2008 Toyota Aurion

The Good:
– Handsome profile
– Refined engine
– Cabin space
The Bad:
– Softer handling than rivals
– Lifeless steering feel
– Undefeatable traction control

The Aurion was an excellent decision by Toyota. Instead of having a straightforward V6 version of the Camry, Toyota decided to give the more powerful car a unique look and a different name. Therefore customers who paid extra for the V6 did not end up with a car that looks like the taxi-special Camry.

Arguably boasting the most attractive styling among the current crop of dominant “fast” V6-powered Japanese midsizers, looking neither overly futuristic like the Altima, nor is it overly dull like the Accord, the Aurion is really just a Camry with different face, a new rear, and a bigger engine. Even the interior is exactly the same, barring a few interesting touches, such as fancy multi-layered gauges, faux wood and a starter button. Indeed, it is hard to find fault in the standard cabin layout, with its soft-touch dashboard and decent interior materials, although it could’ve used a few more soft-touch pieces. Our mid-range tester had a cloth interior, which was comfortable enough, but again, we wish there was more padding in the armrests.

The interior is very spacious, with good headroom and legroom all round. The front seats are moderately bolstered, while the flat-folding rear seat is the typically-shaped bench. Storage cubbies, bottle-holders and four covered cup-holders are all more than enough. The luggage trunk is also huge, but weird shapes along its sidewalls slightly limit useable floor space.

Again, since our tester is a mid-range model, it only gets manually-adjustable front seats, cloth upholstery and no navigation. However, it is still fairly loaded, including the usual power accessories, sunroof, cruise control, “intelligent” keyless entry with start button, rear spoiler, blue night-time cabin illumination, HID headlights, rear parking sensors, powered rear sunshade, digital a/c with rear vents, trip computer and a 6-disc in-dash CD/MP3 player with wheel-mounted buttons and the same gaudy blue-lit faceplate as in the Camry. While the stereo is a fair bit above average, the a/c is a stronger performer, being among the best in the business. While dual front airbags are standard, side-curtain airbags are optional.

The standard-for-all-trims 3.5-litre V6 is a great engine, sounding more refined than the unit in the Altima V6. With 268 hp at 6200 rpm and 336 Nm of torque at 4700 rpm, it is on par with its direct competitors. The Aurion comes with a 6-speed automatic with manual shifting capability, triumphing the simple 5-speed in the Accord. All this helps the 1615 kg Aurion to power from zero to 100 kph in 7 seconds flat, which matched our Altima V6 tester, and beat our Accord V6 tester by 0.8 seconds. Oddly enough, the traction control cannot be turned off, but it usually cuts in after spinning the front wheels for a while. Our trick to getting a good launch was to take off at only 2500 rpm, while balancing the throttle to make sure the wheelspin wasn’t enough to set off the traction control. Incidentally, the stability control system is not available in the most basic trim level, which ironically is probably the most fun version too.

The smooth gearbox has its own personality, with quick upshifts and delayed downshifts in auto mode, but offering delayed upshifts and quick downshifts in manual mode. Our average consumption on the first tank of fuel was 14.9 litres per 100 km. But on the second tank, with largely highway driving, we managed a remarkable 8.7 litres per 100 km.

While the Aurion inherits the Camry’s frugal diet for petrol, it also inherits the Camry’s cushy fully-independent suspension. It is largely comfortable over bumps, although feeling slightly floaty occasionally. Interestingly, it seemed quieter than a Camry in terms of wind and road noise. It can quietly ride up to 120 kph, but at one point on the highway, we experienced a weird rhythmic bumpiness from the rear suspension for unknown reasons, feeling sort of like a solid-axle pickup truck. We thought we got a flat tyre, but after a while the bumpiness went away, never to return. Maybe that part of the super-smooth highway was rough.

The Aurion is touted as a sports sedan, but it is really more of a fast cruiser. The first indication of this is the foot-operated parking brake instead of a proper handbrake. Then there is the lifeless steering and the soft pedals. While the controls offer better feedback than those of the Altima, the Aurion has a bit more body roll than its stiffly-sprung Nissan competitor. And the Accord rolls even less than either of them. But then, amazingly enough, the Aurion offered more grip around corners than either rival, squealing its 215/55 tyres a bit later, as we found out at our self-designated benchmark “skidpad” roundabout. The ABS-assisted disc brakes underneath the 17-inch rims are also easier to modulate than that of the Altima, so applying linear pressure is easy. So the final word on handling is, you can turn a bit harder than both the Accord and the Altima, but both its rivals offer a more confidence-inspiring drive thanks to comparatively less body roll than the Aurion. And all three front-drivers understeer to screeching hell if pushed beyond their limits.

The Australian-built Aurion holds an awkward position between the common Camry and the elderly Avalon, but Toyota did indeed need to fill this niche to respectably go up against its V6-powered rivals. It may not be the class leader in this segment, but it is still almost as good as the class nerds. The Toyota nameplate is enough reason to consider one as a long-term ride.

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