Cropley on cars – new Toyota Auris is top quality, Ferrari FF road trip

Latest Auris majors on quality, 450 miles in a Ferrari FF, Campbell’s Bluebird runs again, Jules Bianchi remembered

SATURDAY – Spent a deeply enjoyable weekend driving the Toyota Auris Hybrid, a car that escaped my notice until company bosses invited the Steering Committee and me to a Cotswolds event to sample the firm’s latest cars plus a collection of past greats.

I’ve always liked Toyota’s values (whenever I’m asked what car to buy, I say: “A Volkswagen Golf  
or any Toyota”), but I suddenly 
see that my unchanging 
picture of dependability is at odds with the progress recent models have made.

This latest Auris is better looking than a Focus and more distinguished than a Golf. Its perceived quality is up there with the best, while on the move it’s one of those cars in which you forget to assess comfort, because there’s plenty. (Maybe if I ruled the Toyota world, I’d relax the damper rates a bit.)

The Prius/Auris accelerator gets rightly criticised for not responding as quickly as many, and the powertrain for having no poke to spare, but even this concern disappears once you ‘get’ the car. Its job is to deliver exceptional efficiency and frugality, so why blame it for not being a Nissan GT-R?  

SUNDAY – Carefree morning reprising good Toyota times, first in a third-gen MR2 (the pretty one with no luggage space), then an early RAV4 (its sportiness has lessons for today’s SUVs) and a rear-drive Corolla TwinCam (with roistering 1.6-litre engine and 7700rpm redline). You forget how forward-looking some Toyotas have been.

Finished with a near-silent trip through Cheltenham’s suburbs in a 77,000-mile Mk1 Prius. It’s not the most beautiful car, and the underdeveloped suspension is distinctly bouncy, but its powertrain is amazingly refined.

You’ve got to admire the vision of the company’s management, which made a huge commitment to this technology when we road testers were moaning about hard dashboard plastics. Result? Seven million sales and counting. Now their successors are making comparisons between the Prius’s rate of climb and that of hydrogen-powered Toyotas to come.

MONDAY – Debate in the office about the government’s plan to increase the period before which cars need annual MOTs from three years to four.

There has been predictable whingeing from garage groups, but as the owner of a motley bunch of cars and bikes, I reckon it can only be good. Means our newish cars are easier to own and those that need annual titivation continue to get it. What’s the problem?

TUESDAY/WEDNESDAY – Perfect excuse for a 450-mile round trip in the Ferrari FF: the National Motor Museum decided to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 150mph land speed record at Pendine Sands by using the actual car, restored in their own workshops, to recreate the event.

Arrived expecting an attendance of two men and a dog, but when it was time to run (4pm), the place was stacked. You couldn’t move for enthusiasts and curious tourists.

Driven by Campbell’s grandson, Don Wales, the car looked and sounded wonderful – as did Brooklands’ Napier-Railton, also along for the drive. How great to see what might have been viewed as an old-world event become such a popular success.

THURSDAY – Reading and watching coverage of the sad death of F1’s Jules Bianchi, killed in a freak collision with a recovery vehicle during the Japanese Grand Prix last year, I’m struck by the quality and generosity of the comments from what at times can seem a cheap and tawdry sport.

I never met Bianchi, but he seems to have been a fine young bloke. It’s some small compensation, I suppose, that his demise has brought better safety procedures. 

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