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Toyota Yaris review (2006-2011)
Oi! Get your head outta that paper, turn off that racket, get that red Rolf cleaned and make me a cup of tea, will ya?! Rolf? Rolf Harris… Yaris. Yep, rhyming slang we’ve invented and sure to be ringing around car dealer forecourts soon.
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It’s particularly succinct, too. See, with the old car, few could ever tell quite what it was. A supermini?
Almost, but even at launch it wasn’t large enough, something that became progressively more glaring with each replacement rival launch. With last year’s launch of the Aygo, a car only 235mm shorter, the Yaris’ position of limbo was underlined. That’s why the new car has grown up. And matured too; Toyota’s marketers are happy to let Aygo take ’20-something sales’, leaving older customers to snap up Yaris. A new car launch that’s not dominated by youthful exuberance? This approach perfectly sums up what the new model offers.
Toyota Yaris: Interior
Space is top of the list. Despite still-compact dimensions (236mm shorter than the new Clio), it’s roomy. Clever routing of the exhaust has left no centre tunnel, creating a flat floor in the rear that enhances plentiful headroom, a high-set, comfortable bench and lots of kneeroom. Even behind tall drivers, it’s an accommodating supermini. The sliding rear seat means space is at the expense of luggage capacity though; it’s OK, no more, and realising more space sets in compromises – but at least Toyota gives you the option. In the front, atop firm, high-set seats, the stretched-forward dash gives a mini-MPV feel, as does a bounty of storage space including three lidded cubbies. They compensate for Flat Stanley door pockets.
The dash looks and feels high-quality at first glance, with Lexus-like tight tolerances and a smart satin-finish alloy-look centre console. Central digital instruments remain but, whereas before, tricks with mirrors made it seem as if the display was buried deep below the dash, now it’s more conventional and less characterfully quirky. Compared to the rest of the dash, the display looks dated; the smart stereo set below it shames it by glowing, like the heater controls, smart green at night. Toyota is proud it’s doing something other makers have managed for years; colour-matching all the switch illumination. Mind you, some of those plastics are tinny and hard, particularly the (three) gloveboxes that resonate loudly at certain engine speeds. Why? We suspect weight saving rather than cost-cutting.
A chat with the chief engineer reveals the huge efforts Toyota has invested to keep the weight down. “Every engineer had a brief to decrease mass”, he explained. “There’s no magic, it’s not hard” he says, somewhat self-deprecatingly; few companies, we imagine, have the means and wherewithal to instigate so completely and obsessively such an involved weight reduction programme, without resorting to expensive, exotic materials. Indeed, tricks have been learnt from the Aygo; the parcel shelf is light and floppy, glovebox lids double-take thin and tappy. Even the noise absorption material is new, absorbing and dissipating noise rather than insulating the car from it; it’s half the weight of normal insulation. All admirable, but the glovebox lid engineer has been perhaps too successful...
On the road
On the move, a sporty feel in a supermini orientated towards practicality is a surprise, but partly realised by firmer than average suspension settings and, again, that low kerb weight. A knobbly ride quality is noticed first – bumps interfere that a Clio smothers, though actual harshness is reserved only for the nastiest scars. What will it be like on rougher UK tarmac? Hmm… it’ll probably quite handy on twisty UK roads though. Taught suspension makes it feel agile, quick-witted, while wide tyres (all cars sport 15-inch, 185-section tyres) ensure plentiful grip. It’s ultimately not a hot hatch but will feel smart enough for most to enjoy the revvy engines.
Steering is electrically-assisted but don’t assume it’s a disaster. Variable weighting, controlled by the engine’s electronic brain, judges weight according to speed, meaning that it’s fingertip-light when parking but reassuringly meaty at speed. The Clio’s dreadful stickiness is absent too, with only a lack of feel and some mushiness when motoring energetically marking it down. However, while it, along with the low kerbweight and well-judged aerodynamics, are said to keep fuel consumption down, only the 52mpg 1.0-litre three-pot (from the Aygo) stars alongside the oppostion. 47mpg and 63mpg for the 1.3-litre and 1.4-litre D-4D are very good but not as good as the class-best, which all weigh more.
Toyota expects the 86bhp 1.3-litre petrol to take half of volumes. Carried over from before, it’s equipped with high-tech variable valve timing and has a smooth, zappy nature but rev it you must do; low-down torque is lacking. The gearchange is no hindrance but the old car’s precise directness has been lost; the new change substitutes rubberiness for connectedness, though it’s still precise and smooth. Brakes are much-improved too, with a reassuring firmness to the pedal. They’re let down only by a slight grab during initial application. Pedals were short in travel and slightly offset to the right on the left-hooker test cars; some complained brake and throttle were too close, but our judgement will be reserved for UK cars.
The 1.4-litre diesel is also as before, but now with 89bhp, as in the Corolla. Those expecting serenity will be disappointed as, under load, it’s clattery and intrusive. It quietens at a cruise and is admirably subtle and vibration-free at tickover, but hushed it otherwise is not. There’s also little grunt below 2,00rpm and it’s only when 2,500rpm is loudly registering that it supplies the expected shove. Unfortunately, this coincides with that appreciable resonant buzz on the test car. For a £1,000 premium over the 1.3-litre, the flaws are surprising, but perhaps not entirely unexpected; the best Aygo is petrol-powered, too.
All Yaris' are safe, with a supermini-best Euro-NCAP score and the option of up to nine airbags – including a sector-first knee airbag. Dynamic improvements have made it feel safer to drive too, with the old car’s sensitivity to crosswinds at speed much-reduced by 1,000 hours in the wind tunnel and the addition of an extensive underbody aerodynamic pack. It consists of features such as tiny spats ahead of the rear wheels and a Toyota-first rear floor cover. As for equipment, air con is standard only on T3 models, not the base T2. The expected best-seller, T3 trim is very completely stocked, but price increases over the old car reflect this; the base price is up by £1,700 over the old car. However, that’s in line with key rivals and again is more of a reflection of the previous models’ ‘sub-supermini’ status.
A good car, and now much more clearly defined, with much-needed additional space solving one of the old car’s most obvious flaws. However, with the new Yaris, Toyota has undoubtedly created a very capable car that’s cleverer than most superminis, yet some of the basic charm of the old car has been lost. It feels larger, more refined but not quite as fun, while questions over engine refinement and ride quality will also only be answered when UK cars arrive in January. Can we tell if it’s a hit yet? Come back soon...
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