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ELECTRIC DREAMS


Toyota's little Yaris Hybrid has an updated trim structure but its frugal enviro-conscious appeal remains unaltered. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

Aimed directly at city-living eco-minded buyers, Toyota's clever Yaris Hybrid is cheaper, cleaner and more frugal than any conventional hybrid model we've yet seen. It may not be the small car you've always dreamed about but if you're urban-based, it could very well be the one you actually need.

Background

Having originally introduced the idea of a hybrid car, it falls to Toyota to democratise it. To make petrol/electric power more widely accessible, something only possible if it becomes more affordable. In a car like this, Toyota's Yaris Hybrid.

Introduced here in the Summer of 2012, this is, by some way, the market's most affordable hybrid car. Yet at the same time, assuming you discount pricey plug-in and battery-powered models, it's also the cleanest means of automotive transport yet devised. More to the point, this is the car that finally properly opens up hybrid ownership to the urban-based market segment that in theory should take to it most, that of superminis.

True, it's not the first hybrid supermini we've seen, but it is the first able to improve upon the running costs of comparable eco-conscious diesel models of this kind, while matching - or beating - them on price. That makes this car a game-changer in its town-targeted market sector and, in theory at least, an impossible option to ignore for those who spend much of their lives in the kind of stop-start traffic where hybrid technology really comes into its own. Let's put it to the test.

Driving Experience

Toyota certainly hasn't cut any corners in engineering the Yaris Hybrid. If you were expecting an electrically assisted version of the 1.33-litre petrol engine that powers the usual higher range Yaris models, think again. The hybrid gets a 98bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder powerplant mated to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. This system has been downsized for the Yaris, combining the internal combustion engine with a more compact electric motor, transaxle, inverter and battery pack. The result is a system that is 20 per cent lighter than that used in Auris Hybrid.

An e-CVT gearbox takes care of cog-swapping which is a boon in city traffic, meaning drivers can rest their left legs. As with the Prius and the Auris hybrids, the Yaris can run on electrical power alone for short distances, helping to reduce noise in town centres. You will need to watch out for pedestrians who step into the road in front of the car.

Design and Build

If they didn't check the badging, most observers would be hard pressed to tell this was a hybrid model at standstill. It looks much like a 'conventional' Yaris model which, I guess, is part of the appeal. It's the same story inside. It would be reasonable to expect the battery packs to impinge upon interior space, with either the rear seats or the luggage bay being a little more pinched than in a petrol or diesel Yaris, but thanks to all the key Hybrid Synergy Drive components being reduced in size, and the co-location of the fuel tank and hybrid battery under the rear seat, the Yaris Hybrid offers the same occupant space and 286-litre luggage capacity as conventional petrol and diesel Yaris models.

The cabin feels solidly screwed together. That said, with the new multi-function steering wheel and the clever Touch & Go multi-media system, the interior remains much as before - which is to say unadventurous in its styling with the exception of some heavily grained dash top plastics. The controls are sensibly positioned and the dash features an eco gauge to help you drive more economically but with rival superminis offering some highly intelligent and charismatic interior designs, the Yaris falls a little short. It's a shame because the car does the hard work so effectively and may lose sales due to that last one per cent of interior tinsel that's often all that's needed to swing a buying decision. Perhaps after seeing the price tag, customers will already be sold on the idea.

Market and Model

A recent range trim re-structure now sees the Yaris Hybrid line-up based around 'Active', 'Icon Plus' and 'Trend' derivatives at prices in the £15,500 to £17,500 bracket. Even the entry level model gets electric front windows and mirrors, a height-adjustable driver's seat, 'follow-me-home' headlights and an MP3-compatible CD stereo. The mid-range Icon Plus model gives you 15-inch alloy wheels, colour-keyed door handles and mirrors and a leather-trimmed gearshift knob. Better still, you get the 'Toyota Touch' multimedia system that, via a 6.1-inch colour touchscreen, enables you to control a 6-speaker CD stereo system and Bluetooth link your mobile 'phone and offers a USB port for MP3 player and iPod connection as well as giving a rear camera view for parking.

Moreover, you can affordably upgrade to 'Touch&Go' status, which adds full function satnav, information services like live parking and weather reports and can be upgraded with various apps. The Trend range topper is unashamedly well-stuffed with the sort of features you just don't expect on a supermini. You'll find cruise control, smart wipers, lights and mirrors, part leather seats, 16-inch alloys and a rear spoiler. With no fewer than seven airbags, isofix child seat fastenings, anti-whiplash head restraints, Brake Assist, VSA stability control and TRC traction control, safety can be taken as read.

Cost of Ownership

Now for the crunch. Does the Yaris Hybrid stack up on the balance sheet. In one instance, it's an absolute no-brainer. If your daily commute takes you into London's congestion charging zone, the exempt Yaris Hybrid will save you thousands of pounds a year over a conventionally powered rival. For the sake of argument, let's assume you aren't London-bound. Does the Hybrid still make the numbers?

We'll compare it with a Yaris 1.33 Multidrive, in broadly equivalent 'Icon Plus' trim. These sort of cars don't do big mileages so we'll base our figures around 7500 miles a year. In the petrol car, you'll manage 55.4mpg combined, whereas the Yaris Hybrid will see 80.7mpg. That works out at a saving of £295 per year in fuel costs alone. The fuel figure is based around the smaller wheels used in cheaper variants: the top Trend manages 76.3mpg and its CO2 reading falls too, from the saintly 79g/km you get in the most affordable Yaris Hybrid to a still pretty impressive 85g/km.

Crunch all the figures together and you'll find that over a three year period, the annual fuel saving will deal with half of the Hybrid Yaris model's premium over its petrol counterpart right away. Another £90 comes as a saving in VED taxation.

Summary

It's usually the case that the more you spend on a supermini, the more comprehensively you've missed the point. These things are supposed to be cheap and cheerful cars that you don't get too precious about. In the case of this Yaris Hybrid though, I think you'd be willing to make an exception to that rule. It's not some premium, soft touch, leather-lined piece of ostentation. Instead it's a really satisfying, smart, and genuinely useful small hatch. A car you could see yourself downsizing into from something a bit bigger and not feeling hard done by. You'll find this Toyota about as frugal as the kind of decently pokey diesel supermini you could buy for around the same kind of money, but personally, if I was target market for one of these, what would sway me into Yaris Hybrid ownership wouldn't have much to do with the balance sheet.

No, what really impresses me about this car is its serenity in the city, its refreshingly soothing antidote to the stress of the urban commute. That's something no diesel or small petrol-engined rival will ever be able to match up to.. Clever and cheaper than other conventional hybrids, this Yaris may not be very exciting but it's devastatingly effective at fulfilling its urban-minded eco remit. And at the end of the day, you can't ask for much more than that.

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