The final iteration of the locally produced Toyota Aurion rolled out of the Altona production plant with little fanfare earlier this year.
Unlike its production-line sibling the Camry, which received the largest mid-cycle overhaul in its history a few weeks earlier, the updated Aurion appears almost identical to the pre-facelift model inside and out, while picking up a few additional infotainment and safety features intended to see it out to the end of production in 2017.
Also unlike the updated 2015 Camry, which came with price reductions of up to $5000, the prices of the entry-level Aurion AT-X and mid-tier Sportivo have stayed the same ($36,490 and $40,990 plus on-road costs respectively) and increased $450 in the case of the high-grade Presara tested here to $50,440 to reflect its now standard inclusion of metallic/pearlescent paint.
It’s a steep price tag for Toyota Australia’s flagship front-wheel-drive sedan, positioning it $2500-$3000 above its traditional locally produced rear-drive rivals, the $47,050 Ford Falcon G6E Turbo and the $47,990 Holden Calais V. Fellow six-cylinder Japanese rival the Subaru Liberty 3.6R undercuts all three significantly at $41,990, while the Presara is also outpriced by the highly specified $47,490 Ford Mondeo Titanium and $49,620 Mazda 6 Atenza diesels.
Arguably the biggest challenge to the Aurion’s value equation comes from within, however, with the top-spec Camry Atara SL four-cylinder available from just $37,440 and the hybrid version from $40,440 – $13K and $10K cheaper respectively.
The old argument that the Aurion’s a large car and the Camry’s a medium car isn’t fooling anyone any more. In fact, the latest Camry is actually 15mm longer and 10mm wider than the Aurion (the latter measures 4835mm and 1825mm respectively), while both have identical wheelbases (2775mm).
There’s no difference in boot space between the Aurion and the non-hybrid Camry either, both measuring 515 litres (421L for Camry hybrid).
For 25 per cent more cash, you’d expect the Aurion to come loaded with plenty of extra equipment, but that’s not the case either.
Standard features common among the duo include 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and push-button start, auto headlights and high beams, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and Toyota Link apps integration, a 10-speaker JBL premium audio system, and a host of safety features such as blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure alert, front and rear parking sensors and a reverse-view camera.
The Aurion Presara uniquely features LED headlights and a sunroof, though the Camry Atara SL more than counters with LED daytime running lights, adaptive cruise control, and Toyota’s autonomous braking pre-collision safety system.
The Presara also looks sorely under-equipped when compared with its other rivals. The Calais V, Mondeo Titanium, Mazda 6 Atenza and Liberty 3.6R all get an electric park brake (Aurion gets a foot-operated brake) and heated front seats (Mondeo also gets heated rear seats), the Calais and the 6 get a head-up display, the Calais and the Mondeo get semi-automated parking, the Mondeo and the 6 get a lane-departure system with steering assistance, and the Mondeo uniquely gets rear seatbelt airbags.
Despite lacking some advanced safety and assistance features, independent crash-tester ANCAP rates the Aurion as one of the safest cars on the road, scoring 36.59 points out of 37 in its assessment and comfortably earning the maximum five-star rating.
Whichever way you look at it, you’re being asked to pay a big premium for the Aurion’s one truly unique feature: its 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine.
The V6 has always been the highlight of the Aurion package. Producing 200kW at 6200rpm and 336Nm at 4700rpm, the engine pulls effortlessly, whether accelerating off the mark or overtaking on the highway. Response is immediate and strong, and it sounds zingy and confident while being wonderfully quiet and refined.
It’s capable to the point of covering for the six-speed automatic transmission, which can be lazy to downshift heading up and down hills. The auto is much more impressive with the throttle pedal firmly planted, however, kicking back multiple gears with no hesitation.
The steering has good solid feel around the centre position when you’re coasting on the highway and road noise is hushed, enhancing that effortless sensation the Aurion exudes. One of the few detractors from this is the cruise control system, which offers little braking resistance and allows the car to pick up speed down hills.
On smaller country roads you’re more aware of the steering’s medium-to-heavy weighting and slow rack (more than 3.5 turns lock to lock), which gives you more work to do than the lighter and faster steering systems of some rivals.
Though the front wheels are responsible for both direction and momentum, they don’t baulk at assertive inputs of either or both. Despite the slow steering, the Aurion manages to feel smaller than it is through corners, suggesting some innate agility and balance.
Smooth and comfortable on the highway, the ride is less convincing on coarse country roads where vibrations are felt through the body and the steering wheel, becoming tiresome after a while. Rougher patches rattle some of the interior plastics that seemingly aren’t screwed together as tightly or don’t sit as flush as those in rival medium/large sedans.
The basic, flat, unsupportive driver’s seat also becomes increasingly uncomfortable on longer drives.
The slow, heavy steering becomes more of an inconvenience around town, while the big cruiser feels disappointingly loose and plasticky as it falls loudly and heavily into urban holes at low speeds and clatters busily over ripply patchy sections of road.
The Aurion’s combined cycle fuel consumption of 9.3 litres positions it in between its V6-powered Holden (9.0) and Subaru (9.9) rivals. We achieved an impressive 7.2L/100km on the highway, which increased to 9.5L/100km with some country driving thrown in, and rose above 10L/100km back in suburbia.
For comparison’s sake, the four-cylinder Camry is rated at 7.8L/100km and the Camry hybrid 5.2L/100km, while the diesel-powered Mondeo and Mazda 6 claim 5.1L/100km and 5.4L/100km respectively.
Accessed via the smart sensor key, the cabin is covered with quality leather and nice soft-touch surfaces.
Second-row passengers enjoy plenty of foot space and loads of kneeroom, while headroom is also fine for 180cm occupants. The seat base is long and well padded but like the front, feels flat and lacks side support. The middle seat is usable, but best for smaller passengers or for shorter trips.
The infotainment touchscreen is intuitive, featuring a simple Bluetooth system and a clever navigation system that provides very early warnings of traffic jams to help you avoid gridlock.
Less high-tech but no less impressive is the size of the glovebox and centre console box, which can swallow all of your loose items. There are also handy bottle holders in the front and rear doors, as well as cup holders for both rows.
The boot has gooseneck hinges but they’re relatively unobtrusive, while beneath its broad, flat floor sits a full-size alloy spare wheel. Somewhat annoyingly, the 60:40 split-fold rear seats can only be lowered from inside the boot and don’t fold completely flat, and there’s only a small port leading from the boot to the cabin, limiting what you can feed through it.
As with all Toyotas, the Aurion comes with a basic three-year/100,000km warranty. Far better is the Aurion’s affordable capped-price servicing program, which limits the price of the first five services (due at nine-month/15,000km intervals) to $140 each.
Cheap servicing, new infotainment and safety systems, plenty of space and that excellent V6 are the highlights of the 2015 Toyota Aurion.
But while the AT-X and Sportivo variants make a more compelling value case and deserve a higher overall rating, the Presara is overpriced, under-equipped, and lacks the polish, refinement and appeal of its less expensive four- and six-cylinder rivals.