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Road Test: TRD Aurion

Review by Feann Torr - 4/October/2007

TRD Aurion reviewToyota Racing Development (TRD) had an ambitious plan to develop a world-class sports sedan that would rival Australia's best performance cars from Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) and Holden Special Vehicles (HSV). Using a family sedan - the Toyota Aurion - as its base, TRD went about transforming the vehicle into something far more serious than 'just another large sports car'.

The new look is remarkable. Arguably the hottest vehicle to ever emerge from a Toyota garage in this country, the TRD Aurion has sex appeal and road presence by the truck load. It's a compelling design and is appealing from almost every angle, and the sports car company clearly did it's homework in catering to the performance sedan market in an aesthetic sense.

A sophisticated chassis that would allow the Aurion to deliver even higher levels of tyre grip has been engineered for the new model, and the interior was renovated to more appropriately reflect the cars intent, with supportive sports seats, and a build plate on the centre console to signify the car's rarity.

The final touch was the powertrain - and in particular the engine. TRD knew that the Aurion's 3.5-litre V6 wouldn't cut the mustard in its standard state of tune. Two hundred kilowatts sounds alright on paper, but the standard Toyota V6 lacks torque. So the company employed a cutting-edge twin vortice supercharger, upping power to 241kW but improving torque by an even larger margin.

So the TRD sports sedan was born. 

All of it was going so well and everything looked hunky dory until a few weeks after the car was launched here in late September 2007 when Toyota suspended all TRD Aurion sales. The reason behind this is not quite clear, but Toyota cited an engine failure in a dealer demonstrator vehicle. Whatever the case may be, the engine we tested was rock solid and even after severe punishment it never so much as rattled. But that's not to say the car is perfect. Far from it...

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Drive 
Engine 
Exterior 
Interior 

Make: TRD
Model: Aurion 3500S
Price: $56,990
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Engine: 3.5-litre, Vee 6-cylinder, supercharged, petrol
Seats: 5
Safety: 6 airbags (driver/front passenger (x2), front side (x2) and curtain airbags (x2)), ABS, ESP
Car SupplierTRD Australia

Drive: 2.5/5

TRD Aurion review

TRD Aurion - supercharged V6 performance

TRD Aurion review

The TRD Aurion's engine power is phenomenal,
but the front-wheel drive layout causes problems

TRD Aurion review

Arguably the TRD's best angle: the rear
end design with an integrated diffuser and
concept car exhaust pipes look sensational

Engine: TRD Supercharged 3.5-litre V6

The transversely mounted 3456cc vee 6-cylinder engine features aluminium alloy block and cylinder heads. Chain-driven dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) actuate a total of 24-valves (4-valves per cylinder) that feature variable valve timing. The engine features a belt-driven twin vortice supercharger and has an 10.8:1 compression ratio and will only tolerate top grade premium fuel (98 RON) when filling its 70 litre fuel tank.

Fuel consumption: 10.9L/100km (combined cycle)
CO2 Emissions: 257g/km

Max Power: 241kW @ 6400rpm
Max Torque: 400Nm @ 4000rpm
Max Speed: N/A
0-100km/h: 6.1 seconds

TRD Aurion review

This is the Eaton TVS supercharger,
both a blessing and a curse for TRD

TRD Aurion review

Capable of accelerating from zero to
100km/h in 6.09 seconds, the new TRD
Aurion is a remarkably fast sports sedan

TRD Aurion review

The interior is well laid out and the seats
are supportive, but the TRD Aurion 3500S
misses out on climate control and other items

Stepping inside the entry-level TRD Aurion 3500S reveals a pair of very trick looking sports seats but little else to tell you it's a genuine sports car. Until you flex your right foot that is. TRD's first production car is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 which sees use in vehicles as different as the Toyota Tarago and the Lexus RX350. 

But there's one major difference with the TRD power core - it's supercharged. It's this little component, along with a few extra measures of plumbing, that make the TRD Aurion so preternaturally powerful. 

After accumulating a few kays on the clock, I found the seating position was too high for my 6'1" frame. Even in its lowest setting, my head was precariously close to the roof, but with a surprisingly supple ride there's not too much bounce as you drive over bumps.

This smooth ride is all the more impressive when you consider that the car rides on huge 19-inch alloy wheels, easily the coolest looking rims this side of concept car, shod with huge 245/35 ZR19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres. 

Initially I was rather satisfied with how the TRD Aurion performed as a daily driver. Though it may have the sports seats, the sports body kit, the sports wheels and the performance engine options, it's still got the Toyota Aurion's everyday usability. There's a big boot, heaps of rear seat space, it's easy to drive and makes for a good commuter car.

Highway driving is similarly effortless, and with easy-to-use cruise controls and a combined city/highway fuel consumption figure of 10.9l/100km it is far more frugal than the V8-powered HSVs and FPVs in terms of fuel economy.

I drove the TRD Aurion to work on a few occasions and the 6-speed auto is well suited to the stop-start traffic snarls that bank up around Melbourne city in the morning, and it's easy to navigate tight spots thanks to the responsive steering. I also discovered that prestige car owners - BMW, Audi et al - took more interest in the new vehicle's looks than almost any other type of car owner during the drive to work, which says a lot about its road presence.

When finally we got to give the TRD Aurion a real thrash out in the country, operating the vehicle as it was intended - at full bore - one thing stood out above all else. The supercharged V6 engine is absolutely amazing. The power is huge, and the response immediate. Sadly, the execution is flawed.

Why Toyota decided to put such a torquey engine with such a forceful power delivery into a heavy front-wheel drive car is anyone's guess. Even Audi, which makes a number of front-wheel drive cars, ensures that its sports model are 4WD. 

When you floor the throttle in a straight line the TRD Aurion exhibits wild torque steer as the huge amounts of pent-up energy try to find a way to escape the front axle, which isn't helped by the light steering feel. It won't rip the tiller out of your hands but it doesmake full-throttle straight line acceleration feel strange.

Another down side to having such a powerful supercharged engine focussing all its power at the front wheels is loss of traction. With a claimed 6.1 second 0-100km/h dash the TRD Aurion is very quick in a straight line - we almost beat a Nissan 350Z to 70km/h from standstill - yet even on dry roads with warmed-up tyres, you cannot apply full throttle without getting some loss of traction and wheelspin.

The side-effect of wheelspin is the activation of the ESP which further complicates the issue because it cannot be easily switched off, curtailing your forward momentum by applying brakes and retarding ignition.

There is a way to to turn off the ESP (which involves a video-game like code of brake and handbrake pushes) and once deactivated the car does manic burnouts in a straight line - we're talking Yoko-smoko competition style, with plumes of thick blue smoke - and becomes very scary through corners as the wheels often break traction mid corner causing the car lose grip. 

In retrospect I think making ESP difficult to turn off was a wise decision.

Built as a rival to the Subaru Liberty GT STI and Mazda6 MPS, and to a lesser extent some HSV and FPV models, the TRD Aurion was designed to be a performance car. After discovering it's hugely powerful V6 engine can be a handful at the best of times, the car isn't a complete dog through corners. It can't match either turbocharged versions of the Liberty or Mazda6 through a corner, but if you don't slam the throttle to the floor in every bend and attempt to drive the car smoothly it can weave its way through corners quite nicely.

The large 19-inch tyres provide good levels of grip, and the brakes are fantastic with a very strong and positive feel, coupled with righteous stopping power. The front ventilated discs have a 325mm diameter, with large twin piston aluminium calipers, and the rear discs are 310mm in diametre with similarly large but single piston aluminium calipers.

The suspension tune isn't quite as stiff as I was expecting, which results increasing levels of body roll through tighter bends, but it can hold a good line through a corner and handles far better than the Toyota Aurion Sportivo upon which it is based.

With judicious use of the loud pedal, the TRD Aurion becomes more approachable and quite drivable, but finding it's limits is almost impossible. The 6-speed auto gearbox doesn't do the car any favours either.It's feels nervous in the normal 'D' or drive mode, particularly as the ESP constantly rebukes the front wheels as they try to break traction through corners.

The 6-speed auto is always chopping and changing gears because the supercharger spins up so quickly and provides instant power. To be brutally honest the gearbox feels about as sporty as soggy cardboard and doesn't have the intelligence of the much-improved Ford and Holden 6-speed cog swappers.

However the gearbox does redeem itself in tiptronic mode, which is the only way you can get decent throttle control through corners and this is because it holds gears instead of constantly searching for a new one each time you adjust the throttle.

The steering is really light, which can dull feedback through corners and doesn't inspire confidence. And it still results in manic torque steer. When accelerating down a straight road the steering wheel wants to break right, then left, then left some more, so you can imagine what it's like trying to accelerate through a corner. With time you learn to adapt to the car's issues - the chronic torque steer, the understeer - but when you're forking out $57,000 you really shouldn't have to.

In conclusion, the way the TRD Aurion drives is a mixed bag. It's got a good chassis with excellent brakes, it commutes well with a fairly smooth ride for such a performance car, and the engine is just incredible. It's just that a large and heavy family car with supercharged V6 power hitting the road through the same wheels that control its direction just doesn't work.

Note: We score the 'Drive' section mainly on performance parameters. The TRD has a decent ride and is a good commuter, so if you don't plan on cracking the whip, add another point to the score.

Engine: 4/5

The engine on this car is phenomenal. It's a supercharged 3.5-litre V6. It has a refined, smooth feel, with effortless levels of power. It sounds pretty good, and though the exhaust note isn't quite as performance orientated as I'd hoped, the sound of the twin vortice supercharger as a lower frequency hum adds to the experience.

This Toyota V6 engine has so much power and torque from low in the rev range and is so responsive that it's hard not to rev it up all the time. The problem being that doing this provides you with reduced levels of control. If only the car was 4WD. I beseech the Toyota Gods - spend the money, make it 4WD or RWD and you will have a demon slayer of a car!

Anyway, the engine on its own is a very nice piece of work, balancing brutal power with good fuel economy. Peak power of 241kW (328 metric horsepower) combines with torque of 400Nm and all this brute force doesn't come at a cost - the car uses 10.9 litres of petrol per 100km on the combined cycle, and even less on the highway cycle.

According to Toyota's documentation, "TRD chose supercharging over turbocharging to achieve instantaneous engine response and impressive low-down torque." Mission accomplished. The engine has more beef than cattle farm.

Unlike a turbocharged engine, which recirculates exhaust gases to power a turbine which then forces more air into the intake manifold, this Eaton TVS supercharger is connected via a V-belt to the engine's crankshaft and spins up when the engine spins up.

There's no lag, no delay - just raw, unadulterated power. Floor the throttle, and the engine roars into action, and even from 1800rpm the TRD Aurion's supercharged motor outputs the same amount of maximum torque as the naturally aspirated V6 Aurion engine, 336Nm.If Toyota were to shoe-horn this engine in the Lexus IS body shell, you'd have true-blue BMW M3 and Audi RS 4 beater.

Exterior: 4/5

While TRD may have missed the mark in the handling department, it has hit the nail squarely on the head in the style department. Not since driving a Ferrari in Sydney have I had so many people wind down their car windows and stare in stupor at a motor vehicle. If you want to make a statement about who you are by the car you drive, the TRD Aurion is one very overt way to do it. 

It has amazing looks, which begin with the matte grey alloy wheels (which are slightly different on the more expensive 3500SL). They add masses of street cred, without looking too tacky and give the car a more planted, tied-to-the-road look. 

The new TRD body kit is most obvious from the front and rear, with a much larger front apron that includes a greyed out section for contrast, a larger air dam and a curved lower spoiler flanked by fog lights. The lower side skirts are fairly restrained and they work well, while at the rear of the car the boldest styling element is the combined rear diffuser and rectangular dual exhaust outlets.

Toyota Racing Development's Aurion looks awesome from the rear, and I like that the spoiler is only a low rise item, allowing the exhausts and the rear diffuser to draw the eye. There's also TRD badging all over the car, and the front grille gets stylised black metal mesh with a repeating 'R' (from the TRD logo) worked into the design.

All told, the TRD Aurion has a very appealing look, one that communicates performance, but also a touch of sophistication too.

Interior: 3/5

The TRD Aurion has a futuristic concept car look from the outside, but interior is far less convincing. Apart from the sports seats, which are admittedly very impressive in terms of comfort and visual appeal, the leather steering wheel, alloy pedals, andTRD scuff plates, it looks and feels like any other Aurion. The centre console is stock, the dash is stock, though the door inserts get a bit of leather which is good. There's no dual climate control in this model which is just ludicrous for something that costs almost 60 thousand clams. Most new small cars get climate control these days.

The 3500S model gets a good stereo with a 6-CD stacker system, air conditioning and electric windows and mirrors, but if you're after the full tactile experience and want a more bespoke interior it would be worthwhile checking out the more expensive TRD Aurion3500 SL ($61,500) model, as it has better interior detail.

I found that head room for the driver was lacking, even with the seat adjusted to its lowest position, but in general the TRD's ergonomics are good. There's all the usual steering wheel controls for audio and cruise, and the heating and cooling controls are easy to use. The rear seats deserve a mention too, which are very comfy and styled in the form fitting semi-bucket design, which replaces the traditional rear bench seat and makes riding in the rear far more sporty as a result. Italso feels just as roomy as a Holden Commodore or HSV when riding in the back seats, which will be good news for those drivers who also need a family vehicle.

Safety systems include ESP, ABS, driver and front passenger front and side airbags, plus side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers.

With a few more unique details for the driver to look at, such as a boost gauge, or a digital accelerometer device to measure your G-forces, the TRD Aurion would really hit the spot. As it stands, the attention to detail on the sports seats in the rear and the front are promising to see in TRD's first car, which can only get better with time.

The options list for Toyota's sports sedan includes a moonroof, which is $1,995 on the 3500S which we're testing here, and $2,025 on the luxury 3500SL model. The latter model can also be equipped witha moonroof and satellite navigation for $5,952.

Overall: 3/5



The TRD Aurion gets top marks for effort, but is an unconvincing performance sedan. The chassis is pretty good, the brakes are excellent, the engine is riotously powerful and the vehicle looks stunning - it's just that the execution is terrible. Trying to force 400Nm through the front wheels is ambitious. All that energy is too much from the front wheels, particularly when it's trying to turn, and this creates problems.

It's not a bad car if you don't push it too hard, but this vehicle was purpose-built to be pushed hard, to perform. It's a performance car. If you're cruising down the Great Ocean Road and an HSV Senator zooms past and you decide to try and keep up, be prepared for a handful of heart-in-mouth moments.

There are many great aspects about the TRD Aurion, in particular its use of so many locally sourced components and its excellent engine, but after driving the car hard and fast, as it was meant to be driven, the only conclusion we can come is that it's just not rewarding to drive like so many of its rivals.

The recent sales stop that Toyota placed on the TRD Aurion hasn't done the brand any favours, but as it's first ever car in highly competitive market, TRD have made good showing. However if the new performance car company wants to have big power in a big car, the front-wheel drive layout will have to be scrapped.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Exterior Style
  • Powerful Engine
  • Smooth Ride
  • Power Delivery
  • Torque Steer
  • Interior Appointments

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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