UPDATE: Overnight the Toyota Yaris received a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating.
Since its launch in 2005, the Toyota Yaris has continuously outsold its competitors and in 2011 demands a 13% market share in its segment. With such a successful sales record and respect within the market, Toyota was tasked with improving the Yaris and offering buyers better value for money and refreshed styling.
The third generation Yaris spent 38 months in development and included market research from over 1000 current Yaris owners. With customer feedback in mind, Toyota set out to create an eye-catching, unisex design with a spacious cabin, low fuel consumption and a fun to drive attitude.
It’s hard to dispute the visual appeal of the new Yaris. Chief Designer, Takeshi Go, told CarAdvice that the new Yaris design had to remain simple, but sufficiently sporty to attract a diverse audience, including male buyers.
Sharp flowing lines and a fresh front and rear makeover give the Yaris a visual jump start. New wheel designs and a sporty front and rear body kit for the ZR transform what used to be a 'safe' design for Toyota.
The most extensive design changes are arguably within the cabin. Following market research, Toyota removed the centre mounted digital speedometer as customers complained that it was sometimes difficult to see and confusing. The speedometer has instead been moved to behind the steering wheel.
Vital climate and audio controls have been moved higher to reduce the amount of time a driver has to take their eyes off the road. A new light coloured graduated grain dashboard texture breaks up the darker tones that used to plague the Yaris’ interior, giving it a fresh and bright feel.
In addition to adding a new variant in the Yaris line-up, Toyota has managed to retain a competitive price point and increase added value. Beginning at $14,990 for the three door, five-speed manual 1.3-litre Yaris YR, buyers have the option of choosing a four-speed automatic for an additional $1,600 and a five-door configuration for an additional $700. Cruise control is also optional for an additional $650. The YR comes with air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, a four-speaker sound system with CD player, USB connectivity and Bluetooth streaming.
Next up is the Yaris YRS, which starts from $16,890 and comes with a 1.5-litre, a five-speed manual and three doors. Five doors and a four-speed automatic gearbox can be optioned for an additional $500 and $1,600 respectively. In addition to YR features, the YRS comes with a premium steering wheel and gear selector, a six-speaker sound system with touch screen and 15 inch steel wheels.
Starting from $21,390, the YRX is only available in five doors with the 1.5-litre engine and a four-speed automatic gearbox. Standard features over the YRS include 15 inch alloy wheels, fog lights, automatic headlights, automatic climate controlled air conditioning and satellite navigation with traffic management and movie playback.
Finally, the car for those after a sporty look and feel is the ZR. Pricing starts from $18,990 and the ZR is fitted with the 1.5-litre engine, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox and is only available in three-door configuration. Features over the YRX include sports front and rear bumpers, sports grille and headlamps, rear roof spoiler with side skirts, sports front seats and exhaust pipe diffuser.
Voice recognition, USB connectivity and Bluetooth connectivity is now standard across the Yaris range, as is Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), seven airbags (including a knee airbag) and an anticipated five-star ANCAP safety rating. ZR, YRX and YRS variants also have the ability to read messages and e-mails from capable smart phones, negating the need to ever look down at your phone while driving.
The biggest surprise of all comes from behind the wheel. Toyota’s local engineering arm spent time fine tuning the Yaris’ ride quality and handling dynamics. The front and rear suspension received increases of 18% and 26% respectively in comparison to the Japanese configuration, giving the car a sporty feel on Australian roads.
The local tuning, in addition to the excellent electric steering calibration means that the Yaris is truly impressive both in the city and on open roads. To prove this point, we had the chance to drive up the Rob Roy Hill Climb in Victoria with Australian rally champion Rick Bates.
The composed nature of the car meant that the rough circuit dealt no low punches for the Yaris’ MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension. The steering feedback and feel is unlike any other Toyota (that’s a good thing) and shows how much care has been taken to improve the Yaris and increase market appeal.
Due to the configuration of the drive program, we were only able to sample the five-speed manual transmission. As you would expect from a small car, the clutch is light and the gear shifts seamless. It has been setup in such a way to ensure an easy and carefree drive.
The 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine produces 63kW and 121Nm of torque, consuming just 5.7L/100km (five-speed manual or 6.3L/100km for the four-speed automatic), while the 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine produces 80kW and 141Nm of torque and consumes 5.8L/100km (in five-speed manual and 6.3L/100km in four-speed automatic). Above 3000rpm, both engines feel energetic and full of life. Below 3000rpm on the other hand, they are fairly placid and non-responsive.
CarAdvice spoke with Mr Takao Matsuki, Yaris Project Manager (Dynamics and Performance) about the influences behind the Yaris’ new sporty edge. Mr Matsuki said, “Our performance targets were set around the progression of and benchmarks within this segment. Our benchmarks in this segment included the Volkswagen Polo, Peugeot 207 and Mazda2. The Yaris handling and ride comfort had to offer a great level of assurance and smoothness.”
Changes to overall length and wheelbase length (+100mm and +50mm respectively) mean an increase in knee space for rear passengers (+35mm) and luggage capacity (now 286 litres). Other changes include the adoption of high-tensile strength steels, which have helped strengthen the chassis and reduce overall weight by around 20kg.
In such a competitive segment, the new Yaris had to be nothing short of amazing for Toyota to remain at the top of the light car segment. The new Yaris well and truly bucks the trend and offers buyers an arsenal of equipment, excellent dynamics and handling, along with a competitive price point.
Whether you enjoy attacking a twisty road on weekends or shopping in the city, the Yaris offers the perfect middle ground that doesn't break the bank, drag its knuckles up hills and if you're a male, doesn't question your sexuality (unless you choose the hot pink colour). Toyota has an absolute winner on its hands.