Yaris stands guard over Toyota’s small car fortunes
IAIN ROBERTSON – BCingU – CARS – 26.3.2016
Looking to all the world like an automotive Guardsman, especially in that black-over-scarlet colour scheme, this Japanese sub-compact sets fresh standards in the up-market tiddlers’ stakes, suggests Iain Robertson.
There have been various occasions over the past few years, when I have felt that buying into a major brand was more closely akin to drawing the short straw. Toyota is unashamedly one of the world’s top brands. Mind you, it tries to maintain a lower profile these days, since daring to boast (in North America) that it was ‘the biggest car company in the world’!
The Clarksonian remark raised a few hackles among those sponsored members of The House of Representatives and, with Ford, GM and not-so-much troubled Chrysler ensuring that they are well-represented, the fires of hell rained down upon poor little Toyota. After all, if there be anything possessing ‘world’ in its title, it needs to be remembered that it is the remit only of North America and more specifically the United States of America! The World Series in baseball, basketball, ‘football’ and any other major event belongs specifically to that part of the world…and not the rest of it. Woe betide any corporation that dares to question it. Just look at what happened to Volkswagen last year, after it staked its claim…
For Toyota, things have calmed down a tad. Personally, I am not a fan of the more recent Toyota stance on styling. It is all a bit too angular. Too sharp-edged challenging but not origami-style (Toyota moved from that phase once all of the Celicas were sold off). Considered from various angles, by a person desperately seeking a better side, it becomes a lost cause, because there are none.
The firm’s European-built Aygo could have been made for Syco Productions, so ‘X-Factor’ is its snout, while the Auris (although I never fully understood why the Corolla name was dropped for our market) does look a little softer in its latest iteration, everything from the Prius hybrid to the Mirai fuel cell car has a distinctive awkwardness, yes, an ‘ugly duckling’ stance, that draws disapproving glances. Look, it is all subjective this stuff and the Yaris model manages to blend nastiness with niceness in a mildly sinister vein (looked at head-on, the sub-compact hatch adopts a comic-book masked robber’s visage).
Truth is, the Yaris has been one of my favourite small cars since the outset. The original version, built in Northern France’s town of Valenciennes, was aimed unashamedly at Renault’s Clio of the period and being around the same size reinforced the intention. You see, Toyota has not escalated to its world-beating (shhh…) size, without addressing market needs to a ‘T’. If you want to sell small cars to a market predominated by them, you need to make them there, so that every potential customer can wander off happily in the belief that it is buying ‘domestic product’. Having made the investment (albeit, with a plethora of local and national ‘sweeteners’), as Barry Norman would say every week on his Film Review slot, “Why not?”.
As you might imagine, I have been fairly outspoken about Toyota’s designs (or lack of them) for some time now and the intervening changes made to Yaris have left me a little dry. Yet, the latest version is actually not that bad at all. Of course, it is all a bit cutesy but it is also quite characterful, as the words above might suggest…guardsman, petty criminal and so on. However, it is also quite a bit larger than the original, in much the same way as the Ford Fiesta, or Renault Clio, shows signs of also ingesting the ‘growth pills’. To be fair, while the results are hardly muscle-enhanced, because the Yaris is still a bit of a wimp, it does feel a somewhat more substantial than before, which is only a good thing.
While remaining in a fair mood, the Yaris might be slightly larger but it has managed to retain a lissom amount of lightness. The base 1.0-litre model is only 15kgs weightier than the latest Suzuki Baleno, which, at 935kgs, is a leading light in the current lightweight stakes. The top 1.33i petrol version (so named cumbersomely because of its 1,329cc engine capacity) tops the kerb weight scales at 5kgs over a tonne, which is markedly less than a Fiesta, Corsa, or 208. In case you are wondering why I labour weight-saving issues, it is quite simple: less weight equates to less pollution, less fuel consumption, less tyre usage, less CO2 emissions and less strain on the driver. I realise that we might be talking ‘sack of spuds’ here but, when the industry is continuously targeted to reduce ‘everything’, shaving the pounds off is a pretty good thing.
In 1.33 form, the Yaris’s performance is quite impressive. Personally, I have always loved the pressed hard strains of a musical four cylinder engine and that of the Yaris does not disappoint…it is satisfyingly raucous (not OTT, just nicely noisy). Run out to the maximum, which does demand a gearshift to third (of its six available forward gears), the 0-60mph benchmark time is modest 11.4 seconds, while the top speed is given as 109mph. Although the gear-change is not quite as slick as in Toyota’s past, it can still be harried around the gate as speedily as most humans can manage and makes decent use of the engine’s meagre 98bhp output.
Whenever the torque number slumps below the power figure, you know that ‘working it’ is going to be essential. Yet, this is where a lighter construction can pay some minor dividends and, even with a mere 92lbs ft at its disposal, the Yaris is not as demanding as it might be for Fiesta-person, who has to contend with a lot of extra flab. As a result, constant stirring is not an essential ingredient. In some ways, this is just as well, as the fuel consumption can slip someway below the posted 55.4mpg of its Official Combined intentions. I attained a more regular 44mpg, which was not bad really, as I was wringing its neck most of the time. It emits 119g/km CO2, which equates to zero VED charge in year one but £30 annually thereafter. It resides in Tax Band C but has a low-risk insurance rating of Group 8E. There are also costlier hybrid and diesel versions available.
Gadding about in a Yaris is a mostly charming pursuit. However, where this little lady lets herself go is in one aspect of the dynamics department. You see, a turning radius of 5.8m is on par with several much larger cars. Most people buying sub-compact/city cars expect to be able to park them sweetly and the Yaris (in this specification) will never be regarded as ‘mummy’s little helper’, because reversing it into a parking space for the first time demands a second cut…a mildly disgruntling occurrence. It is funny, because the steering is direct enough on the open road, while also providing decent feedback to the driver’s fingertips. It is the low-speed manoeuvring that lets it down, a factor that I can only attribute to the 16-inch alloys, clad in 195/50 section tyres.
Interestingly, road noise is subdued, which came as a surprise and grip levels are high, while the ride quality is firm but not uncomfortably so. The overall handling is eminently predictable, being neutral in the main but displaying a teensy bit of power-on understeer, when pushing hard through corners, which can be neutralised by lifting gently off the loud pedal. I have no complaints at all about the on-road feel of the car and its all-round disc brakes work safely, despite an initial over-servoed feel to the pedal, proving capable of hauling a marauding Yaris from quite high speeds to standstill without an ounce of fade. While on the subject of noise, it is worth noting that a single large wiper clears the windscreen and to reduce potential wind roar, the Yaris is fitted with asymmetric door mirrors, the right-hand unit being slightly lumpier than the left, to improve aerodynamics, when the wiper is in use. Just when you think that Toyota’s design department has gone for an early lunch, it delivers intriguing little fillips like this.
As far as the interior detailing is concerned, while it is a bit plastic-palace, at least a plank of padded material covers most of the dashboard. The rest is produced from the usual, hard, grey moulded stuff. The nicely marked instrument nacelle and touch-screen are located in the customary places, while the hide-wrapped steering wheel, which is set quite low but adjusts through both rake and reach angles to assist in achieving a good driving position, possesses spokes carrying usefully some minor controls, while cruise is on a separate stalk.
There are loads of practical slots and trays for in-car paraphernalia and the air-con unit works efficiently at clearing morning mist-covered windows. The seats themselves are very comfortable indeed, being clad in a sporty striped cloth and are also adjustable through a good range, although taller occupants would appreciate an extra inch, or so, of rearward runner travel. Incidentally, there is space in abundance in the rear and access fore an aft is pretty good. The boot capacity is a class average 286-litres, which can be augmented by the 60:40-split rear bench.
Conclusion: The Toyota Yaris is a painless small car. It does everything demanded of it in a competent manner and, despite my criticism of its design, it actually works rather well, despite the lairiness of its snout and its ‘masked bandito’ appearance. Listed at £16,840, which includes the sat-nav and £795 for the two-tone paint-job (base for the 1.33i model is a more affordable £15,395), it is clearly ‘market-priced’, one of my pet-hates. Yet, with a 5 years/100,000 miles warranty and Toyota’s indefatigable reputation for reliability, it still makes a better value proposition than several small cars I might name.