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Car reviews - Toyota - Yaris - YRS hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Big steps in refinement, safety, dynamics and value, one-step rear-seat access, improved front vision, roomier cabin, better choice, greater quality materials, utter reliability and dependability, still fun to drive, excellent steering wheel
Room for improvement
Dull cabin architecture, fussy styling, no sliding rear seat, fewer dashboard storage places, single-arm wiper limitations, still boomy on coarse bitumen, too-safe ESC for keener drivers

22 Dec 2011

PERHAPS it is the festive season. Maybe age is creeping up. Or could it be the eggnog talking?

Jokes aside, we are deadly serious when we nominate the third-generation Toyota Yaris as arguably the best all-round light car on the market today.

Yep, we are going to argue the case for a model that has been met with a deafening ‘meh’ since its international unveiling about a year ago, because we have spent plenty of time inside and around this Japanese supermini.

No, we are not blind to the needlessly fussy front styling (Kabuki face, apparently), complete cabin overhaul that loses the previous version’s signature centralised instrument panel with all the assorted storage solutions for an ugly fascia, missing sliding rear seat and ho-hum carryover drivetrains.

But we are aware of the massive steps forward Toyota has taken in bringing a better Yaris to market. Sure, it is the epitome of middle-of-the-road after the sassy old one, but if it is your hard-earned that’s paying for this accomplished urban runabout, the big-picture stuff is nigh-on spot-on.

So hear us out.

Here’s the short version of the XP130 story. Designed amid a looming GFC almost three years ago in Japan rather than in France like before, Toyota nevertheless entrusted its European arm at a new state-of-the-art development headquarters in Belgium (speaking of middle of the road …) to engineer the thing.

A clean sheet redesign except for the engines and transmissions, no stone was left unturned as the company benchmarked the usual suspects (VW Polo, Ford Fiesta) as well as some surprising ones (Renault Clio, Peugeot 207) to create a dynamic yet comfortable light car. Leaps in body strength, active and passive safety, and interior space were paramount, while creating a larger luggage area and palpably higher-quality interior designed not to scare of retirees also ranked highly on the to-do list.

So while the cabin may look tinny, the solid thunk of a closing door and not-so-hollow pitch of the fascia plastics suggest otherwise.

Look around you. The windscreen pillars are thinner, the side windows deep, and rear vision is not Mazda 2-level appalling. If you are approaching 200cm tall you will fit behind a tilt/reach adjustable steering wheel of attractive design and appealing texture in our mid-spec YRS (base car misses out on the telescopic capability), and that’s something previous Toyota superminis sucked at.

Big new seats support equally portly posteriors while longer legs can stretch out (a little). The lack of a driver’s footrest is no loss. The grainy techy texture of the dash top and console looks and feels smart.

Abolishing the old vertical A/C and heater knobs for a closer trio of horizontal items improves ergonomics out of sight. Ventilation is first class. The massive analogue tacho, speedo and fuel gauges (complete with a sizeable trip computer, clock and exterior temp readouts) do work a whole lot better than the nevertheless bolshie and futuristic digital set-up employed previously.

And at last – standard cruise control (not YR) and available sat-nav and a reversing camera bring the tiny tot Toyota into the 21st Century.

Every model now includes seven airbags, anti-whiplash front seat head restraints and – for the first time – stability and traction control for a five-star ENCAP crash-test rating result, while a trip computer, steering wheel-mounted controls for the improved audio system and Bluetooth phone connectivity are also present – for little or no price increase. That’s compelling value.

Of course, the whole interior presentation looks a bit ungainly and amateurish the single glovebox and narrow door bins cannot hope to replicate the storage capacity of the outgoing version and what is it with that oversized hazard flasher switch where you might expect a face vent to be?

But – the new single-arm wiper’s propensity to be too slow eliminating the occasional water build-up on the windscreen aside – none of these will truly matter if the whole interior feels solidly made and still works as intended.

That shoulder-high rear-seat slide and release mechanism with memory is the very definition of how it should be done. Bravo Toyota. Honda and others, take note.

Similarly, the rear bench seats you a bit higher than the front but there’s no claustrophobia to be had, just comfort headroom is a revelation for a Yaris. And leg/knee space is quite acceptable.

The YRS offers overhead grab handles, an agreeable backrest angle, two large map pockets, a cupholder and deep storage square thingo at the rear of the centre console, and a facility for a lazy elbow to rest if you are seated outboard.

Further back beneath the smallish hatch door is an average-sized luggage area (that’s 12 litres better than before, at 286 litres, so it partly makes up for the loss of that sliding rear seat – a necessity seeing as there is a hybrid Yaris looming for some markets but not for Oz for now).

Emulating the Polo, Yaris has a two-level floor but a shallow load-through area when the backrests are flattened despite the space-saver spare lurking underneath that.

Conversely, placing child-seat anchorage points immediately behind the backrest means straps will no longer interfere with the available room in there. Nice one, Toyota.

Overall then, this is a well thought out and executed little family car.

And the latest Yaris is not bad to drive either – indeed it can be quite rewarding if your expectations are not at Fiesta levels.

Consider this: Despite the use of a stronger and more rigid body, the kerb weight has tumbled 20kg – 5kg from the body, 6kg from the chassis, 5kg from using lighter and thinner seats, and the remaining 4kg from various other sources. Impressive.

Not that the 80kW/141Nm 1.5-litre four-pot petrol is a fireball. Aside from a flat spot between first and second gear, it pulls hard once the revs pile on, for a pleasing turn of speed right beyond the legal limits.

But you are not inclined to visit the 6500rpm red line because things get a tad vocal and harsh. And the 7.9L/100km fuel consumption average (against an official 5.8) isn’t exactly going to win the Yaris a Miss Green Universe award. However, if you are coming out of the old Yaris 1.5 the old Mr Saucepan banging on his pots and pans din is thankfully history.

Rowing the light and well-oiled five-speed manual gearbox (why no sixth, Toyota?) is no chore either. To overtake or pick up speed at highway velocities, a downshift or two is a regular occurrence.

Better to enjoy the balance and harmony of the Euro-tuned chassis instead.

The buyer base will love the linear and non-nervous steering that is still responsive enough to please the odd boyracer. Of course, more feedback of the good variety is always welcome, but at least the dreaded rack rattle is absent.

Anyway, the great news is how benign and predictable the whole set-up is. Throw the YRS into a corner and it will grip for dear life, not get scrappy and just zip thorough with amusingly little understeer. Introduce dirt or wet roads and the super-safe ESC nanny will intervene immediately and instantly, cutting power to the front wheels like it’s dishing out punishment to a naughty pupil. Even chucked around on a gravel road with absolute abandon, the Yaris has an uncanny – if killjoy – propensity to correct itself.

Translated to the everyperson out there, this is a safe and trusted runabout that’s unlikely to startle, let alone scare.

While we’re handing out plaudits, congrats to Toyota’s engineers for a soft and supple ride across a variety of surfaces … although the accompanying road rumble is no fun.

What else? The brakes (now bigger and supposedly better) bite with sufficient determination, while the whole car now feels more … whole.

And that’s the point of the latest Yaris. It is a more complete experience. Let’s face it. We prefer the Fiesta, Polo, Mazda2, Swift and Fabia. But all have their issues while the reliable, roomy, dependable, safe, refined and quite involving Toyota just keeps on going … while giving back with near class-high levels of resale.

If you are not interested in making a styling statement but need a quality all-rounder with unbridled faithfulness rather than emotional fulfilment, the YRS is it. And if you’ve read this far without falling asleep, then surely it is the best light car out there for you.

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