Do you want to buy a cheap new Lexus? If so, then check out the Toyota Aurion. Sales are down 25 per cent to just less than 5000 units so far this year. Aurion is ranked third with 721 sales, down 14 per cent and has just a 15 per cent share of the segment, behind Commodore and Falcon.
By comparison its four-cylinder twin Camry commands 40 per cent of the 5700 medium car sector with sales up 23 per cent for the year. The six-cylinder market is a tough place.
Buyers are abandoning this once stronghold in increasing numbers for SUVs and small cars. It's a shame because Aussie-made sixes are among the best cars in the world for value for money and are able to devour long distances in comfort and safety.
Yes. The Aurion packs the same silky smooth 3.5 V6 as the Lexus IS 350 and the GS 350 in a package $30,000-plus cheaper. But the $52,467 Sportivo ZR6 as reviewed is a much better looking car with a sporty body kit and a more aggressive and individual grille that makes it stand apart.
Features include five alloy wheels, 60/40 split-fold seats, multi-information display, eco indicator, display audio with USB input and iPod connectivity, acoustic windscreen, dual exhaust, chrome rear garnish and rocker moulding, sports Optitron (Lexus) instruments and integrated side indicators in the exterior mirrors.
There is also power-operated driver and front passenger seats with lumbar support, sports suspension, 17-inch sport alloy wheels, front and rear spoilers, sports diffuser, front fog lamps, metallic/mica paint, paddle shifts, sports pedals, premium three-spoke steering wheel, sports front seats, sat-nav, smart entry/start, automatic high beam, wipers, high-definition headlamps, front and rear parking sensors and automatic dipping exterior mirrors.
It might not have the Lexus badge, but it shares the same powerplant and inside is as close to a high-level Lexus as you will get in a Toyota. The Aurion's not rear drive, which will put off some purists off, but it can be driven in a sporty manner that takes advantage of its silky engine and supple chassis.
Output from the 3.5-litre V6 engine is unchanged at 200kW and 336Nm, but a taller final drive accompanies the six-speed sequential-shift automatic transmission. This improves fuel efficiency by 6 per cent to 9.3 litres/100km on the combined cycle, and exhaust emissions are down by 8 per cent. I achieved 12.2 litres/100km on my weekend drive.
In reality the Aurion is a V6 version of the Camry with interior and exterior changes. In base versions, the Aurion is very ordinary looking and the Camry looks much better. The body kit, including spoilers and side skirts, is not a cohesive unit. The car was finished in a striking metallic blue paint job, called reflex blue, which made it stand out.
The front seats are taller and wider, with more back and lower body support. The steering column has a more natural angle and the relationship between the driver's seat and the accelerator has improved.
The ZR6 is packed with gear and among the goodies are seven SRS airbags (including driver's knee airbag), seatbelt warnings on all five seats, vehicle stability control (VSC), traction control (TRC), dual-zone automatic climate-controlled airconditioning and a reversing camera.
I was quite impressed when I picked up the ZR6. I was dreading driving a lesser model with that awful cheesy chrome grille. It reminds me of the very forgettable Avalon. The ZR6 will not appeal to keen drivers who prefer big cars, such as the Ford Falcon XR6 and Holden Commodore's SV6, to be rear-wheel drive.
But the beauty of the Aurion is that it is a smooth motor car, much more refined than the raw and raucous Falcon and Commodore. Torque steer, when the drive through the front wheels fights the steering, can be a problem but only if you are heavy handed. The ZR6 can be driven briskly and smoothly without being brutal.
In fact, it is a surprisingly quick car that can string a series of corners together well and in harmony. Drive it with an even hand and it does not need to result in heavy nose understeer. It tackled the Kuranda Range road well and was quiet and Lexus-like on the highway through to Mareeba.
Engine and wind noise was negligible with just coarse bitumen surfaces upsetting the ambience. The smartest part about the ZR6 was the V6 providing instant power for safe overtaking and for effortlessly uphill driving. It was a lot of fun across the unforgiving Springmount Rd between Walkamin and Dimbulah, using the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
There is little body roll and just a hint of safe understeer on sharp corners at enthusiastic speeds. The car points well with a new, stiffer suspension and more rigid body. There's also a new electric power steering unit similar to that in the Lexus RX series. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) have been improved through a large number of design refinements.
Aurion has what is essentially a double glazed windscreen. Wind flow under the bonnet and the front mudguards has been deflected to reduce noise and new sound-deadening carpets have been added. Double seals have been added to the door glass. The result is a cabin that is whisper quiet even on some of the harsh road surfaces.
Inside, the Aurion feels more comfortable and secure and although still short of an enthusiast's choice, it is more involving to drive with an improved driving position, tighter and more confident handling and better steering and brake pedal feedback.
The engine is punchy, silky smooth and quiet with just enough exhaust note filtering through to reflect its V6 status. And it is complemented by the seamless and intuitive six-speed automatic. However, the inherent tug of 200kW driving the front wheels remains, as does the irksome foot-operated parking brake.
The Aurion is an under achiever and falls under the shadow of the cheaper four-cylinder Camry. But it does a better job, even if it is dearer and thirstier. Nothing beats a nice six and the Aurion's V6 is one of the best in the business. It's smooth, quiet and powerful, making long journeys a cinch. The ZR6 can also be sporty. It provides a refined alternative to the more raw rear-drive sporty numbers from Holden andFord.
Toyota Aurion Sportivo ZR6
Body: four-door sedan
Price: from $52,467
Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 200kW/336Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 9.3L/100km (12.2L on test), CO2 215g/km
Dimensions: length 4855mm, width 1825mm, height 1470mm, wheelbase 2775mm
Warranty: three years/100,000km