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Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion v Toyota Auris Hybrid review (twin test)
Family hatchback buyers intent on saving the planet are now presented with two ways of achieving 74.3mpg. What's the best? We decided to find out.
We used to be wowed when superminis achieved 50mpg, while city cars were going some to manage 60mpg. These two hatchbacks nudge 75mpg - yet their routes to such staggering economy are very different indeed.
Gallery: VW Golf Bluemotion v Toyota Auris Hybrid
Green Car Guide
The 74mpg diesel hatch
Volkswagen uses conventional means with the Golf Bluemotion. It is, in essence, a highly fuel-efficient turbodiesel hatchback. Volkswagen has been making TDI engines for decades; this uses the latest high-economy 1.6-litre version.
It's a bit lower than a normal Golf, and has a few more aero wings and flaps. The upper gear ratios are longer than normal and there are low-resistance tyres. It has stop-start too but otherwise, it's just another Golf TDI.
Driving it thus demands no special techniques, other than not waiting at lights with the car in gear (do so and the stop-start won't 'stop'). Get in, surf a wave of creamy diesel torque, enjoy 750 miles between tank refills. Couldn't be simpler.
Particularly as it keeps all the Golf's familiar class. This is an eco car that feels anything but. In the old days, fuel-saver specials made you suffer for the cause but not this one. Is there a more peaceful way to 74mpg?
The 74mpg hybrid hatch
Toyota says yes. Enter the Auris HSD - the Auris 'Prius'. This is the British-built mainstream family hatchback from Toyota. We've had petrol and diesel for some time. Time for a third option, to build upon the success of the Prius.
It works the same as the world's most famous hybrid: mate one high-efficiency petrol engine to a high-power electric motor. Bolt on a fiendishly complicated gearbox to the two, and voilà - an entire range of driving modes blending the two.
Driving it, however, demands no special techniques. Hang on, haven't we already said that? Indeed we have - and here's the brilliance of what Toyota's achieved. The Auris HSD is way more complicated than the diesel Golf but you'd never realise from behind the wheel.
The trickiest part is working out how to start it. Turns out you don't: instead, press a button, prime the electrics, and you're ready to go. No point turning on the engine when you'll be using a silent electric motor to move you away.
Head to head: diesel v hybrid
Despite its class, the Golf is, initially, the noisiest car. The diesel is very smooth, but there's no escaping its background clatter, particularly when cold. By any standards, it's a refined engine but it can't compete with the virtual mechanical silence of an in-town Auris HSD.
That's because the Toyota has a stack of chunky batteries that, if you're gentle, will power you for a fair few miles. There's a techie whine, yes, but a total lack of vibration and an other-worldly serenity. It's as mechanically 'sweet' as a Rolls-Royce here.
After a couple of miles, or when you demand harder acceleration, the petrol engine kicks in too. The clever gearbox means it just 'comes on', rather than cranking away, but it does introduce some more disturbance to the drive.
But not at first. Unlike the clattery Golf, on a light throttle you probably won't notice the petrol engine. But you will when you use it harder, the Auris HSD's droning, rumbling engine far removed from the usual hybrid serenity at higher speeds.
Saving the planet in peace
The Golf, however, is far more refined. Thanks to the turbo's torque, you can whoosh along in high gears and low revs. The motor fades into the background and you barely need to rev it above 2,000rpm to get the best of the turbo.
It's much easier on open roads, rather more responsive, and because there's no efficiency penalty in driving it as such, you're more willing to relax and go with the flow. In the Auris, though, there's much more of a direct connection to speed and economy.
The Auris rewards eco driving techniques more than the Golf but punishes a heavier right foot harder. Surprise in the Toyota is often not how near to 74mpg you are, it's how far away you are. This is where the eco message versus reality boundary blurs.
There's more. The Golf, as mentioned, feels like a shrunken large car. The Toyota feels like an enlarged small car, more pattery and less relaxing. It's clever, but the class remains with the Golf. It's the more evolved of the two, and it shows.
The Golf is the more convincing eco car for the ease with which amazing mpg figures can be achieved. For town driving and those concerned with particulate emissions, the Toyota makes a case. However, even those people will probably judge the Golf a nicer drive.
Will the verdict remain the same after six months though? In an MSN Cars first, we've actually got both cars on simultaneous long-term tests and we'll be able to take the long view on which technology works best. Stay tuned!
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