– Looks decent enough
– Cabin space and features
– Reasonably comfortable ride
– Weak engine
– Controls feel too light
– Hard cabin plastics
When you think about “workhorse” vehicles, you never think about the Toyota Yaris. But that is exactly what it is — a simple car designed to do a task over and over again, without fanfare. The Yaris has shuttled numerous sheeple to work, reliably and efficiently, but most of all, cheaply. But even a workhorse needs a makeover once in a while. And so, the new-for-2012 Yaris is ready for business.
The redesigned Yaris is slightly longer and lower than before, with likeable styling and better features. Priced about the same as competent new rivals such as the Chevrolet Sonic and the Hyundai Accent, the Yaris will need more than just its reputation to remain appealing.
The new hatchback boasts a slightly-larger cabin, and it shows. With thin front seat-backs, a flat rear floor and a tall profile, the Yaris offers superb cabin space for its size. The cloth front seats are decently-bolstered. Rear legroom is among the best in class, while boot space is enough for a week’s worth of groceries. The boot floor is deep, but can be raised to make a flat load floor in line with the folded-down rear seats, if needed. There are also little uncovered storage areas all over the car, some more useful than others, and mostly for front passengers. But with the instrument cluster now moved from the centre-console to behind the steering wheel, where it belongs, the new one has less covered storage cubbies than the old model, aside from the glove box. Only the front passengers get to have cup-holders.
The new interior also boasts interesting textures on the dashboard and door panels. Unfortunately, all those textures are ingrained in hard plastic. While the older model got cloth door inserts, there are no such luxuries here. The only padded bits are the door elbow-rests for front passengers, which none of its main rivals can claim to have — a small victory that might go unnoticed by consumers.
Toyota has chosen to keep the options list short for the GCC-spec Yaris, but the standard features are generous. Along with power windows, electric mirrors, two airbags, power steering and a funky single-arm windshield wiper, there’s keyless entry, passable 6-speaker CD/MP3 stereo, Bluetooth with steering-wheel buttons and even a USB port. The Bluetooth phone is surprisingly easy to use and the manual a/c is pretty damn good. Fog lamps, leather steering wheel, rear spoiler and 15-inch alloy wheels are extra, as found on our tester. But you still won’t get a tachometer, let alone a trip computer.
To get the blood pumping, the 1052-kilo Yaris also comes standard with a rev-happy 1.3-litre 4-cylinder, carried over from the previous model, making 87 hp at 6000 rpm and 121 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm, mated to a 4-speed automatic for good measure. We managed a blistering 0-100 kph time of 15.3 seconds during our October test. We also calculated a fuel consumption figure of 9.1 litres/100 km, not bad for a small car, but the Honda Jazz gets better mileage, probably because it has a bigger engine that doesn’t need to be caned hard on every occasion.
Aside from the having the weakest engine in the segment, the new Yaris is rather good. The ride quality is smoother than we expected for a car this small. Sure, it feels a bit firm on some uneven road surfaces, but the Yaris is one of the more comfortable cars in its class. Stay below 100 kph, and wind noise is nicely muted, while the drive is perfectly stable even in a sandstorm. Closer to 120 kph, typical small-car traits show up, such as louder external noises and more susceptibility to cross-winds which require constant steering corrections. Also, the engine makes itself heard anytime the throttle pedal is touched.
The steering itself is very light, although it does offer a tiny bit of feedback. Handling is entertainingly chuckable, let down only by limited grip from the 185/60 tyres. Body roll is limited and there is no untoward swaying in most cases. But start sawing on the steering wheel like a psycho, and it is easy to unsettle the rear of the car at high speeds. Otherwise, it just understeers safely. The brakes seem awful at initial tip-in, as pressing the pedal partially doesn’t seem to do much. But the car stops rapidly enough during full-on emergency braking, aided by standard ABS.
Some of the things that sound like criticisms, really aren’t. Hard-plastic interiors and highway noises are par for the course when it comes to cars in this segment. In fact, the Toyota offers more than most competitors in terms of space, comfort and features. If it had a better engine, it’d truly be a class leader. It is still destined to become a sales leader anyway, thanks to its resale value and expected reliability alone.
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