2008 Toyota Aurion | road test

Posted on Jan 24, 2007 by

I am not really into star gazing. Celestial beings interest me as much as the numerous raffle draws advertised in the UAE. In short, I just do not get it with stars, constellations, galaxies and the lot. But this has slightly taken a turn when I spent some quality time with a new star in the making…I think!

Whenever a new car is introduced in the market and a few are spotted on the road, they become a source of intrigue, admiration (or not!) and curiosity. And this very much summed up the reaction that our car – a beauty in Black Mica – garnered from other road users and more in various parking lots. Many just kept staring at our set of wheels, with jaws dropping and few words coming out of their mouths in the initial moments. Then suddenly a torrent of questions would slew through asking for all sorts of information on this new car which looked familiar but was somewhat different. Quite a few admirers then uttered the sentence to make other manufacturers’ blood run cold: “I rather have this than other V6-engined cars”. This will surely bring a wry smile to the company making this car as they hope that this model will further increase their status quo in the V6-engined sports sedan category – one of the segments of the market where their earlier model did not do quite well according to the lofty standards set by…themselves.

So, you must be wondering, what the hell am I talking about and what car is this and from which manufacturer. And what does it have to do with stars and the milky way. Questions, questions, questions.

Well, the car in question is the new Aurion – quite a fancy star-esque name, isn’t it, hence the reference to the twinkling lights in the sky and the name forerunning it is – the big daddy of the mid-size sedan class.

The Aurion is a, well, replacement for the old-model Camry V6. Readers will know that the new Camry now only comes in four-cylinder form, Toyota having decided to create a new spin-off for its V6 model, giving it a totally new identity and of course name, so that customers would not have to suffer the stigma of driving a bread and butter nameplate, having to constantly explain themesleves hoarse that beneath the hood lay a bigger engine and that their Camry was different to those painted in cream, white and having a light on the top saying ‘taxi’.

A good move, one might say, to give the paying customer the benefit of having a new nameplate on the rear of the car which would signify their choice, taste and intention. But then, the question being, is the Aurion truly a different beast from the Camry? We are talking only looks here, as the powerplant make both cars as different as chalk from cheese.

The Aurion shares many panels and parts with the Camry, chiefly the central section, which is absolutely similar. And while many would say that it looks oh so similar to the Camry from most angles, it is not so as it has its own distinctive fore and aft styling giving credence to its own unique identity.

Yes, in many ways one would say that the styling is more of a magical trick, but the fact remains that it works. After all, this is the replacement for the Camry V6 and there had to be an emotional tug linking these two together while appearing as two totally different segment cars. Like I said earlier, it’s like a smoke and mirror trick and Toyota have to be commended for having pulled off this illusion with aplomb.

Inside, it is akin to a Camry but only better in several ways. The three-dimensional back-lit instrument display makes the Camry’s instrumentation look pale in comparision. The odd baby-blue treatment of the stereo is shared but the Aurion’s cabin finish is better than the Camry’s we tested earlier. Toyota’s obsession with immaculate trim levels stacked up well and the interior was really specified to high levels. The seats were comfortable and reasonably supportive and, along with the reach adjustable steering wheel enabled me to set myself up to explore this car’s sporty ambitions.

 

 

One aspect of the interior that seemed at odds with the perceived macho character of the Aurion is the foot-operated parking brake. While this does open up space, giving the impression of a bigger cabin, I would much prefer a handbrake. But having said that, the Aurion does seem like a big car even though the dimensions of 4825 (L) x 1820 (W) x 1470 (H) mm do not back up that impression. There is more headroom now, though rear legroom is not that expansive. It’s not something to really harp about as most averagely built persons will not have any discomfort. But what is really astounding is the big 504-litre boot which can swallow up quite a bit of luggage, and I mean that, having experienced it firsthand.

Powering the Aurion is the 3.5-litre V6, DOHC, 24-valve, Dual VVT-i engine. This develops 268 bhp/6200rpm and 34.2kg-m of torque at a useful 4700rpm. On start up through the big start/stop button on the dash, the traditional V6 gurgle surges through and continues at low speeds. When given the stick, it increases in frequency to match the driver’s intentions. The engine feels ordinary at low speeds but at around the 3500rpm mark a distinct surge is felt and from there on it pulls strongly all the way to the top-end, with the melody emanating from the twin exhausts now in full scream. Power is supplied to the front wheels via a new 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode. In automatic mode, the transmission shifts smoothly but when in manual mode the adaptive software quickly analyses the mood of the driver and makes the necessary changes in shifting pattern.

We tested the Aurion for well over 500 kilometres over inter and intra city conditions and it did not disappoint. Well, it aspires to be a sports sedan and it is. But there’s much to catch up on if it wants to really compete with the European competition. Alright, in many ways it’s not fair to compare it thus but then as the Toyota juggernaut rushes along, swiping aside all opposition on its way to being the world’s numero uno car maker then such comparisions will come into play.

Handling is good if not excellent (read that as not sporty enough); the steering is reasonably tactile but is well weighed and quite direct. Cornering hard did not produce much torque steer (the front wheel drive did help in this regard even if it weighed up the steering). One thing that surprised me was a rattle from the right rear. It did not make itself felt all the time but did spring up from time to time, especially when negotiating left hand corners. Puzzling it was, as I just could not put my finger on it. Maybe it was particular to this car but it did raise the quality issue within my mind. Hmmm, now what could it be?

Our test car was the fully loaded Luxury version with all the possible gizmos that Toyota could cramp in for the price. So one gets smart entry, dual automatic air conditioning, rear powered sunshade, HID headlamps, satellite navigation, leather seats, front dual airbags as well as side and curtain bags, steering with audio and multi-information controls and much more. Noise and refinement levels are very good, bordering on the best, I must say, Toyota having lifted their game to stratospheric levels in recent years.

That brings me back to the name. Aurion is derived from a fusion of ancient Latin and Greek and means ‘First Light’. To me it seems that Toyota is hoping that the Aurion will be yet another shining star that will usher in a new dawn as the Japanese company looks to shed its shackles of being a manufacturer of dull, staid cars with models oozing of passion, sportiness and drive.

The Aurion is but one of these new wave of cars coming out of Toyota armoury and to my reckoning is one to watch out for. Still not in the same league as its continental adversaries in terms of driveability and ride, the Aurion has definitely taken the battle to them as well as its Japanese foes.

It’s Toyota’s newest star and is shining bright.

 

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