ALWAYS A SMOOTH OPERATOR, THE 2016 TOYOTA AURION FINALLY GETS A PROPERLY ‘SPORTS-ENGINEERED’ SPORTIVO TO ADD TO THE RANGE.
Finally? Well, the second-generation Aurion has been on-sale for five years, having launched in 2011.
Now, with hardly 18 months left of production before the brand’s Port Melbourne manufacturing plant shuts up shop and takes the Toyota Technical Centre Australia (TTC-Au) with it, the engineers there have created a new sports suspension and quicker steering system for its large six-cylinder sedan.
The changes are modelled off those of the closely related Camry Atara SX, but the Camry’s four-cylinder engine, though zesty enough for what it is, doesn’t quite gel with the improved dynamics.
The 3.5-litre V6-engined Aurion Sportivo, however, is primed just right.
Vehicle Style: Large sedan
Price: $40,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 200kW/336Nm 3.5 V6 petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.3 l/100km | tested: 13.4 l/100km
When the Toyota Aurion was introduced to market in 2006, the Camry-based large car was billed as the model to finally tackle the market-leading Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, each big sellers of the time.
The ‘T’ brand doesn’t like to fail, but it did with the Camry Vienta of the late nineties and Avalon of the early noughties.
The Aurion took the 3.0-litre V6 engine and upsized it to a 3.5-litre with more power (200kW) than the equivalent 4.0-litre Falcon and 3.6-litre Commodore, though it remained front-wheel-drive.
Today the Aurion holds 11 percent of the large car segment, but last year it was outsold six times over by the Camry – 4306 units versus 27,654. Is a renewed sporty focus enough to give the large locally-made Toyota another look?
- Standard equipment: cruise control, cloth-trimmed sports seats with driver and passenger six-way electric adjustment, illuminated vanity mirrors, power mirrors and windows, keyless auto-entry and start, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning and power rear sunshade
- Infotainment: 6.5-inch colour display with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB/AUX ports and ToyotaLink apps connectivity
- Options fitted: $2500 premium package (leather-trimmed sports seats, satellite navigation, 10-speaker JBL audio system), $1950 sunroof
- Cargo volume: 515 litres
The Aurion has always been modelled off a Camry inside and out, with a few subtle changes. The latest Sportivo is no different.
While dashboard architecture is shared with the four-cylinder range, the V6 models feel more upmarket, primarily thanks to smaller audio buttons and more integrated climate controls.
The Sportivo doesn’t feel ‘sporty’ inside, though, and, for style, the brown leather highlights on the (optional) leather seats fail to inspire.
There is also little in the way of bolstering, but they are supremely comfortable, with an impressive range of (electric) adjustment to create an ideal driving position.
The Aurion gets a smaller-diameter steering wheel compared with the cheaper AT-X and more expensive Presara models – it also gets transmission paddle-shifts behind it – but it’s still too large, like a boat’s tiller.
Across-the-range, additions for the 2016 facelift includes a touchscreen with ToyotaLink apps connectivity, although owners first need to download that app on their phone prior to accessing internet music streaming apps such as Pandora.
Other brands, such as Holden and Mazda, allow owners to use Pandora immediately if it’s installed on a smartphone and connected via USB (or in Mazda’s case, via Bluetooth audio streaming).
The (optional) satellite navigation is also not the most intuitive system to use, ‘blanking out’ certain functions when travelling at speed (apparently for safety reasons). Other manufacturers deliver more intuitive systems to permit use on the move.
What the Aurion continues to do best is provide stacks of space for the money, especially considering its smaller external dimensions compared with a Commodore and Falcon.
There is plenty of room up front and acres of space behind. The back seat is broad, though flat, and headroom is good even with the optional sunroof installed.
A big reason to choose Aurion over a Camry Hybrid is the addition of a 60:40 split-fold backrest with a sizeable 515-litre boot – compared with a fixed backrest and only 421 litres for the petrol-electric model that keeps its batteries behind the rear seat.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 200kW/336Nm 3.5 litre petrol V6
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering type: electrically assisted mechanical steering
- Towing capacity: 1600kg braked, 500kg unbraked
Starting this section is simple but surprising: the latest Aurion Sportivo is excellent to drive.
It’s simple because the 3.5-litre V6 and six-speed automatic proves a lush combination on the road. This is the best six-cylinder engine in a family car today, superior to the 3.6-litre Commodore and 4.0-litre Falcon.
What is surprising is that the new sports suspension steps up to greet the fine drivetrain.
The Aurion is not only space-efficient inside, but it’s also weight-efficient. Where a Commodore SV6 weighs 1685kg and a Falcon XR6 tips the scales at 1723kg, the Sportivo comes in at 1555kg.
Consequently this Toyota is extremely eager to leap off the line. It demands a delicate touch or it will spin its front wheels even in the dry and keep pulling strongly well beyond legal limits.
Even with no turbocharger in sight, the V6 is strong through the lower and middle part of the tachometer, and a delight to rev. The automatic too is impressively slick except for a slight reluctance to kickdown.
The quicker steering really sharpens the experience at the wheel, pointing the Sportivo well into corners. Around town however it is a little heavy, and there is still some slack in the rack that becomes noticeable on left/right movements through flowing corners.
This Aurion Sportivo however is such a surprise on-road and its willing response and agility makes it really enjoyable around a winding road – there is a genuine sporting responsiveness there that belies its size.
It feels lighter on its feet and sharper than a Commodore or Falcon – it’s as simple and surprising as that.
The suspension however has been stiffened considerably and ride quality can suffer on poorer surfaces. It isn’t bad, but it’s getting right to the edge of what’s acceptable for a family sedan.
As with the steering, the suspension gets better at speed, but around town at low speed it is sometimes a tough ask. All that fun works up a thirst, too – we averaged 13.4 litres per 100 kilometres, up 50 percent on its combined cycle claim, while admittedly thriving on the Aurion’s performance.
That it urges its driver to do so, though, is something we don’t expect from a Toyota family car.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.59 out of 37 possible points in ANCAP crash testing.
Safety features: Seven airbags including dual-front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee, ABS, ESC, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Particularly the Commodore is a more balanced dynamic package and demonstrably superior inside to the Aurion. The Falcon XR6 is aged inside but delivers great ride-quality teamed with excellent balance – though a Falcon EcoBoost is even better.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Toyota Aurion Sportivo is a great dynamic achievement and a surprise for a family model that isn’t renowned for offering driver entertainment.
If you enjoy agile handling, the best V6 in the business (at this end of the family car scale) and genuine dynamism at the wheel, Toyota Australia has hatched a good one here in its Aurion Sportivo.
If a firm ride is a ‘spoiler’, however, it may not be the one for you. (And, among the Aurion range, the only other options are the dull AT-X and Presara, that go completely the other way.)
When push comes to shove, we would likely choose the similarly-priced Commodore SV6 – but it’s a close-run thing.
However, for something a little different, superb V6 and excellent handling, the Aurion Sportivo could hit the spot as the ultimate affordable ‘sleeper’ sports sedan.