The updated 2017 Toyota Yaris light hatch may be plain as original chips, but it's surprisingly lovable and fun to drive.
Let's be honest, the Toyota Yaris has always been a car you buy with your head, not your heart.
Toyota's reputation for reliability, huge dealer network and affordable maintenance costs easily make the Yaris a viable long-term ownership proposition, which is why you see so many – especially older ones including the first-generation model sold here as the Echo – still on our roads today.
Now in its 18th year and third generation, the Yaris has been freshly facelifted for 2017 and offers new driver assistance technologies like autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane departure warning – features previously reserved for much larger vehicles.
On test we have the mid-range SX, which starts at $17,330 (all prices before on-road costs) with a five-speed manual, or $18,860 for the four-speed automatic version as tested here.
The Toyota Safety Sense package which includes the aforementioned safety systems and automatic high beam, adds a further $650 on the entry-level Ascent and mid-tier SX, bringing the ticket price up to $19,510.
Finally, the 'Graphite' grey metallic exterior paint adds another $450, meaning our Yaris SX is $19,960 as tested.
So for your $20k spend, what do you get? All Yaris models come with a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, multifunction steering wheel, cruise control, 15-inch wheels, a rear-view camera, and seven airbags.
The Yaris comes with a five-star ANCAP rating, though this is based on tests of the pre-facelift model in 2011.
The SX swaps the Ascent's 63kW/120Nm 1.3-litre engine for a larger 80kW/141Nm 1.5-litre unit, while also adding front fog-lights, privacy glass, along with a 'premium' leather-look steering wheel and gearshift.
Unfortunately, features like satellite navigation and alloy wheels are reserved for the top-spec ZR ($22,470), which also adds niceties like LED headlights, sports seats, and climate control air conditioning.
At first glance you'd be hard pressed to distinguish the 'new' Yaris from last year's model. Main changes include revised front and rear bumpers, new headlights and tail-lights, along with new hubcap and alloy wheel designs.
The SX model is a little Plain Jane, it looks almost identical to the base Ascent with the exception of the front fog lamps, and almost looks like it would be at home in the front yard of an Avis rental shop.
Wheel covers on the mid-spec model is a little bit of a 'tsk tsk' moment, especially when you are spending nearly $20,000 before on-roads. Read our full pricing and specs article here.
Despite the uninspiring aesthetic, however, it's still a cute and attractive design – though it's probably going to appeal more to females rather than males.
Inside, the changes are again much of a muchness. There's new plastic trims and fabrics, though the overall design remains largely the same as before.
All of the plastics used on the dash and doors are hard, but solid and feel well-screwed together. These are broken up by the fabric inserts in the doors which offer a bit of padding, while the absence of a centre armrest means the driver's left elbow has no where to rest – something that comes into play on longer journeys.
Listen to the sound of the door thunks from the outside and inside of the 2017 Toyota Yaris.
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The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and offer good bolstering. Meanwhile, the 'premium' steering wheel and shift knob do a good job of looking like leather, but the material is quite slippery and the white stitching looks a little like an aftermarket job.
Meanwhile, the 6.1-inch central touchscreen lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with satellite navigation, which is a shame considering most competitors offer at least one or the other, or both in the case of the Suzuki Ignis and higher grades of the Kia Rio.
Bluetooth phone and audio streaming offers good audio quality for calls and music, though the interface is a little dated and lacks the visual appeal of rival systems.
Listen to the Bluetooth audio quality of the 2017 Toyota Yaris.
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The driver's instrument cluster is also quite basic, with no digital speedo, though the little LCD display at the bottom features trip computer functions and a display for the lane departure warning systems.
Hopping into the second row, taller passengers are compromised in terms of head room, though legroom is fine for six-foot-plus occupants.
There are map pockets behind both front seats, while the door bins at the rear are large enough for bottles, but not much else.
Behind the rear seats is a 286L boot, with an adjustable floor which creates an underfloor store area. It's behind competitors like the Suzuki Baleno (355L), but ahead of the likes of the Mazda 2 (250L).
On the road, the Yaris is surprisingly competent across a range of driving conditions, whether you're putting around town or doing long stints on the highway.
In urban conditions, the Yaris's light yet direct steering and compact dimensions make it a cinch to navigate tight streets and city car parks, while the supple ride absorbs all the lumps and bumps of Melbourne's roads with little fuss.
Our tester's optional safety pack adds autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning and automatic high beam, which are welcome additions and keep the Yaris up there with the technology leaders in the class.
The SX's 1.5-litre petrol engine produces 80kW at 6000rpm, while its 141Nm of torque comes in at 4400rpm.
Despite the high rev bands, the little petrol unit packs plenty of punch around town and even on the freeway, helped by the fact the four-speed auto – though somewhat dated in this day and age – shifts smoothly and intuitively, making sure you're not caught in a dead spot unlike the sloshy unit used in the new Kia Rio.
Road noise is kept to an appropriate level at lower speeds, however on coarser freeways and highways – like the Princes Freeway between Melbourne and Geelong – tyre roar can be a little intrusive and droney.
Something else we notice is the steering about centre can get a little fidgety at 100km/h, requiring small corrections constantly to keep the Yaris in a straight line.
Fuel use, meanwhile, isn't so flash either. Over 450km of mixed driving – including a near-150km round trip to Geelong which is predominantly freeway – the Yaris returned an indicated 8.3L/100km, quite a bit higher than Toyota's combined claim of 6.4L/100km.
Like all Toyota models, the Yaris range is covered by the company's three year, 100,000km warranty.
Yaris models are also available with three years or 60,000km of capped-priced servicing (whichever comes first), with scheduled maintenance required every six months or 10,000km.
With two services a year, servicing for the Yaris will set you back $840 over the first three years of ownership.
It's easy to see why the Toyota Yaris is still so popular. It's affordable, cheap to run, attractive, practical and easy to drive.
As long as you can get past the uninspiring looks and the dated infotainment systems, it's a very solid package – bolstered by the optional safety technologies.
On top of that, it's actually fun to drive, is comfortable over long journeys, and is known for its unbreakable reliability.
However, if you're in the market for a cheap and reliable light hatch, the Yaris is the car for you and more – particularly in this mid-spec SX trim.