TOYOTA'S AURION goes toe-to-toe with the perennially popular Commodore and Falcon. On paper, it would seem to have the answers. But can it cut it in the real world?
The things that matter to Australian families require a thorough assessment. So we put the Aurion’s mile-eating comfort and luggage-swallowing capabilities to the test from city to country.
2010 Toyota Aurion AT-X
As part of the 2010 upgrade to the GSV40 model, the Aurion picks up a range of cosmetic enhancements, most noticeable are changes to the grille and front bumper.
Headlights have also been upgraded to improve low beam performance, while tail-lights also receive freshened styling.
The entry level AT-X gains illuminated vanity mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity and auxiliary audio input. Externally 16-inch ten-spoke alloy wheels have been added.
Aurion’s 200kW quad-cam V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission carry over unchanged.
What’s the appeal?
Smooth and effortless power from the V6 engine with good, although not class leading, fuel economy. Passenger accommodation and boot space are both generous as is the Aurion’s equipment list.
What features does it have?
While the Aurion AT-X may be a base model, it comes with a few unexpected inclusions.
There are16-inch alloy wheels, remote central locking with alarm, air conditioning with rear vents and front map lights. Curiously an eight-way powered driver's seat is included (which is good), yet a trip computer is not (not so good).
Audio is provided by a single-disc CD player with MP3 compatibility and an auxiliary input for additional devices. Bluetooth audio streaming is also included, but doesn’t include phone connectivity. Steering wheel-mounted controls and six speakers are also standard.
What’s under the bonnet?
All Aurions are powered by Toyota's 3.5 litre 2GR-FE V6. This quad-cam engine with dual 'Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence' (Toyota's description) produces 200kW @6200rpm and 336Nm of torque @ 4700rpm.
There’s no doubting Toyota has built a superbly refined engine. The same engine architecture powers a range of Lexus vehicles as well as appearing in V6 versions of the Tarago, RAV4 and Kluger.
Power is delivered to the front wheels by a six-speed automatic gearbox with sequential shift mode.
Suspension is provided by basic MacPherson struts up front and a dual-link strut independent rear. Ventilated front and solid rear discs provide stopping power.
How does it drive?
It’s light, easy and breezy. The Aurion is a cinch to simply jump in and drive.
The controls are straight forward, and there’s little you will need to familiarise yourself with. Steering requires little effort and acceleration is brisk - all of which makes darting around in the Aurion a stress-free experience.
There’s plenty of sidewall to the 16-inch tyres and anything they don’t absorb, the suspension is more than compliant enough to handle.
Vision front and rear is plentiful and relatively slim pillars help to quash any trepidation when approaching intersections.
While it may be a little on the large side as a commuter car, when filled to the brim with passengers, the Aurion affords plenty of space and competitive pace.
To test its mettle we loaded in four adults, filled the boot to the brim with an assortment of gear and ran a 400 kilometre round trip into central Victoria, taking in everything from suburban streets to freeways, to rural back roads.
A total load of 350 kilograms did little to upset the suspension. Yes it was sitting low, but patchy tarmac and corrugations were shrugged off, and had little negative effect on ride comfort. Around town it was much the same story, with the Aurion proving to be compliant and comfortable on our notoriously patchy bitumen.
The willing V6 was also prepared to play ball. Cruising at highway speed, a full complement of passengers and luggage barely ruffled a feather. When called on to overtake, the transmission was swift and decisive, kicking down when required. The V6 always seemed to have plenty in reserve.
On a variety of pavement surfaces the interior remained hushed. Engine noise is barely perceptible and can only be heard when there are plenty of revs on-board. Even then the tone is more of a muted consequence than a gruff disturbance.
However, delivering 200kW to the front wheels isn’t without its problems. Push the accelerator to the floor and the resulting torque-steer can be unnerving , even during rolling acceleration.
More confidence-inspiring were the brakes. There’s a vaguely wooden feel to the pedal, but pedal travel is smooth and well modulated. The Aurion is well and truly capable of pulling up hard and fast when required.
What did out passengers think?
We had a tough crowd packed into the Aurion – traditional Commodore and Falcon types.
While they loved the flat floor in the rear they were less impressed with the low A-pillar that required taller passengers to stoop under to get in and out of the front seats.
Legroom front and rear got the thumbs up, but width did not, particularly in the rear with three occupants sharing the bench. Front seats offer a comfortable 'width' but are mostly flat and lack lateral support through corners.
Ultimately, if you want loads of room for big Aussies, Commodore and Falcon still rule the roost.
Interior quality and feel?
The interior of the Aurion may not be the most visually adventurous, but the muted grey on grey tones and minimalist décor are certainly easy to live with.
All lidded bins opened and closed with a consistent weighting, and there was narry a creak, groan or rattle to be heard on the move.
The interior plastics are robust enough to avoid scratches and the fabric trim, although light in colour, is easy to clean and should stay looking fresh for some years.
A 504 litre boot means plenty of space to load plenty of gear. To assist loading, the rear opening is low and wide but gooseneck hinges eat into the available space.
Additional bracing at the rear of the vehicle also means that the Aurion does not come with folding rear seats. For loading longer items a ski-port is located in the centre of the rear bench.
Despite its shortcomings, the boot still proved useful; certainly generous enough for trips away or the run to the local hardware store with enough depth and width to handle most loads.
How safe is it?
Standard safety equipment incorporates non-switchable Vehicle Stability Control with Traction Control, Anti-skid Brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist.
A suite of six air bags, pre-tensioning front seatbelts, as well as height-adjustable front seatbelts and three adjustable headrests in the rear bench, help protect all occupants.
Under the ANCAP testing regime the Aurion scored 5- Stars, an upgrade over the pre-2009 4-Star result thanks to a passenger’s seat belt reminder and Toyota submitting the car for the optional side-impact pole test.
Fuel consumption and fuel rating
Toyota claims an official combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 9.9 l/100km.
During our test the Aurion managed 10.4 l/100km over an even mix of city and highway driving. With the additional weight the car was carrying for most of the test, that’s still not a bad result and one that could be improved upon by travelling lighter.
Aurion scores a four-star rating in the government’s Green Vehicle Guide and produces 233 g/km of CO2.
How does it compare?
Up against the two large car stalwarts the Aurion tries hard. It does fall short on key exterior dimensions (only the overall height of the Falcon is less) but not by any significant margin.
One benefit of the smaller size is a lower overall weight, and coupled with the most powerful engine - 5kW ahead of Falcon and 10kW clear of Commodore – the Aurion is far from being 'out-gunned'.
Fuel efficiency is much of a muchness, with Ford matching the Aurion, with a claimed 9.9l/100km for the 4.0 litre Falcon. Holden has a slight advantage, albiet by running a smaller less-powerful engine, with the 3.0 litre SIDI V6 Commodore managing 9.3l/100km.
Interior accommodation is where this war's decisive battle is likely to be waged, at least for big Aussie families. Ford’s thoughtfully designed FG interior takes the flag for modern design, while the Aurion’s clear and simple layout is enough to see it take second place ahead of the Commodore (which is starting to look a little old and dog-eared).
However if it's interior space that most concerns you, then the Commodore continues to lead this pack, followed by the Falcon, with the Aurion coming in at third place.
Deciding which large sedan to buy may simply come down to cost, and it's here that the $35,990 (plus on-road costs) Aurion ATX enjoys a decisive advantage over the Commodore Omega at $39,990 (plus on-road costs) and Falcon XT at $40,290 (plus on-road costs for the updated six-speed auto, Euro IV compliant model)
Is it expensive to maintain?
Toyota’s Service Advantage offer means that Aurion servicing is capped at $130 for the first four visits occurring within 60,000 kilometres or three years (whichever occurs first).
Service intervals are every 15,000 kilometres or nine months.
Toyota’s warranty covers the vehicle for three years or 100,000km (whichever occurs first). Paint is covered by a three year warranty, with five years anti-corrosion warranty.
Diamond white, silver ash, sakana silver, liquid metal (grey), arctic frost (pale blue), reef (aqua), wildfire (red), ink (black). All exterior colours come teamed with dark grey fabric trim.
Pricing for the Aurion AT-X starts from $35,990 (plus on road costs)
Two option packs are available. Option pack one includes a reversing camera, and six-disc in dash CD changer. Option pack two also deletes alloy wheels, replacing them with 16 inch steel rims.
Steel rims are also available separately and metallic and mica paint finishes add $425
When it comes to hauling big-boned families of five around, the Aurion ATX is a little too small to go head-to-head with the Commodore and Falcon. The larger family car stalwarts still have the bigger muscles to flex in this regard. But that's about all.
The Aurion ATX offers matching or better performance, competitive fuel efficiency, better build quality, greater levels of refinement, and all in a package that costs considerably less than both the Ford and Holden.
If you aren't blinded by traditional brand loyalties, then the Aurion ATX should be near the top of your large family car shortlist.