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Car reviews - Toyota - Yaris - hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Real advances over agile, eager and dependable Echo, especially in refinement, space, driver pleasure and value-for-money
Room for improvement
Soon to be ubiquitous, no cruise control or stability control option, daft name, YRX 1.5 auto exxy

Toyota logo26 Oct 2005

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

THE status quo changes quickly in the light-car class.

Last year it was the fine-handling Ford Fiesta that vied for best-in-segment honours.

This year the reinvented Suzuki Swift secured a spot amongst the front-running (but ageing) Honda Jazz and Mazda2, while the improved Hyundai Getz now makes a solidly compelling value-for-money case for itself.

Particularly as the South Korean TK Barina, due from December, simply isn’t as appealing as the outgoing XC Barina from Europe, which is sorry news as the latter had begun to languish a little since its 2001 halcyon days.

Even the Kia Rio is a stronger contender now that the revamped model is among us.

Now if that’s not enough action, welcome the replacement for the sales conquering Echo, the virtually all-new Toyota Yaris.

Yaris... a convoluted name that sounds Greek but means nothing. It was chosen for global consistency, says Toyota, as Yaris has been the Echo’s alias in Europe since its ’99 launch.

Yaris also looks European (Toyota in France penned it) and is built there as well as in Japan (where our cars originate from), with Thailand to follow. Don’t be surprised if the latter starts supplying us too/instead before too long either.

Happily the Yaris also seems European in a way the Echo didn’t.

Much of the tinniness when you jump inside the surprisingly spacious and accommodating interior has vanished. Doors thud shut more. Textures look and feel better – even in the YR opener – and there’s a quality in the design details.

Step up into the top-line YRX and you’re likely to be impressed by the funky cloth door trim inserts and leather-faced wheel and gearknob while the metallic accents also lift the cabin a little.

From the dashboard’s symmetry, slick heater, audio and vent controls and nifty outboard cupholders to the squeak-free quality and plethora of storage spaces, the tiniest Toyota has grown up.

And now four grown-ups of around 190cm tall can now find ample and comfortable seating.

The front buckets are fine for short-haul motoring, the vision out is actually good with little impediment from the various pillars (deep side windows help) and there are rear-seat/cargo area manipulations possible to better juggle people and luggage needs.

And while the instrumentation retains its digital display, now the front-seat passenger can read the speedometer too. That’s progress.

Speaking of which, on the road the Yaris really is a brilliant little runabout.

For one thing there’s much less road and engine noise coming into the cabin, with none of the cheapo drone that afflicted the aptly named Echo. Refinement improvements were key for the Yaris.

The new electric steering does seem a little too light and removed from the road surface to really excite keen drivers, but for everybody else there’s enough lightness and feel to allow them to enjoy the sharp handling and safe cornering on offer.

GoAuto drove the 1.3 and 1.5 manual models. Both impressed with their eager and smooth power delivery combined with a lack of racket or fuss and a well-weighted gearshift action.

And while the former is undoubtedly the stronger of the two for mid-range acceleration and overtaking oomph, it’s the smaller motor Yaris that’s the sweetest, with a zingy springiness and an eagerness to visit the 6000rpm limit all day long.

In the three-door YR manual tested, the 1.3 also seemed to offer slightly more responsive cornering abilities compared to the slightly heavier five-door YRX 1.5 also sampled.

Oddly, the latter example also felt a little spongy in the brakes department, the engine was clearly much more audible under heavy acceleration, while the clutch – while light – seemed a little too sharp to engage compared to the smooth and measured 1.3’s actions.

Topping the Yaris positives is a nicely isolated and controlled ride that seems well set-up for our patchy road surfaces.

So the Yaris exceeds expectations dynamically, while the overall packaging, comfort and refinement levels are also higher than anticipated. Fresh and edgy, it feels like a brand new car.

Which – on the strength of a 150km city, urban and country road jaunt in and around Sydney – makes the Toyota a very promising contender among some very talented rivals indeed.

A much more thorough evaluation – including stints in the automatic models available – is now eagerly awaited.

Yet it’s fair to say that, as a European-themed Japanese-built quality five-seater hatchback with competent dynamics, exceptional value, excellent economy and a hip, modern presentation, there’s no reason why the Yaris doesn’t turn the light-car class on its ear.

It won’t be the first time this has happened in the last couple of years either.

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