WHEN I was a young Tufty Club member learning all about road safety in the early 1970s there were three little words that mattered above all others – Stop, Look, Listen.
The cute little squirrell’s mantra served me well throughout my formative years as I walked to school each day and managed, for the entirety of my education, to avoid being hit by a car.
As the years went by, of course, the Tufty Club was superceded by the Green Cross Code and Tufty Fluffytail replaced by a young Darth Vader in a disturbing lycra get-up.
The message, though remained the same and still underpins what I teach my own toddlers when crossing the road now – Stop, Look, Listen.
All of that will soon have to change, though. The listening part, you see, will become redundant as the number of electrically-powered motors stalking the streets of our towns in eerie silence grows by the day.
So, it’ll be more important than ever to Stop and Look - because if you rely on a quick Listen you could find yourself in front of an oncoming electric car!
In fact, this silent running has even prompted Toyota to introduce a new “highway code” for workers at their Burnaston plant.
The Derbyshire factory is where the Japanese giant is building the new Auris Hybrid Synergy Drive model.
For those who haven’t heard about hybrid drive yet, let me explain.
It is an electric-petrol combo system whereby a vehicle uses an electric motor at low speeds, turns to the petrol engine to cruise at speed and intelligently selects the most efficient combination of both for all eventualities in between.
Toyota pioneered the technology in their acclaimed Prius, launched worldwide as a hybrid only model in 2001 and which quickly won the approval of tree huggers the world over - including such stellar names as Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
So successful has the Prius been that Toyota have clearly decided that the hybrid system is the future.
They intend to have Hybrid Synergy Drive versions of every model in their range available within the next decade or so and the Burnaston-built Auris hatchback is the first.
Apart from the reduced engine noise, which is as much of a bonus to those in the Auris as it may be a worry to unwary pedestrians outside, the obvious benefits are in fuel economy and reduced emissions.
The T Spirit model, fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels, offered in excess of 70 miles per gallon with CO2 emissions of just 93g/km – meaning no road tax bill and the lowest company car tax bracket.
But don’t think this motor is a slouch just because if can run off electricity.
The twin engines generate up to 134bhp, offer a top speed of 112mph and propel you from 0-62mph in 11.4 seconds – all of which is very respectable.
The catch though, is that to maximise the benefits will mean avoiding such extremes and quite possibly require a significant change in driving style.
Forget about the revs and give the right foot a rest, driving the Auris Hybrid as all about taking things easy.
In fact there isn’t even a rev counter. It is replaced, by a self-explanatory guage telling you when the hybrid battery is charging – which it does under deceleraton and braking, when you’re driving economically or when you’re pouring on the power.
Spend too much time in the power zone and you will be drinking the juice at quite a rate - totally nullifying the green credentials of the hybrid technology.
All of which means the Auris is perfectly fine for pootling around town and on short journeys, but can be a little wearisome on the motorway.
There the swift bursts of acceleration needed for overtaking will take you firmly out of the eco-friendly zone as will, for instance, climbing a sustained incline if you wish to do so without losing speed.
There is the option of manually selecting EV (electric vehicle), eco or power modes.
In EV mode the Auris will, depending upon battery charge levels, run on electric only at speeds of up to 31mph and over a distance of 1.2 miles. The petrol engine will automatically kick-in if needed.
In Eco mode the Auris automatically selects the most efficient combination of power source for the driving conditions and Power mode offers a 25 per cent boost for accelerating.
Away from the technology the Auris Hybrid styling is distinctive and sporty. The car sits lower than it’s more normally powered counterparts - which enhances its surefootedness on the road - and has a number of sleek bodywork tweaks to reduce drag and further enhance economy.
Inside there’s oodles of space for a hatchback with plenty of leg and headroom in the front and back giving ample room for five - although the boot space is compromised because the hybrid battery is stored under the floor.
All controls – including the unique hybrid switchgear - are easy to reach and navigate and there are generous equipment levels which include front, side and curtain airbags, electric windows, electric heated wing mirrors, stability control, brake assist and air conditioning.
As well as those 17-inch alloys the T Spirit trim adds extras such as cruise control, keyless entry and start-up, automatic wipers and a rearview camera display.
At just under £21,000 there is quite a premium to pay for saving the planet with the Auris.
But much of this extra initial outlay will be offset by the lower running costs and expected high residual values.,
Which makes the Auris a sound option if you want to do your bit for the environment – and you’re prepared to ease off a bit on the accelerator.
Toyota Auris Hybrid T Spirit CVT 1.8
Mechanical: 134bhp, 1,798cc, hybrid engine driving front wheels via automatic CVT gearbox
Max speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 11.4 seconds
Combined mpg: 70.6
Insurance group: 13
CO2 emissions: 93g/km
Bik rating: 10%
Warranty: 5yrs/ 100,000 miles