Longer, lower, wider! Sit in almost any vehicle launch media conference and the marketing litany will justify why the new model is bigger than the outgoing one – and all the time the John Cleese in me wonders if they wanted it that size, why not build it that way in the first place!
The Toyota Yaris kind of goes against this trend – from the start it was build in two sizes on different platforms – the smaller one to suit European markets and the larger for Eastern customers.
So, the ‘new’ Toyota Yaris is actually a switch by Toyota Motor in South Africa from the Euro platform to the Thai-built platform that adds 165 mm in length and 5 mm in width over the outgoing version.
The logic behind the switch is quite simple – although intended to be a contender in the ‘B’ segment of the local market, there was some perception (because of its size) the Yaris was an ‘A’ or entry level player and rather expesnive for that category.
Now, it is definitely positioned by dint of size in the correct place.
The Yaris was originally launched locally in 2005 and there have been four iterations of the compact city hatchback since then.
So, what does the increased size of the latest iteration really mean? For starters, it means increased interior space and a bigger luggage area but, the real bonus comes in the fact the car simply feels better on the road; more poised and offering improved overall ride comfort and handling.
Naturally, the revised car has picked up some styling tweaks and the front design gets sleeker headlamps, which flow smoothly towards the central focal point by ways of black ‘fins’ flanking the centrally-mounted Toyota emblem.
The headlamps themselves feature chrome inner accents, and a trapezoidal grille occupies the lower apron complete with honeycomb-patterned screen. The top corners house the Daytime Running Lights (DRL), visually aligned by a slim air aperture.
At the rear, aero stabilising fins have been incorporated into the rear light clusters, which enhance stability by controlling the airflow around the vehicle. The rear bumper design also includes aerodynamic fins to smooth airflow within the wheel housing and limit airflow into the rear bumper – in order to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve fuel efficiency.
Inside, a cigar-shaped upper dashboard design creates a sense of width complemented by the metal accents that surround the air vents. The ‘hang-down’ section features a prominent silver frame, which tapers inwards to create a multi-dimensional look and feel.
Powering the Yaris is a 1,5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Utilising dual VVT-i and a DOHC 16-valve layout, the engine delivers 79 kW and 140 Nm. Top speed is 180 km/h with fuel consumption listed as 5,9 l/100 km – real time running on the test returning 6,2 l/100 km average.
There are other 1,5-litres engines from competing manufacturers on the market that make more power and torque than the Toyota, some quite a lot more and even the absolute newcomer to the local market, the BAIC turns out 85 kW and 148 Nm.
The Sport monniker on our test car is, then, a bit of a misnomer – it is by stretch of the imagination a ‘hot’ hatch and ‘Sport’ is a reference to style rather than speed.
For this reason the Yaris needs to be correctly contextualised before finding itself on the short end of a comparison stick. It is, primarily, a city commuter and in that context has enough gumption to make the daily churn from home to work and back reasonably stress-free.
Our test car came with a 5-speed transmission and, quite frankly, even when pressed on the open road, never really felt like it was running a cog short. While out test was conducted at oxygen rich sea level altitude, the impact of energy sapping Reef heights will be felt although, again, in context, not that much in city commuting.
A McPherson strut-type suspension sits up front, while the rear features a torsion beam layout where coil spring and shock absorber characteristics have been optimised for comfort.
On the road the new Yaris exudes a sense of solidity and provides excellent damping of road conditions with a composed driving feel.
The Sport variant rides on 16-inch rubber feature with directional-design alloy wheels (with machined face treatment) and 195/50/R16 tyres.
The bigger version is, I feel, an improvement at all levels over the ‘Euro’ version and, if nothing else, since we do grow South African quite big, will be appreciated for that extra space.
As the flagship model the Sport has keyless entry and push-button start, six-speaker audio system with USB and Bluetooth functionality, multi-information display, electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors, front power windows, electric power steering and climate control.
Additionally it gets red-stitched leather steering wheel and gear knob, high-definition ‘Optitron’ instruments, leather seats, front fog lamps, projector headlamps, LED rear tail lights, rear boot spoiler, side skirts, front and rear spoilers and red accent stripe.
Safety kit includes driver, passenger, curtain and driver’s knee air bags, Isofix points, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist (BA), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), seat belt pretentioner and force limiters as well as Hill Assist Control (HAC).
All Yaris models come with a 3-year/45 000 kilometre service plan and 3-year/100 000 kilometre warranty.