When Toyota first launched the Yaris it filled a much-needed gap, and took the VW Polo head on. The Yaris offered more, least of which was all the positive connotations that the Toyota nameplate brings, but it also offered a service plan as standard and a couple of standard safety and convenience features left wanting in the VW Polo. Since then, the market has matured, buyers these days seem either cash-strapped or cash-flush and those in the market for a new car in the Yaris segment are looking for value-for-money now more than ever. There’s no more flying in a brand’s coat tails. Toyota has designed an accomplished car in the new Yaris, and it has grown up considerably too.
There is a lot more competition in this segment. For example, if you’re looking for a car sub R150K, you’re in for a surprise, as the Yaris has moved up a notch to give way to the Aygo (a budget, no frills drive) and soon to be launched Etios. There’s also stiff competition from the likes of Kia with the new Rio, the Ford Fiesta and the hard working (read old as the hills) Polo Vivo. VW has also priced the new Polo into the premium B segment with models topping R220K…and you can get the top of the range Yaris for just under R210K. How times have a changed, either buyers are earning a lot more to afford the R2180 payments.* or buyers are buying down.
That said, this new Yaris range comes in 3 specification levels. Xi, XS and XR, with Xi being bottom of the range and XR top. The pricing differences are so vast, it competes all the way from R127K to R209K, meaning it’s against current Polo Vivo and the new Polo. I had the 1.3 XS spec on review, which to me is the pick of the bunch. It offers just enough, without any frills, and retails for R176 000.
A fresh new face, slightly wider stance and a grille aligned to the global Toyota front-end treatment has done a good job on the Yaris, its perhaps a little more angular and aggressive and less ‘cutesy’. I find it a good-looking car, however probably not AS “cool” as the Rio, but definitely better looking than the Polo or Hyundia i20. In XS trim, colour coded mirrors and door handles and 15inch alloy wheels are standard and this is a good thing. I’d say the Yaris now has more appeal to the male market.
The interior has also undergone a number of changes, moving the instrument binnacle from the centre of the dash back in front of the driver. Orange and red dials come into play (which look a tad dated compared to the fresh white approach in some other Toyota models) and the central binnacle is simple and easy to understand. Where I think they’ve gone horribly awry is the look and feel of the dash. They seemed to have taken a steel brush over the plastic to create some sort of effect in an effort to give it a top-class brushed look, but instead just made it look top class tacky. Fail. Also, as with many cars designed for left and right hand markets the radio controls (volume) is furthest from the driver, where as the oh-so-overused hazard light is right in reach. That said, the XS does come with controls on the steering wheel for volume, mode and changing track, so you don’t really have to reach for the dials. Call me a stickler for detail.
Otherwise there is a surprising amount of space in the Yaris, quite a few spaces for odds and ends with large cupholders up front for that super size Coke. The 3 door version that I had, had enough space in the rear seats to keep the average six-footer content. It would be a squish with five adults, but with four you’d sit comfortably. I don’t have the stats but I’m quite sure the boot has increased in size on the old model, even though it isn’t deep it will easily handle the luggage for a weekend away. Air conditioning, electric front windows, Bluetooth, central locking and a radio/CD/Mp3 6 speaker sound system. Everything you’d need and nothing more. I’ve seen many other journalists gripe about this last point, but the Aux/USB points are in the glovebox so unless you’re connecting an iPod and not an iPhone, you’re shit out of luck to changing tracks. I can’t fathom how this one made it past pre-production testing but it’s an ergonomic nightmare.
On the road, the Yaris is a pleasure to drive. What I’ve always loved about any Toyota is the solid suspension feel, and the Yaris is no stranger to that treatment. It doesn’t shudder over bumps (Like the Vivo), but soaks it all up. It’s no hot hatch, but the 15inch wheels and tires-on-the-corners deal well when you’re late for varsity.
The 1.3 delivers a very respectable 73kW and 125NM of torque, which is more than a similar Polo & Fiesta, but just below the Kia. Critically, while the Kia enjoys a brand new engine, the Toyota features one out of the old car. It’s a bit like going to gym, getting your body in shape and not getting your ol’ ticker checked at the same time. The engine felt a little tight and the short clutch action on the 6speed manual gearbox took some getting used to, but it happily got up to speed. It’s no racer, but doesn’t pretend to be that, so most people will find it more than adequate.
Toyota claims just under 7l/100km for the combined cycle, but I struggled to keep it below 8l/100km, granted my route was more urban than mixed or even extra-urban highway driving. which is a bit harder on the juice. The steering is light and makes the Yaris easy to park. It’s electric – to take strain off of the engine and provide better economy – and firms up at speed, so really can’t complain. On the safety front there’s ABS, EBD & BAS (Brake assist), 4 airbags and ISOFIX child seat anchors in the rear.
In terms of looks, size and ride, the Yaris has definitely grown up. The interior is up for debate, but definitely didn’t do it for me on a looks perspective. On a specification level, there’s everything you need, and nothing more, which you can’t fault from a value offering. A 4 year 60 000km ToyotaCare service plan is also standard, which is a big draw-card for new car buyers.
This model Yaris competes against the VW (Polo 1.4 Comfortline), Ford (Fiesta 1.4 Trend) and the Kia (Rio 1.4Tec). Amongst its peers it is a good car, but the real competition is the Kia Rio and for some (over the age of 50 or female with kids) the Honda Jazz. The Rio has fewer variants and the 1.4 Manual trumps the 1.3 XS Yaris on pricing and spec… embarrassingly so. Added to that it’s aggressive and youthful good looks and it’s probably this segment’s title fighter. The Ford is good, sells in good numbers and offers a tech-filled alternative. The VW is dependable, not at all exciting, but offers value, while the Kia seems to be the new kid on the block giving the other kids a slap upside the head and I’m afraid to say the Yaris is about to get a pretty warm ear.
At the price the XS, is a solid purchase. It’s a Toyota. Logic dictates that it will run forever with no hiccups. If you’re buying a car that will last you until your retirement it’s a solid choice, but in today’s fickle brand hopping, car changing market spec its competition from Korea has it trumped.
Yaris has indeed grown up, its one of the big kids, but it’s now facing many more kids in a competitive schoolyard, the question is do you want to date the headboy/headgirl or go for the new kid that smokes and has an aggressive unpredictable edge? I’ll leave you to make the decision.
* not including balloon payment & deposit – www.facebook.com/toyotasouthafrica