Ever since the Yaris model debuted 22 years ago it has been a frontline assault weapon for Toyota, opines Iain Robertson, as he has observed its French factory denting Renault Clio sales but, despite its innovation, new variants have been slow to market.
Perhaps it is the sheer size of Toyota’s worldwide brand that causes it to miss so many market opportunities? Alternatively, it could be major player arrogance and a concentration on Corolla, its evergreen big volume mover, which ensures that Yaris develops more glacially? Naturally, the immense corporate machine that is Toyota has so many fish to fry across its international model line-up, it is understandable that it would place a greater reliance on more profitable, larger models…maybe.
Regardless, Yaris remains immensely popular worldwide and has been a leader at various times during its existence, introducing connectivity innovations, petrol-electric hybrid engineering and homologated versions of its rallycar programme, which have raised its status considerably above that of its aforementioned Clio, Fiesta, or Corsa rivals. Renowned for its build quality and indefatigable reliability, Yaris may not have been an outright performance champion (although owners of the GR hot hatch will argue contrarily and justifiably) but low running costs have won it many fans.
Considering the investment made by Toyota in the crossover/SUV sector, a notable omission has been at the entry-level to the firm’s range, a role fulfilled until now by the wonderfully dynamic C-HR model. Yaris was the ideal model ripe for ‘conversion’ but, for various reasons best known to Toyota, it has not happened until now. Having stated that, when you consider that the base Icon (front-wheel drive) model is set to start at £22,515, with the electronic 4×4 option available only on the higher trim models, topping out at £30,545, for the Premiere Edition (set to last for just a year), Toyota certainly knows how to charge for the privilege.
All models are powered by the same 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, twincam, 12-valve petrol engine mated to an electric motor/generator, to develop a maximum power output of 114bhp. It is enough to provide it with a modest top whack of 106mph and the ability to despatch the 0-60mph acceleration in 10.9s (11.5s for the awd-i version), while returning around 55mpg and emitting between 100 and 115g/km CO2. The numbers do not set the heather alight but you know that it will deliver all-day, everyday in all weather conditions. Its hybrid technology is not of the plug-in type but it self-charges the 48 lithium-ion battery cells and works consistently during normal driving to boost fuel economy and even provide a smidgen of extra grunt for smoother overtakes. Its actual EV mode has only a limited range of around a mile.
As with most of the recent newcomers to the compact scene, the YarisCross feels more upmarket, which will help downsizers to make the right choice. However, it also manages to feel a lot bigger internally than its modest exterior dimensions might suggest. As a driver’s car, it is exceptionally smooth and easy to relate with. Based on the company’s new GA-B small car platform that boasts significant advances in structural rigidity, its handling envelope is stable, wieldy and well-balanced, considering its visual ground clearance (+25mm) over the conventional Yaris hatchback. Of course, it is a much larger car overall, being 95mm taller, 20mm wider and 240mm longer, although the wheelbase is identical to the hatch model.
YarisCross carries its familial crossover accoutrements to very good effect. It looks very much the part, with the angular profiles of the wheelarch surrounds and protective underbody plates fore and aft. Yet, it also benefits aerodynamically from a completely flat underside, a factor that aids its frugality and higher speed stability. While the base model runs on 16.0-inch diameter alloy wheels, moving up the trim grades encompasses both 17.0 and 18.0-inch alternatives, which add to its meatiness and sense of purpose.
The YarisCross’s interior design echoes the plasticity but quality appearance of the hatchback. Revised treatments for the front pillars, sills and centre console, together with new trim finishes for the door cards and arm rests, aid the quality image. The centre console is more prominent and reflects the car’s SUV status, by forming a strong vertical feature that flows down from the multimedia touchscreen to the shift lever and incorporates the heating and ventilation controls. Driving function controls, including the Drive Mode Select and (where specified) all-wheel drive mode switches are grouped immediately in front of the shift lever. The higher driving position provides excellent outwards visibility, with front seats and the steering wheel design delivering both added comfort and a strong sense of connection with the vehicle.
The extra body length helps to provide a more practical, easy-to-use boot, with plenty of space to accommodate leisure and travel items as well as typical shopping trip purchases. When all of the seats are in place but including the area beneath the flexible deckboard, there is around 397-litres of space available; fold forwards the 60:40-split rear seats (top versions have 40:20:40-split) and the volume extends to a maximum of 1,097-litres. The intelligent deckboard enables part or all of the floor section to be lowered so that larger and taller items can be carried. Its adaptability means there’s room for two large suitcases or golf bags, skis, a bike or other leisure items. A new Flex Belt accessory option is designed to retain smaller items and a power tailgate, complete with kick-sensor, enables hands-free access.
Unsurprisingly, the YarisCross is packed with the latest ADAS equipment and features the usual round of up-to-date connectivity options. Its sat-nav system can handle on-the-move updates and an ‘always connected’ status means that software and service upgrades can be relayed to the driver quickly and efficiently. While the standard warranty is the usual three years/60,000mls type, it can be extended to the company’s 10 years/100,000mls cover at no extra cost, as long as the car is maintained by a Toyota centre.
Conclusion: It may have taken Toyota longer than expected to get a Yaris crossover to market but owners will not be disappointed by the car, even though its price tag is a bit steeper than anticipated.