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Car reviews - Toyota - Aurion - TRD sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Engine response and driveability, outright performance and acceleration, fuel consumption, ride quality, steering response and feel, confidence-inspiring handling agility, understated styling, ergonomics, refinement
Room for improvement
Seats too high, lacks interior differentiation from lesser Aurions, lacks exhaust note, torque steer, tyre noise, no gearshift paddles, relative price

23 Aug 2007

SO TOYOTA has joined Holden and Ford in offering a performance version of its Australian-built large sedan, even if it regards wheezy entry-level German sedans and turbocharged all-wheel drive Japanese four-doors like the Liberty GT and Mazda6 MPS as more direct rivals than homegrown heroes like the Commodore SS, Falcon XRs and even faster versions from HSV and FPV respectively.

But the question on everyone’s lips is how well does the Camry-based TRD Aurion’s front-drive chassis channel no less than 241kW and 400Nm of torque to the tarmac?

After nearly 300km of twisty Tasmanian roads, including a brief stint at the undulating Baskerville circuit, we can reveal the answer is far better than we expected.

Outputs like these dwarf many current big-bore V8s and most of the world’s quickest front-drive cars, including the Mazda3 MPS and unweildy, long-forgotten models like the Magna Ralliart and Saab Viggen – all of which produce less power and torque but are most notable for being a handful at full noise.

So for a vehicle that treads where no other has dared, the supercharged TRD Aurion performs somewhat of an engineering coup by maintaining almost all of its donor car’s civility, refinement and user-friendliness.

Yes, in true Toyota style high-calibre build quality abounds, all controls are light to use and refinement levels are second to none for an Australian-made car.

Driven with a progressive accelerator pedal, the almost inaudible mechanical whir of a crankshaft-driven supercharger is the only tell-tale this is no regular Aurion.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for the snug-fitting, pleasingly supportive, heavily-bolstered sports seats (which are semi-wrapped in neatly-subtle, TRD-branded Alcantara faux suede in the base 3500S and classy full leather in the luxury 3500SL, but unfortunately are as high in the cabin as the regular Aurion’s) one could easily overlook the individually numbered TRD centre console plaque and two-tone leather-clad steering wheel.

But squeeze the throttle and there’s instant confirmation this is no garden-variety Aurion.

Gone is the breathless off-idle and midrange throttle response of the standard 3.5-litre quad-cam V6, which delivers a (naturally-aspirated) class-leading 200kW (204kW on 98-octane premium unleaded, as Toyota recommends for the TRD version) and a decent 336Nm of torque - but at sky-high engine speeds of 6200rpm and 4700rpm respectively.

In its place is instantaneous, satisfying acceleration from any revs and a banshee-like exhaust woosh that’s best heard at full throttle from directly behind. Inside it’s all pretty restrained and even Toyota engineers lament the lack of a beefier exhaust note, or one that’s at least commensurate with the first TRD car’s not insubstantial performance.

Toyota claims the ordinary Aurion’s torque peak is produced at just 1800rpm, that a handy 300Nm is on tap from just 1250rpm, that the TRD Aurion packs a Falcon XR (and FPV GT!) matching 6.1-second 0-100km/h acceleration time and that it would crack 258km/h if it wasn’t electronically limited to 250km/h.

All of these are impressive numbers for any sports sedan and, after driving it, we have no reason to question the TRD Aurion’s power delivery and pace. In short, with at least as much muscle as the Falcon’s torque-laden naturally-aspirated inline six off the line, it could be argued that this is the sort of performance Aurion should have offered as standard.

Of course, press on and the TRD car delivers a whole new world of performance that’s foreign to current Aurion owners, and the fact it’s accessible without being completely overwhelming is due entirely to the fundamental integrity of the Aurion chassis and advances in its electronic control systems.

But don’t think for a minute the TRD version is some shriking Japanese violet with a well-mannered low-blow supercharger-equipped V6 that's sure to disappoint.

Full-throttle or just judicious right-foot manoeuvres will be welcomed by a wall of brute force all the way to 6500rpm, accompanied by a startling level of torque steer, or tugging of the steering wheel, as even the super-grippy, super-wide 245/35-section 19-inch Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres scrabble for grip.

Speaking of which, it is Dunlop’s stickiest low-profile rubber that is responsible for the pronounced tyre roar that’s always present in the TRD Aurion.

Almost overwhelming on coarse-chip road surfaces, tyre noise is by far the single loudest interior sound on any surface at almost any speed. At around $450 each, a least the Dunlops are about half the cost of HSV/FPV tyres to replace, even if the spare is a (temporary-use) 17-inch alloy from the Presara.

In the absence of a limited-slip differential, the TRD Aurion relies totally on the latest electronic traction/stability control system to filter out excess torque delivery to the front wheels, and can often be felt braking an inside front wheel to redirect power to the outside tyre, which usually has more traction.

When the car is taken to the limits of its adhesion the system works so hard, for so long yet so effectively that we wonder how much brake pad wear will increase for over-enthusiastic drivers.

But even the smartest VSC technology can’t disguise the level of torque steer that presents itself most especially on wet and/or cambered, but also on dry, flat bitumen.

There’s steering interference when accelerating hard even from highway speeds in the taller gear ratios of the silky-smooth Toyota-built six-speed auto, which features a manual-shift mode (that correctly shifts down from the selected gear when required but won’t up-change, even at redline) but lacks remote gearshift paddles due to the associated development cost.

Some have argued that under hard acceleration the steering is similarly effected in a rear-drive V8 sports sedan, which also takes some acclimatising to even if stability control is fitted. That’s true, but it’s only ever the driver that effects those changes, in an effort to correct a potential slide by applying steering lock in the opposite direction.

With artificial driver aids switched off and in the right environment, such as a racetrack or private road, good drivers are able to exploit the available power of a rear-drive car by applying even more throttle to correct a rear-wheel slide while actually increasing speed.

Widely known as power oversteering or opposite-locking, it’s perhaps motoring’s most rewarding challenge to master.

The opposite is true in a front-drive vehicle because the only way to correct a slide (usually a front-end one, as the front wheels lose grip and cause the car to “understeer”) is to slow down, which can be more frustrating than fun.

Of course, the big upside is safety, because understeer usually has less grave consequences than oversteer, and is therefore the driveline configuration of choice in cold/slippery climates such as in Canada and Scandinavia.

Much of this academic in the TRD Aurion, which combines a sophisticated and unswitchable stability control system with a reasonably rigid body and firmer (yet totally liveable, in terms of ride quality) suspension tune to be virtually foolproof in almost any circumstance.

Throw in the added safety net of substantially more powerful even more adjustable “performance” braking hardware, a more responsive and communicative steering system that’s even more resistant to kickback and totally devoid of steering rack rattle, and the TRD is by far the most fun, rewarding and, dare we say it, addictive Toyota we’ve ever driven.

But no matter how seamlessly and unobtrusively the VSC system works, eventually it will spoil the fun.

Given the diet of increasingly accomplished large, rear-drive performance sedans Australian car enthusiasts have enjoyed for so long, we (like Toyota itself) doubt the TRD Aurion’s ability to persuade customers away from the latest V8 Falcodore.

Traditional Camry and Aurion buyers will revel in the vastly wider performance envelope the TRD sedan delivers and 99 per cent of potential customers are unlikely to ever experience frustrating VSC intervention during spirited driving.

For them, the TRD Aurion is the Ferrari of Toyotas, and is refreshingly easy to get in and drive quickly with unrivalled confidence.

At 1610kg in 3500S guise it’s at least 100kg lighter than the equivalent Falcon, so the TRD not only sets new benchmarks for handling agility for a Toyota sedan but, as a point-to-point vehicle, it's probably as quick as any of its large rivals.

The icing on the cake is minimal extra fuel consumption, with the official figure rising from 9.9 to 10.0L/100km. We saw a paltry 12.3L/100km average after a day of ambitious Tassie driving.

Toyota needs TRD Aurion to be almost as popular as Subaru’s Liberty GT or the Mazda6 MPS to succeed. Both those models may be smaller, but apart from similar performance they also offer all-wheel drive and lower pricetags.

Toyota Australia should be commended for its determination and investment to inject an unprecedented level of performance into its Australian-built vehicle range. In a Toyota world that lacks any sports models, the prospect of everything from a blown V6 HiLux to a Yaris hot-hatch deserves even wider appeal for the nation’s most populist car brand.

With a starting price of $57,000, however, potential TRD Aurion buyers must be prepared to pay an extra $14,000-odd over the most expensive Aurion Sportivo and Ford’s brilliant Falcon XR6 Turbo, thanks largely to the expense involved in developing the world-first production-car fitment of Eaton’s latest four-lobe (TVS) supercharger.

For us, more than anything, the TRD Aurion reiterates exactly how much choice Australians have when it comes to satisfying imported and homegrown performance metal.

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