Toyota Auris Touring Sports Hybrid first drive, Mallorca
More difficult is finding a hybrid vehicle suitable for more active families, those with greater need for space and practicality. Where are the hybrid wagons?
Europe, it seems, where we drove Toyota's new Auris Touring Sports in hybrid format, on the sunny Balearic island of Mallorca.
Toyota says the Auris Touring Sports Hybrid (TS, from now on) is the "first full hybrid compact wagon" on the market. That market, in Europe at least, is typically full of diesel wagons.
The elephant in the room is the Prius+, which you'll be more familiar with as the Toyota Prius V.
In Europe, the Prius+ is a seven-seat vehicle, so there's no real overlap between it and the TS. You can see where this is heading: If Toyota decided to launch the Auris in the U.S. (unlikely, since the hatchback would tread on the Corolla's toes), the Prius V wagon would be the main excuse not to bring over an Auris hybrid wagon.
Similar under the skin
In terms of powertrain, the V and the TS Hybrid are very much cars with the same Prius parent.
Both use a 1.8-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine, paired with an electric motor through a planetary gearset. While Toyota claims the setup has been tweaked to give a more natural feel between road speed and engine revs, it's a system we're still very familiar with--the car can run using the electric motor alone, the electric drivetrain can assist, it can back out of the equation, and it can recharge using regenerative braking.
Anyone put off by the Prius V's drivetrain won't find much to tempt them here, and the Hybrid's 11.2-second 0-62 mph time and 109 mph top speed won't satiate the speed freaks.
However, the Auris is one of the quietest cars we've driven with this drivetrain, and while it still drones away under hard acceleration, it seems a little more muted than in other applications.
Toyota Auris Touring Sports Hybrid first drive, MallorcaEnlarge Photo
It's also frugal. Over a test route comprising freeway, twisty roads and some admittedly traffic-light town driving, our car returned an indicated 50 mpg.
Possible inaccuracies with the trip computer aside, it doesn't seem like a difficult figure to attain. While we drove relatively economically, our co-driver made little such deliberate effort before going 1 mpg better over his own route, albeit slowed by a little more traffic.
That's better than the 40 mpg average drivers are attaining in the Prius V, according to figures submitted on the EPA's fueleconomy.gov site. Our disclaimer is that the TS Hybrid achieved that 50 mpg figure with only two passengers and little luggage. Load it up with a family and their paraphernalia, work the engine harder (and you do need to work it hard to make swift progress sometimes) and watch those numbers tumble.