The locally made 2012 Toyota Aurion rejuvenates the large car segment at a time when new-car buyers have abandoned it in droves.
Sporting substantial exterior and interior redesigns as well as improvements to the driveline, the new Toyota Aurion is now being pitched as an attainable luxury vehicle with the Japanese company hoping to entice more private buyers into the range. But before we delve into the reasons behind Toyota’s strategy change and the merits of the car itself, it’s important to look at why the Aurion came into existence in the first place.
When the original Toyota Aurion came out in 2006, the large-car segment was the second largest in Australia with annual sales of over 136,000 units. Fast-forward to 2012 and the segment has slumped to sixth position with sales likely to struggle to hit 80,000 this year. It’s pretty clear many private buyers and fleets have come to the realisation that large cars are simply no longer the default choice. The demise of the large-car segment has, undoubtedly, led to the huge rise in SUV popularity. So the first question is, why would you buy a Toyota Aurion?
This brings us back to the Toyota’s new positioning strategy. Since the large-car segment has lost its appeal as a default choice for car buyers, Toyota sees the Aurion moving higher up into the prestige segment and appealing to those who want a luxury car without having to pay the luxury car tax (which comes into effect for cars valued at more than $57,000). In essence, Toyota believes the Aurion is a vehicle the general public aspire to own and one that enhances the owner’s social status.
Whether or not it will have that charm remains to be seen, but with five models in the line-up, the Aurion does its best to appeal to a wide range of buyers. It’s fair to say the folks at Toyota Australia (which played a leading role in the vehicle’s design and development) have spent considerable time and resources to improve the look and feel of the new car.
On one hand it certainly tries to look the part in the prestige segment, with a chrome grille and elevated bonnet on the luxury models (Prodigy: $41,490, Presara: $49,990) emphasising an upmarket look. On the other hand, a sharper and more aggressive design is in store for the Sportivo range (SX6: $40,990, ZR6: $47,990, which have a bespoke look for Australia). The base model AT-X ($36,490) will also continue on to provide an option to fleets.
Sit inside and it’s obvious the Aurion shares much of its DNA with the recently launched and almost identically proportioned Toyota Camry. The steering wheel, interior fit and finish, audio system, design layout and overall feel of the cabin is very Camry. As a result, it’s just as comfortable as the Camry too, with supportive seats that work well with the Australian-tuned suspension to help minimise trips to the chiropractor. But there are certain differences that help enhance the sensation and bring in that ‘prestige’ feel. The range-topping Aurion Presara’s interior, for example, is a truly pleasant place to be. It comes with a seven-inch screen and woodgrain-look inserts in the instrument panel, door trim and gear-shifter surrounds. Leaving the similarities and differences aside, the major interior improvement has been the reduction in size of the headliner and pillars, which allow for greater visibility for the driver.
With the new Aurion weighing in at a tad more than 1500kg and carrying the largely unchanged V6 engine in combination with a six-speed automatic transmission, the package doesn’t make for an overly fuel efficient vehicle. Officially, the Aurion uses 9.3L/100km, which is 6.1 per cent improvement over the first-generation car but by no means makes it a leader in its segment. The 3.5-litre V6 (2GR-FE) - the same proven and reliable engine that continues to see use in the Toyota Rav4, Toyota Kluger, Toyota Tarago and the Lexus RX350 - pumps out a healthy 200kW of power and 336Nm of torque.
The engine and transmission work coherently with the front-wheel-drive set-up to deliver more power than you’re ever likely to need. It will happily tow 1600kg (braked) and will have no issues carrying five adults around hilly suburban streets.
Around South Australia’s twisty countryside where we came to test drive the new Aurion, we found the car’s ride and handling more confident-inspiring than that of the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore (if you take into account the rear-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive differences). The main reason for this is the newly added electric power steering system which enhances the feel and feedback you get around corners. The Sportivo variants (which we tested) gain a slightly stiffer sports suspension set-up, which is a must if you’ve got even the slightest bit of enthusiast blood in you.
Toyota says the Aurion is an emotionally appealing car, but one that maintains its core values of quality, durability and reliability. Toyota’s unwavering reputation has made it hard to argue about the later. Furthermore, the company has an ace up its sleeve that is yet to be matched by any of its competitors. It’s offering fixed-price servicing for the first five-services or 75,000km at just $130 a service. That’s noticeably cheaper servicing costs than both the Falcon and Commodore and a great reason to pick an Aurion.
On the safety front the Toyota Aurion is also leading the locally produced pack with seven airbags (including a knee airbag) and a five-star safety rating under the new 2012 ANCAP scoring system. Toyota has included innovative technologies such as blind spot assist (which detects if there is a car in your blind spot and provides an audible and visual warning) and auto high beam (which will automatically dip the headlamps if the distance to an oncoming vehicle is less than 800 metres, and then turn them back on - a great feature if you frequent country roads) which go unmatched by Ford and Holden.
The Aurion has previously managed approximately a 12 per cent sales share in the large car segment and Toyota expects that to lift to around 15 per cent this year and even higher in 2013. The company has controversially restructured its manufacturing process to better cope with the expected sales volume and will undoubtedly continue to produce the vehicle in Australia for the foreseeable future.
There’s no doubt the new Toyota Aurion is an excellent package and a superb vehicle, it simply remains to be seen whether or not the public’s taste buds are still attuned to large cars.
Toyota Aurion manufacturer’s list prices (excluding government and dealer charges):
- 2012 Toyota Aurion AT-X – $36,490 (+$500)
- 2012 Toyota Aurion Prodigy – $41,490 (unchanged)
- 2012 Toyota Aurion Sportivo SX6 – $40,990 (+$500)
- 2012 Toyota Aurion Sportivo ZR6 – $47,990 (+$3500)
- 2012 Toyota Aurion Presara – $49,990 (unchanged)