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SMARTER THAN IT LOOKS


Toyota says its third generation Yaris is everything a small car should be, especially in its latest updated form. Jonathan Crouch is intrigued.

Ten Second Review

At first glance, Toyota's evolutionary third generation Yaris supermini seems unremarkable. It isn't. Advanced hybrid power headlines an engine line-up that in standard models is focused on a zesty 1.33-litre petrol unit that's keen yet green. And Touch&Go cabin electronics give owners a higher-tech insight into future motoring than any small car has offered yet. Recent updates include a revised trim structure and a diesel with CO2 emissions reduced to a tax-beating 99g/km.

Background

Back in 1999, Toyota's original Yaris supermini was one of the very first Asian models with a European market-only version that had looks, handling - even a name - bespoke to Western tastes. The initiative was rewarded with a Car of the Year gong. Unsurprisingly, it sold very well. In the years that followed, though, the Yaris became less frisky and more sensible. As the average ownership age grew to sixty, it no longer felt quite in tune with a European supermini market by now obsessed with high-tech and high fashion.

Which is why the sharper-looking third generation Yaris, launched mid-2011, has everything the trendiest small car seeker could want, according to Toyota - from Google mapping to hybrid power. It's bigger, cheaper to run and easier to drive, too. Here, we're told, is supermini fashion at its most friendly, chic city motoring at its most sensible.

Driving Experience

Toyota's customer research has shaped the Yaris, so there are no hard core hot hatch versions and, despite a revised suspension design and a quicker steering rack, little for the enthusiast to get too excited about.

In compensation though, on the open road, there's a ride and handling balance that's difficult to better in this class. The low speed ride is quite firm, but refinement is good enough to give the feeling of your being in something from the next class up.

Unless all of your motoring will be urban-based, the 100bhp 1.33 petrol variants are the ones to choose. Even over the 89bhp 1.4-litre D-4D diesel version which offers more pulling power (205Nm rather than 125Nm) but offers a similar set of performance figures and will struggle to justify its significant price premium when it comes to overall running costs. There's also a 72bhp 1.5-litre petrol/electric Hybrid version.

Amongst more ordinary Yaris models, the 1.33-litre engine and the diesel are both mated to a clever 6-speed manual gearbox with a higher than usual 6th gear to boost fuel economy. The 1.0-litre engine gets a five speed manual but the other option is Toyota's Multidrive S continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Design and Build

Pronounced V-sculpting of the radiator grille and eased-out wheelarches give the latest Yaris a studier, more purposeful look, and the chrome strip running along the boot combines with the small tailgate spoiler to carry through the slightly sportier mein. The 100mm increase in length has made a big difference to cabin room that you can most easily feel in the back; six foot adults can be accommodated with ease. The 286-litre boot (within 9-litres of a Fiesta) expands to 347-litres if you load up to the roof. Push forward the 60:40 split-folding rear seats and a useful 768-litres of total space is freed up.

And at the wheel? Well, traditional instruments behind the steering wheel replace the binnacle in the centre of the dash of older Yaris models. And while it's certainly true that there are classier-feeling cabins in this sector with higher quality plastics, none is better screwed together.and it certainly looks very smart.
Apart from the redesigned multifunction steering wheel - and of course the Touch & Go multi-media system - the well laid out and ergonomically sound interior hasn't changed much. There's also plenty of interior storage space, and the decently-sized door bins can accommodate a decent sized drinks bottle with ease.

Market and Model

Yaris prices sit in the £11,000 to £16,000 bracket, with what Toyota calls a 'price walk' in £500 increments between the main body style, trim and engine choices. Closest competition for the 1.0-litre petrol model at just under £11,000 comes from the 1.2-litre VW Polo and 1.25-litre Kia Rio. For around £14,000, the 1.33-litre Yaris faces the 1.4-litre petrol-powered Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, VW Polo or Kia Rio. The Yaris Hybrid sits in the £15,500 to £17,500 bracket and, apart from the hybrid Honda Jazz, has few rivals.

Trim levels in the revised range go from 'active' to 'Icon' and on to 'Icon Plus' and 'trend'. Even the most basic Yaris has electric front windows and mirrors, a height-adjustable driver's seat, 'follow-me-home' headlights and an MP3-compatible CD 6-speaker stereo. The big selling mid-range Icon model gives you 15-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, 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.

With no fewer than seven airbags, isofix childseat fastenings, anti-whiplash head restraints, Brake Assist, VSA stability control and TRC traction control, Toyota seems to have thought of nearly everything.

Cost of Ownership

If you can afford to spend £15,000-£18,000 on a supermini, the 1.5-litre Yaris Hybrid (just 85g/km of CO2) might be an attractive option, but the standard versions of this Toyota are also impressively frugal.

The Euro 5-compatible engines have been tweaked for extra efficiency to power a Yaris that's 20kg lighter than its predecessor boasting the slipperiest shape in the class and raft of economy-massaging systems including stop&start, a gear shift indicator (or 'Eco Driving Indicator' system of lights if you've opted for the auto). And Touch&Go incorporates an 'Eco Route' function in the satnav that plans the most frugal and planet-friendly route from A to B. The 1.4-litre D4-D diesel returns an impressive 72.4mpg on the combined cycle and now just 99g/km of CO2 so it qualifies for zero annual road tax.

The 58.9mpg of the 1.0-litre Yaris looks usefully more frugal but in practice, you often have to work it so hard that in the real world, I think the gains over the more satisfying 1.33-litre model would be marginal. Industry experts CAP Monitor reckon that after three years or 30,000 miles, this car will deliver between 39 and 42% of its original price. Insurance should be very affordable too, groupings ranging between 2 and 9. Plus there's a decent five year, 100,000 mile warranty.

Summary

There are over 300,000 satisfied Yaris customers around the globe, and I can see why a significant number of them might be tempted to simply sign on the dotted line for this improved third generation design. Their expectation will be that this car will prove reliable, well built, affordable to run and will hold its value better than almost anything else in the class. And they won't be disappointed.

But the younger conquest customers that Toyota desperately needs? Developments like hybrid power and the Touch&Go system that crams so much hi-tech into the cabin should at least persuade those satisfied by the smart but conservative styling to get behind the wheel. In fact, 'smart but conservative' sums a likely Yaris buyer up rather nicely. And in the troubled times we live in, theirs could be a path worth following.

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