All the talk this year has been about the Suzuki Swift and Renault Clio, but the news that Toyota is back with an all-new Yaris is probably more significant for the Irish market.
It doesn’t make sense to refer to small cars as superminis anymore. They may be petite, but they are anything but mini. At least this is the case with the new breed. We already have the new Renault Clio, so grown up that its entry-level,1.2 litre engine struggles to move it. The latest Fiat Punto is so big they actually call it Grande and now we have this – a Yaris, so big inside, that it will shock rather than surprise you.
For customers all this growth is mostly good news. You now get way more car than you used to when you buy a supermini, but if this comes at the cost of nippiness, ease of use and fun driving then it’s not quite the bargain it seems. In the case of the new Yaris, however, this is not a concern. This latest Toyota offering may be much bigger inside than the car it replaces, but the increase in room comes with the minimum of exterior growth. This is thanks to some rather clever thinking. To look at, the Yaris, is noticeably inflated, but not excessively so. It’s not as long, for example, as the Clio or Punto. Overall body length is up by 110 mm, but the passenger cabin has grown by more because the windscreen and instrument panel have been moved forward. It’s also wider than the last Yaris by 35 mm and 30mm taller creating loads of space for four adults.
On the outside, the larger size has actually improved the Yaris’s looks. It appears stockier more purposeful and funkier than the old one, even though the overall ‘mono-form’ design is still familiar. The Japanese company pitched its European studio in Brussels, against two of its own in Japan when it came to dreaming up this car. Their main brief was to ensure it still had “Yarisness”– the new Yaris must, in other words, evoke its predecessor.
The old, multi-award winning car was launched in 1999 and proved a massive hit for the company. It would have been inadvisable then to do anything other than update the original. The European design-heads won thanks to a car that holds true to the original, yet moves it forward at the same time. Take the badges off and most people would guess it’s the new Yaris, albeit a cooler one. The front is bolder, the back is shaper, the sides are sexier and the car has a more purposeful stance and extra character too. It also takes the useful features of its predecessor and moves them on. The rear seats, split 60/40, slide fore and aft, and Toyota’s ‘Easy Flat’ system folds each individual section flat at the flip of a lever. In this guise, the Yaris has a whopping 737 litres of carrying capacity. In normal mode, the boot is big too. It’s grown by 33%, now holds 272 litres and features an underfloor compartment. For a relatively small car this is extremely impressive.
To go with the new space, there is a more radical interior. The dash features the central digital display we are familiar with from the old car. This is easy to read and looks good, but its positioning means you do have to glance sideways to check details such as your speed and the amount of fuel left. This time around it sits above a trendy silver centre console containing well laid-out and easy to use controls. The doors feature extended side panels that give the whole dash a type of wraparound effect. There are plenty of cubby holes, storage spaces and bottle holders, but Toyota should ensure these come with rubberised mats. It can be frustrating to have your keys or mobile phone sliding back and forward when you drive.
As you would expect, the new Yaris, is put together well. Exterior panels fit tightly and the car has a quality feel to it. Toyota says it’s 50% stiffer than the old one and it shows. On the inside, some of the materials, such as the dash and the flimsy rear shelf, could be better. Hard plastics are standard in most superminis, but no longer appear to the same extent in the Yaris’s most competitive rivals such as the Renault Clio. The front seats too could do with more side-support.
Although the seating position is slightly overly-perched, it’s still possible to find a comfortable driving position and the extra visibility this provides comes in useful, particularly in town.
To drive, this Yaris gives you the best of both worlds. On open roads, it feels substantial and solid. The redesigned suspension allowing for a cosseted ride and the excellent aerodynamics means your Yaris isn’t blown around, despite its high roof. Noise levels are low and the car is quiet at speed. In town, it’s nippy, responsive and extremely user-friendly. You can dart in and out of traffic, squeeze through small spaces and park with ease. The turning circle, meanwhile, is tiny. The Yaris is also highly entertaining on windy roads. The handling is not perfect and the overall drive is short of exhilarating, but involving and more engaging than other superminis – the Renault Clio in particular. Like many high-roofed superminis, this one leans a little, understeers early and can be upset by broken surfaces, but it’s still fun thanks to a quick gear-change, lively electric steering and an ability to change direction quickly. It’s a car you can enjoy inside its own and the speed limits and Toyota has really delivered in this regard.
The brakes are sharp, but you will be a long time building up to a speed where you may need to use their full potential. The modern breed of larger superminis, tend to suffer a power deficit when it comes to entry-level models and the Yaris is no different. The standard power unit is a 69bhp,3-pot, 1.0 litre unit. It searches for 62mph in a breathless manner and just about finds it inside 16 seconds. With a full load on board it struggles on hills. That said, it’s a revvy engine that doesn’t mind being worked hard and returns over 50 mpg. The Yaris is also light which means that once you build up speed, it can be maintained easily. If this is the engine-size you can afford then consider it adequate, but if you can spare a little more try then move up to the 87bhp,1.3 litre option or consider the 90 bhp 1.4 litre diesel. You may also wish to spend your money on high-tech gadgets like a smart key system, climate control or the auto/manual transmission option called ‘Multi-Mode’– although we’d avoid the latter. There is a high level of standard equipment and the Yaris also received the maximum five stars for passenger protection in Euro NCAP safety tests.
While Toyota cars in general are not cheap, the Yaris is good value considering what you get. It starts at €14,995 for a 3-door and the asking price for other models is on a par with rivals. Currently the Renault Clio is considered the supermini class leader. It won European Car of the Year 2006 with the Yaris finishing last of the final seven. Car competitions such as this, however, should never be taken as proof that one model is better than another and in this certainly the case here. The Clio is remarkable in that it offers luxury and comforts ahead of its class. The Yaris is unable to match it in this regard, but the Toyota’s strength is that it offers a much more complete package and stays true to the ideals of a supermini. It’s the small car that is going to be a big hit.
INFO Toyota Yaris
Engine: 1.0 VVT-I,petrol,3-cylinder,998cc
Boot Capacity: 272 litres.
Acceleration: 0-100 km/h in 15.7 secs.
Top Speed: 150 km/h
Power/Torque:69 bhp @ 6000 rpm/93 nm @ 3600
Transmission: 5-speed manual.
Fuel/Co2: 52.3mpg/ 5.4 l/100km 127g/km
Price: Starts at €14,995