulness and, were it to do that, it might readily escalate to the top of the class, rather than hovering around basement level. Toyota, you need to try harder.

Conclusion: Perhaps a change at the top of the Japanese company might herald-in a new era of enervation and enthusiasm, from a driver’s joy perspective? Yet, somehow, like a super-tanker attempting to make a U-turn in the Thames, it is probably a feckless exercise and Toyota will never change. Bring back Celica…or MR2.…because GT86 is not doing it!