The base model Toyota Yaris Ascent is now cheaper and better equipped than ever. Matt Campbell assesses the 1.3-litre five-door hatch.
The most affordable Toyota on the market is the recently-launched Toyota Yaris Ascent manual, which has just been made even more affordable thanks to the Free Trade Agreement with Japan.
For that sum, you get a 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. The revised start price is $700 – or 4.5 per cent – less than it cost when the car was launched locally in September 2014.
It was this variant that we recently had through the CarAdvice offices, and it is arguably the pick of the pack when it comes to buying a Yaris.
That asking price may sound fairly sharp, and in years gone by you’d expect the list of standard items on an entry-level variant to have been relatively sparse.
However, this new-look Yaris now comes with new tech items such as a 6.1-inch touchscreen media system that is linked to a standard reverse-view camera.
The latter addition brings the Yaris in line with the Honda Jazz in being the most affordable new car on the market with the potentially life-saving reverse-view camera technology. For urban drivers, it also makes parking the car even easier, though the Yaris has excellent all-round visibility anyway.
And while the car is aimed primarily at city buyers, cruise control is a welcome addition for those who hit the highway every now and then. That system was previously unavailable on the base model Yaris, which was known as the YR grade.
Other new items for the Yaris include 15-inch wheels, up from the YR’s 14-inch rims – though they remain steelies with plastic covers – as well as a reach-adjustable steering wheel with phone and audio controls (including voice control) and two extra speakers for a total of six.
While the previous entry-level Yaris felt sparse and plain, the interior of the new model is much more amenable - mainly due to the addition of that decent-sized, smart looking touchscreen system.
It is simple to use with easy menu systems, and includes touch, drag and flick functionality. And unlike the touchscreen fitted to the existing high-grade Yaris models, the new one has a high-resolution screen with quality graphic displays.
However, the system isn’t perfect. For instance, the Bluetooth phone system will not allow occupants to key in phone numbers using the screen if the car is moving. You can scroll through your contacts, but there’s no way of dialling a number if you need to.
No other major changes were made to the interior, which is a little on the bland side. There’s a lot of hard plastic, and while the seats have a new fabric trim to help differentiate it from the pre-facelift model, controls such as the knobs and dials, steering wheel and gear shifter are all a bit commonplace.
However, where the Yaris makes up for its interior anonymity is in its storage. There are big door pockets up front, with cup and bottle holders, too. The rear seats, however, miss out on door storage, but there’s a centre bin that can be used for bottles.
The cargo hold swallows 286 litres of cargo, and there’s a neat false floor if you need to hide something valuable. The back seats can also be folded nearly flat, too.
It’s roomy for people as well as their stuff, too, with enough head-room and leg-room in the rear seat for taller adults. Fitting three broader-bodied people across the rear seat isn’t a cinch, but they can fit at a pinch. Much like its competitor, the Honda Jazz, it feels bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
There interior is, in general, ergonomically thoughtful – the addition of reach adjustment for the steering wheel means taller drivers can find a more comfortable position. You can recharge devices using the USB/auxiliary/12V charging inputs mounted above the cup-holders, but there’s no covered storage to hide your pricey toys. The cords dangling down to the small front caddy also looks untidy.
Still, if you’re not charging but have your phone connected via Bluetooth, you’ll notice the sound quality is good and we experienced no skipping during playback, as so commonly can occur. The phone call clarity was also excellent.
On top of keeping drivers’ hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, Yaris models receive seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee) to complement that visual reversing aid and stability control.
On the road, the Yaris is also improved over its predecessor. The company has tightened up its underpinnings with additional spot-welds increasing the rigidity, while the suspension has be recalibrated, too, in order to make it handle corners more deftly. And while that’s not exactly why you buy a Yaris, the improved cornering stability is noticeable.
It remains one of the easiest cars available to park, with light steering and great visibility aided by that camera unit. Its turning circle is miniature, too, making light work of narrow streets.
The ride comfort remains above average in the Yaris, dealing with speed-humps and road joins nicely. At low speeds it is particularly comfortable, though if you’re moving faster you will notice some of the sharper-edged bumps being transmitted to the cabin.
The small 1.3-litre engine can struggle a bit when the car is loaded up, but for urban drivers with one or two occupants on board it gets the job done to expectation, despite its modest 63kW (at 6000rpm) and 121Nm (at 4400rpm) outputs.
The engine revs smoothly (although a little loudly), and the five-speed manual gearbox is smooth and features a light action, while the clutch motion won’t classify as leg-work at the gym. There's an optional four-speed auto Ascent model, but from experience that model can be a bit lethargic.
The ownership credentials of the Yaris are good, too, including cheap servicing ($140 per visit for the first three years), though it does require servicing every six months or 10,000km. Toyota offers the industry-standard three-year, 100,000km warranty.
All in all, the updated Toyota Yaris Ascent is a great option for buyers who aren’t in the market to spend big money, but still want some big features.
Indeed, while there are better-equipped Yaris models out there, the base model is our pick of the bunch.