Gareth Butterfield spends a week in Toyota’s surprisingly grown-up Toyota Yaris Hybrid
THIS week I’m in Toyota’s new smallish car, the Yaris. I remember the first Yaris as a cute, fun, popular hatchback which I was always quite fond of. And it sold well.
The second Yaris was bigger but I genuinely can’t remember anything else about it. It was a forgettable thing, that’s for sure.
This one looks much more memorable. It’s got Toyota’s funky new family nose, with that weird criss-cross thing on the front that I wasn’t sure about when I first saw it on the Aygo, but I’ve now come to really like. It’s a nice-looking car. This one has now had a bit of a mid-life facelift and it’s freshened it up nicely. The Yaris has matured well.
THE Yaris I’m testing is a hybrid, which means – in case you’ve been sat under a rock for the last few years – it’s powered largely by a petrol engine but there’s an electric motor to take on as much of the work as it can muster.
Thanks to the legendary Prius, Toyota’s hybrid system is as familiar as it is impressive and the system in this car is very similar. In fact, it’s like a scaled down version.
I love setting off in electric cars. I’m off to work but my neighbours wouldn’t have a clue because I whirr away almost silently using the electric motor. The engine cuts in once I get on to the open road but I’ve just had about a third of a mile of free motoring. Brilliant.
NOT that it’s designed as a fully-electric vehicle, but the Yaris’s hybrid system seems a little too keen to give up and let fossil fuel take the strain. The 1.5-litre petrol engine cuts in (completely silently) at the merest hint of throttle. If you’re really delicate, you can keep it on electric mode but I find the battery flattens in around a mile or two and then it’s back to using the engine to turn the wheels and charge the cells.
When the engine does kick in it does so through Toyota’s continuously-variable-transmission system, the workings of which I’ve discovered can only be explained by drawing something so I won’t go into detail about it. But basically the revs rise when you put your foot down and acceleration happens gradually, sort of in the background. It takes a bit of time to get used to and a lot of time to grow fond of. I still hate it.
I don’t hate the Yaris’s interior. Its facelift has seen a bit of a work-over inside and the dashboard is really nice now. There’s a few hard plastics if you poke around but generally it feels well-built and expensive. There’s plenty of space and it’s really nicely laid out. It’s a lovely place to sit.
TODAY I’ve got 80 or so miles of motorway to cover and this is not traditionally a hybrid’s favoured territory. There’s no getting around the fact the Yaris is slow. Even with motors helping there’s still just shy of 100bhp to be had and it’s not a light car.
That said, once up to speed it sits really comfortably at motorway pace and the transmission settles the revs down nicely. There’s cruise control and an absolutely amazing stereo. It’s a brilliant motorway cruiser, which is a pleasant surprise.
Toyota tells us the car is good for more than 80mpg but, especially with my motorway jaunt behind me, I’ve struggled to better 50mpg. It’s not bad for a petrol-powered car but a Prius could better it, which is odd. The Prius is really big and the Yaris isn’t.
MY wife is also a bit of a car nut and she’s usually chomping at the bit to try the cars I get sent to test but on the way home from work today I ask if she’d like to drive it and she mumbles that she isn’t bothered about this car.
She thinks the Yaris is boring and a bit too “normal” with nothing to excite her. I defended it at first, but I think she might be right. The first Yaris was a fun car in many ways. It looked fun, it had fun handling and seemed to be pitched at a different market. But with the latest Yaris it’s different.
With this Yaris it’s not really a car for fun people. Toyota has its new Aygo for people that like to have fun. Whereas this is a car for sensible, grown-up people who care about polar bears, split-folding rear seats, reliability and strong residual values. Boring people that I never want to become, quite frankly.
DURING today’s commute, to avoid another argument between the wife and I about the virtues of our chariot for the week, I mulled over in my head the Yaris’s life story.
The first one, the fun one, was launched in 1999 and back then I was a teenager. I’d have loved a Yaris as a first car because it looked great, was cheap to insure because it was small and it was fun to drive.
I’m not a teenager any more, I’m in my 30s. I don’t want to own a car that’s small, cheap to insure and fun to drive – now I want a car I can fit my friends, my imaginary dog, or even my (as yet unborn) offspring in comfortably.
I want a car that will do at least 50mpg, won’t be worth 38p when I come to sell it on and will not break down every three weeks.
What I’ve actually just realised in fact is, while I’ve grown older and my priorities have changed, the Yaris has matured at a similar rate. It’s entirely probable that there are 30-somethings here, there and everywhere that have jumped from Yaris to Yaris during their entire driving life. And I can’t fault them, they’ve made a good choice.
I NOW resent the new Yaris because I realised yesterday it’s the only car that’s ever made me feel old. It’s made me look back on my teenage years and accept that I’m not an adolescent any more. And, indeed, in an Anthropomorphic sense, neither is the Yaris.
Not that this has made me feel insecure but, before I handed it back to the nice man from Toyota, I wanted to make it clear to him (and to myself if I’m honest) that I’m not over the hill yet.
So before I turned it off for the last time I switched the stereo over from radio four to radio one and turned the volume up a couple of notches.
There you are, Mr delivery man. I’m still cool. Even if the Yaris isn’t any more.
Sadly though, between the Yaris and I, there’s only one of us that’s blossomed into a stylish, practical, frugal, sensible and dependable workhorse. And it isn’t me.