A fair while back, I almost bought myself a Toyota Corolla. Not just any Toyota Corolla, it was a 2003 Toyota Corolla Sportivo. Scoff if you like, but, exclusively available with a six-speed manual transmission and a 141kW/180Nm 1.8-litre 2ZZ-GE four-cylinder with VVTL-i (intelligent variable valve timing and variable lift), the thing was fun. Properly fun.
So it was with both excitement and apprehension that I approached the 2016 Toyota Aurion Sportivo.
Up $3000 on the model’s pre-updated $40,990 figure, our Indigo Blue (a $450 metallic paint option) Aurion Sportivo differentiates itself over the model Matt Campbell reviewed in February, by the addition of a range of new convenience and safety technologies.
These include auto-levelling LED headlights and LED fog lights, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert for the existing rear-view camera, and two memory positions for the carryover power driver's seat. New-look 18-inch black alloy wheels further spruce up the exterior.
A premium 10-speaker JBL stereo, with DAB+ digital radio, also replaces the previous six-speaker system, while a larger 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, with satellite navigation and real-time traffic updates, takes the place of the pre-updated car’s 6.1-inch item.
With every Aurion across the range equipped as standard with keyless entry and push-button start, dual-zone climate control, front and rear corner parking sensors, and seven airbags, the Sportivo variant additionally comes with an electric rear-window sunshade – first added to the model as part of its May 2015 range of updates.
Like all Aurions, the Sportivo pairs a naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6 engine – with 200kW of power at 6200rpm and 336Nm of torque at 4700rpm – with a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, to claim 9.3 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.
Sitting between the $36,490 entry-level Aurion AT-X and the $50,440 flagship Aurion Presara, the mid-range Sportivo misses out on the top-spec variant’s auto high-beam, rain-sensing wipers, lane-departure alert, and electric sunroof.
Intended to be the range’s ‘sporty’ alternative, however, it does feature paddle shifters, firmer sports suspension, and unique mapping for its electric power steering – said to make the large locally-built sedan “a more engaging drive experience”. On the road, however, the Toyota Aurion Sportivo is a confused and disappointingly unexciting car.
Starting inside, though, space – both in the front and back – is in reserve.
Sat in the basic but comfortable leather-accented front seats, with brown leather highlights, there’s more than ample head-room. It’s true, the overall feeling of materials and quality inside the dated and predominately black and grey cabin isn’t markedly high, however, lashings of chrome and brushed aluminium, and the inclusion of some fake, carbon-weave-type trims, do break things up.
There are also plenty of small-to-large storage areas, ranging from an ashtray with a cigarette lighter, to a fairly deep, felt-lined centre console bin, and a delightfully big glovebox.
Jump into the 60:40 split-fold second row, and the real estate back there is genuinely vast. Although toe-room is relatively light-on, rear head- and legroom is immense. Even taking into account the Aurion’s mild rear floor hump, the middle seat too, is satisfactory for shorter trips.
There are small, semi-segmented door pockets, one map pocket behind the front passenger seat, rear air vents, two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, and a somewhat flaccid and flimsy fold-down centre armrest with twin cup holders.
Behind here, a 515-litre boot is home to two rear-seat releases, two luggage hooks, gooseneck hinges, and a 16-inch steel spare wheel (still rated for an 80km/h maximum speed).
Hit the road, and the Sportivo’s model-specific steering is the first sign that, while Toyota has attempted to bring some involvement to the 4855mm-long Aurion, it hasn’t been wholly successful.
Heavy, slow, and wooden, the set-up demands more effort and input than it probably should. Team this with the Sportivo’s firmer, fidgety suspension, and you’re left with a tiring, dull, and frustrating driving experience.
That said, as with a number of sports or ‘sporty’ cars, if the trade-off for an imperfect ride and a little more work behind the wheel is improved dynamic potential or greater entertainment, then it can often be worth it.
This, however, is not the case with the Aurion Sportivo. It simply isn’t sporty. And that’s a shame because its engine and gearbox combination is a positive one.
Happy cruising along at 100km/h on the freeway at just over 1500rpm, the torquey engine can be a wee bit thirsty – we averaged 12.5L/100km over our week with the car – but, as Matt said in his review, its power delivery is nice and linear.
Able to rev out to just past 6000rpm, even when wanting some hustle, you rarely need to go beyond 4500rpm. And, although it might not be the most evocative or aurally stimulating powerplant around, its effortless torque means most ‘regular’ driving can be easily accomplished between 1500-2500rpm. It also makes the big Toyota deceptively fast.
Still, with a line-up that now includes the Prius, Prius C, Prius V, Camry Hybrid, and newly added Corolla Hybrid, it almost feels a bit strange driving a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder petrol-powered Toyota that doesn’t have some form of hybridisation attached to it.
Supported by snappy throttle response, the Aurion’s smooth-shifting torque-converter automatic suffers from none of the hesitation or lag often associated with arguably more modern dual-clutch transmissions – even if its six ratios are yet another sign of the car’s age.
Like its drivetrain, the Sportivo’s strong and bitey brakes, too, are good. Teamed with a nice, firm pedal, they consistently and confidently pull the car up well.
Unfortunately, despite Toyota’s inclusion of a pre-load differential – said to improve driveability – when you do push on, it doesn’t take much for the car to quickly feel out of its depth.
And that isn’t great. Particularly as, at 1555kg, the Aurion Sportivo is 130kg lighter than an equivalent automatic Holden Commodore SV6 – a special edition Black version of which is currently available from $38,990 driveaway.
It changes directions well enough, however, it’s 225mm-wide, 45-aspect Bridgestone Turanza tyres don’t offer vast amounts of grip. And, partly due to how torquey the engine under the bonnet is, if you get on the throttle a little early, it’s not difficult to spin a wheel or at least trigger some stability control intervention.
So, in reality, the 2016 Toyota Aurion Sportivo is too firm and has too heavier steering to be an ideal big-trip large car, yet it’s not dynamic or entertaining enough to be a good full-size sports car either. Sadly, it misses the mark at both ends.
Why sadly? Well, for two reasons. One: As the Corolla Sportivo I almost bought proved, Toyota has shown in the past what hidden potential it can bestow on its Sportivo-badged models. And two: Although, the second-generation Toyota Aurion has been built in Altona in Victoria since 2012, that all comes to an end when Toyota Australia ceases local manufacturing at the end of 2017.
Despite updates in 2015 and 2016, the Toyota Aurion Sportivo is no spring chicken. Further, when you consider it’s missing some of the types of features seen more and more commonly these days – such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) systems, and technology to keep you in your lane (or at least warn you of departing it) – it is clearly showing its age. And that’s not mentioning its lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility, one-touch indicators, or an electric parking brake (remember, the Aurion still employs a foot brake).
It is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, though, when it comes to scheduled services, things are somewhat complicated.
If eligible for Toyota’s capped-price Service Advantage program (which the majority of private buyers would be), the first five scheduled services – required every nine months or 15,000km (whichever comes first) – are fixed at $140 per service.
Totalling $700, this takes you through to 45 months of ownership or 75,000km. Beyond the first three years of ownership, however, owners are required to pay the ‘regular’ maximum logbook service price for any ongoing scheduled services. And, with the 54-month/90,000km service costing $990.55 and the 63-month/105,000km service costing $251.44, the overall total for five years of ownership, comes to $1941.99.
The 2016 Toyota Aurion Sportivo is a tricky car to recommend. It’s not the most affordable or most compellingly specified or equipped car on the market, and it’s far from the most fun large car you can get into for circa-$40k – that title still comfortably goes to the Holden Commodore. Its sheer size alone will please some buyers, though, and it offers loads of interior space, as well as a strong and competent engine and gearbox combination.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Toyota Aurion Sportivo images by David Zalstein and Tom Fraser.