DOUBLE HYBRID

 

HYBRID

Toyota and Lexus are undergoing a bit of a change at the moment, with their Auris and CT 200h hybrids respectively commanding a good chunk of sales for each company and each receiving model refreshes at about the same time. However, do the existing models make more sense and are they a relative bargain as Toyota and Lexus give them each discounts ahead of their replacements?

It’s an interesting question to ask, as it’s actually further reaching than Toyota and Lexus. For many, buying a new car is the be-all and end-all. It’s a way of specifying a car to how they want it to be. It has no unknown history, no long-lost hidden gummy bear sweets stuck under the rear seats and the promise of nothing going wrong. The reality is far from this. While a new car is, of course, a delightful thing to buy and drive, the novelty soon wears off. The reality is that cars ending their first-owner lease are generally a sound buy and the typical depreciation hit has already been absorbed, so buying a three-year old model can make a lot of sense. Likewise, so can buying an end- of-the-line model, such as the Auris and CT 200h. These are cars at the end of their production run, when the factory workers have turned putting them together into an art. When the engineers have ironed out all the teething problems over the years. When the cars have been bundled with all the mod cons to keep sales afloat. There’s no question, these are sound buys. Add to that the fact they’re very often discounted towards model replacement, because old stock doesn’t sit well and these are some great purchase options.

The new generation Auris will be offered only with petrol and HEV powertrains; similar to the decision Toyota took with C-HR in 2016, there will be no diesel version.

Back to the Auris and CT 200h then. How do they stack up? Very well, as it happens. Each benefits from the tried and tested Toyota hybrid system with Atkinson-cyde 1.8-litre petrol four-pot.

Arguably, Toyota’s Auris has stood the test of time better than the Lexus, with all-but identical infotainment system to that found in the latest C-HR crossover – whereas the CT 200h’s setup is a touch more outmoded. Likewise, the Auris’ cabin is by the the neater and logical by contrast to the airplane-like mass of buttons found strewn across the dashboard in the CT 200h. But in many other ways, despite the obvious similarities, these two cars are different kettles offish; Mackerel and Salmon, if you will.

So, the Auris. More than 50% of European Auris sales are for the hybrid model and since December 2017, only the 1.2-turbo petrol or 1.8-litre hybrid have been available, with diesel having been dropped from the line­up. The next (third) generation Auris might be equipped with Toyota’s latest 2.0-litre hybrid setup, which offers greater power but that’s not to dismiss the 1.8 as old hat, as – for now – it remains the powertrain fitted to the Prius and C-HR.

Our model was the ever-useful Touring Sports Wagon, a.k.a. estate, that offers a bit more practicality over the regular hatchback. I’m not personally a big fan of estate cars, as I prefer something more compact, but I must say this ticked a lot of boxes. It is large without being cumbersome and the reversing camera, albeit low-resolution, made manoeuvring easy. Nice touches like a roller parcel shelf that can also go up the sides of the D-pillars to allow for cumbersome or tall loads in the 672-litre boot. Fold the rear bench down and that increases to 1,658-litres, which is a lot. Oddly, Toyota appears to have hidden the battery better in the Auris than in the Prius, which has always suffered from a relatively high boot floor.

Seats are standard Toyota, meaning they’re comfortable and adjustable – there really is very little to dislike about the cabin, fit and finish is excellent and the choice of materials – although drab – feel quality and somehow comforting with their soft-touch textures. There’s also a real honesty about the cabin, thanks to the use of simple and functional items like a sprung cover over the 12V socket. It’s ugly, and awful in your hand, but it just works and there’s a sense it will continue to perform its function for many years.

New for the 2018 model year, Toyota revised the trim structure for the Auris to four simple grades; Icon, Icon Tech Design and Excel. Arguably, Icon Tech is the best value for money, adding cruise control and Toyota Touch 2 with Go, adding navigation and connectivity functions to the multimedia system, to Icon’s base trim, which includes as standard LED daytime running lights, LED tail lamps, Bluetooth and DAB reception.

A couple of little-known facts about Toyota’s hybrid Auris: one, it can run on electric only at speeds up to 44mph, depending on charge level in the battery and the driver’s throttle use and; two, it has no reverse gear, instead using the electric motor in reverse instead. Whatever the driving though, the car automatically switches to EV wherever possible, increasing overall efficiency. Toyota has started marketing their hybrids as “self-charging” in a nod to plug-in hybrids, but realistically, they’re best for out-of-town driving as there is a fundamental reliance on the petrol unit. Best economy, although pretty even, is often to be found on a motorway run too. Together the petrol engine and electric motor generate 134bhp, providing 0-62mph in 10.9 seconds (11.2 seconds for the Touring) and a top speed of 112mph. Official combined cycle fuel consumption figures are from 68.8mpg (65.7mpg for the Wagon). C02 is rated at 94g/km (99g/km for the Wagon) on the combined cycle NEDC equivalents of WLTP data.

The Auris is also equipped with Toyota’s Active Safety Technologies including a Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beam and Road Sign Assist. The latter is famously hit or miss, sometimes getting it right and sometimes not. The issue with this is that means it’s made virtually redundant, as it can’t be trusted.

To drive, the Auris is surprisingly refined, thanks in no small part to its electric motor. Seamless transition between the motors takes the stress away from driving too and there’s plenty of power on tap. Of course, the eCVT (constantly variable transmission) offers a disconcerting experience for the uninitiated, but once gotten used to and if you back off the throttle just a bit, it comes into its own and allows the car to progress at traffic speeds in luxurious quiet. Only hard acceleration is met with the din of a petrol engine at full chat throughout the experience, but it’s hardly if ever intrusive and quickly forgotten.

16-inch wheels are the way to go too, providing both cheaper rubber replacements, as well as more frugal economy and a more accomplished ride. Stay away from the 17-inch wheels that look pretty but don’t bring anything else to the party.

Lexus CT 200h

This brings us to the Lexus. The UK appears to have a penchant for the little Lex’, with more than a third of all European sales for the car occurring on these fair isles. Like the Auris, the CT 200h was revised for the 2018 model year. There’s plenty of subtle design flourishes that Lexus would fill acres of paper with, but on the whole it looks the same as it did last year, only with a different mesh front grille.

Much of what’s been said about the Auris is the same here, so there’s little need to go into detail about the engine and transmission setup other than a brief description.

The hybrid system combines a 98bhp, 1,798cc Atkinson Cycle petrol engine with a powerful 80bhp electric motor, providing a total output of 134bhp. 0-62mph takes 10.3 seconds onwards to a maximum speed of 112mph. Official combined-cycle fuel consumption with 16-inch wheels fitted is 67.3mpg while emitting 97g/km С02 emissions.

As well as the full hybrid powertrain’s Normal drive mode, three on-demand drive modesEV, Eco and Sport – can be selected, adapting the vehicle’s performance to suit the driver’s mood or the road conditions. According to the mode chosen, priority is given to driving efficiency, fuel economy and emissions, or performance and dynamic handling. And handle it does – the car exhibits a good degree of flat control in corners and the suspension is a near-perfect blend of comfort but without being wallowy.

The CT 200h comes with a variety of driver assistance features, such as Pre-Collision system (PCS) that is designed to help the avoid a collision, or lessen the consequences of an impact, even at high speed. There’s also Lane Keeping Assist, automatic high beam, road sign assist and adaptive cruise control.

Inside is a similar story that even Hercule Poirot would struggle to spot the difference, with the main change being an enlarged infotainment screen from 7- to 10.3-inches. There are still buttons galore and the design resembles something akin to a fighter jet. What’s not so clear from photos alone, though, is that everything falls to hand neatly. Everything works well and everything has a purpose. Yes, it is initially overwhelming, but you soon get used to it and it’s actually a joy that Lexus didn’t succumb to the idea of sticking all the functions onto the infotainment screen. While this would have neatened the cabin no end, the very fact there are physical buttons for everything is strangely refreshing. Stepping into other cars while living with the Lexus for a week was a slightly odd affair, as navigating their over-worked touch screen user interfaces was a bit of a chore by contrast to the simplicity of prodding a hard button in the Lexus; job done. In many ways, this will likely be the last of a dying breed, as car makers are quickly phasing out traditional and relatively expensive dedicated buttons in favour of touchscreens. That’s fine, I suppose, but there’ll come a time when people start to yearn for basic functions to be performed without a complicated menu needing to be learned.

So there’s little to separate these two cars on paper and it could be argued that the Auris has the more neatly-designed interior. Average economy is perfectly adequate and it’s no wonder why elsewhere in the world hybrids have taken significant market share from diesel cars.

This wouldn’t be a complete Toyota/Lexus hybrid review without mention of the ever-divisive e-CVT transmission. So let’s get this over and done with: When driving the cars for the first time, it’s certainly noticeable on hard acceleration or when headed down a motorway slip road. It makes an awful din and on occasion can be annoying with seemingly no link between the pedal- gears-engine. However, drive the car how Toyota/Lexus intended and it is refined, smooth and fuss-free. Like an electric car, there are no gear changes – so that ought to win favour with EV lovers – and as for petrol-heads, well, you know what, these likely aren’t the kind of cars to appeal to them anyway, so what do they matter.

Both cars provide similar overall fuel consumption to diesel and without the harmful NOx emissions. While a plug-in hybrid is arguably a better bet for some, and while EV sales are only just beginning to grow exponentially, the reality is both are generally more expensive to purchase – not something to ignore. However, the days of hybrids like the Auris and CT 200h being sold at a premium over non-electrified models has to come to an end soon, because EVs like the Nissan Leaf are of a similar asking price yet offer far lower total cost of ownership. Plus, post 2040 hybrids may find themselves at the bottom of the desirable pile while PHEVs and EVs win favour with governments of the world.

Today, however, hybrids like the Auris and CT 200h may be the right choice for many – who for example travel long distances under pressure of time, or for those without the facility to plug an EV in at home – and both make great companions.

Returning to the question as to whether these are worth considering before the new model replaces them; yes, they absolutely are. Both are great entry points to the world of hybrids and electrification in general and offer electric power in town and traffic plus the convenience of petrol speed and smoothness when out of town or on a long run.

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