Facelift gives Aurion relevance
Good as it is, the Toyota Aurion has always been on a hiding to nothing.
Essentially a Camry sedan with a 3.5-litre V6 plonked into the engine bay, it was originally developed by Toyota Australia to compete against the heavies of the Aussie large-car market, the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon.
Truth be told, the Aurion was never going to get anywhere near matching the sales of those two cars. In Australia - and to a lesser extent New Zealand - there was no way huge numbers of the traditional rear-drive Commie/Falcon devotees were ever going to change allegiances to a front-drive Toyota.
And so, right from its original launch back in 2006, the Toyota Aurion has sold in the hundreds rather than thousands in New Zealand.
But those who have owned Aurions have thoroughly enjoyed the experience, because it is an impressive car.
For starters, its 3.5-litre V6 engine gives it real performance potential. Being front-driven, it is also an easy car to drive, although the weight of the engine up front has traditionally meant it doesn't quite have the handling capability of the smaller-engined Camry. And it has always been pretty well loaded with specification for the price.
TOYOTA AURION TOURING
POWER PLANT: 3.5-litre 24-valve DOHC V6 petrol engine, 200 kW at 6200 rpm, 336 Nm at 4700 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed automatic transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, dual-link setup at the rear.
HOW BIG: Length 4835mm, width 1825mm, height 1470mm, wheelbase 2775mm.
HOW MUCH: $52,090
WHAT'S GOOD: Comfortable and quiet drive. Solid engine performance. Prices are better.
WHAT'S NOT: Handling still a little nose-heavy. Looks are starting to date.
OUR VERDICT: This vehicle is increasingly relevant for those seeking big-car motoring and improved economy at the same time.
Now there's a second-generation Aurion on the New Zealand market, and it features changes that are mainly limited to new-look front and rear ends, and a revised interior.
The first-generation line-up featured four models that ranged in price from $48,000 to $64,590; this time around the 2012 fleet comprises three grades - an entry AT-X for $49,690, a sports-oriented Sportivo at $51,790, and a more luxurious Touring at $52,090.
They're all powered by the same well-known Toyota 2GR-FE 3.5-litre quad-cam V6 engine that also powers a number of other Toyota and Lexus vehicles, including the Highlander SUV.
It's a very sound engine that, in the case of the Aurion, develops 200 kilowatts of power at 6200 rpm, and 336 newton metres of torque at 4700 rpm.
What I like about it is that while it gives the Toyota outstanding performance ability - it can accelerate to 100kmh in seven seconds - the fuel economy has been reduced to an average of 9.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
Toyota New Zealand claims this consumption is the lowest in its class, and a 6 per cent improvement over the outgoing model.
With all the Aurion models, the engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. In the Touring version that I've been driving, the transmission can be used manually via a sequential shift operation, while the Sportivo also has paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
It's a nice transmission, that now includes what is known as flex-start control. What this means is that when the car is starting off, the lock-up clutch is proactively engaged to enhance the efficiency of power transfer and to lower engine speed, all of which contributes to the better fuel economy.
An 'Eco' driving indicator has also been added to all models to help the person behind the wheel to drive more economically. Average and instantaneous fuel consumption gauges allow fuel economy to be checked at a glance, and at the end of the each trip, an Eco Drive Level score is displayed in the multi-information screen.
If a good level of economy has been achieved, you are rewarded with an "Excellent" being displayed.
Steering is also improved, thanks to a more rigid steering mount and the use of electric power steer for the first time. It all means that the steering is lighter at low vehicle speeds for easier parking and manoeuvring, and firmer at the higher speeds in the interests of a more secure feel.
Toyota also tells us that this better steering combines with an improved chassis package and better tyre performance to make the Aurion a more agile drive than before.
What has helped considerably is that the front suspension mountings are 20 per cent firmer than before, and I think this has resulted in better cornering performance.
I remember a couple of years ago when I was a judge for the Automobile Association's Motoring Excellence Awards, a group of us were tasked with driving a variety of vehicles hard around the Taupo motorsport racetrack.
The Aurion didn't do the job particularly well, with the weight of that engine combining with a too-soft front suspension to create too much understeer for my comfort. Straight-line performance was outstanding, but the handling wasn't.
This latest model feels much better. The front and rear suspension design is the same as before, but the extra rigidity up front means the steering has been improved. The fact the Touring runs on 17-inch wheels and tyres is a big help.
So the new Aurion's drive is better. So is the interior look and comfort. It's been made quieter via new acoustic windscreen glass and additional sound insulation, and there's now more rear-seat leg room thanks to the front seat hip point being moved forward, and the rear seat hip point moved back.
That, combined with a redesign of the shape of the back of the front seats, has given rear seat passengers 31mm more knee room.
The steering wheel now has a wider range of tilt and telescopic adjustment, and the driver's seat height adjustment has increased from 45mm to 60mm. And a major change is that the Aurion's rear sets now feature 60/40 split folding for more cargo room if necessary.
On the outside, the Aurion continues to be a good-looking sedan.
The Touring model has chrome side-skirt mouldings, the 17-inch alloys, rear spoiler, sports mesh grille, and front fog lights. On the inside, it gets leather seats and trim, and a premium four-spoke steering wheel.
While so far the Aurion has never been competitive against Commodore and Falcon in New Zealand's new vehicle market, such influences as rising fuel prices, increasingly stringent exhaust emission requirements and a general move away from big cars, are combining to make this Toyota more relevant than before.
With that in mind this latest facelift - particularly the lowering of average fuel consumption - may see more motorists opting for the Aurion.
It'll be interesting to now watch what happens.
Taranaki Daily News