Toyota rather rudely shocked Australian new-car buyers with the announcement of its better-equipped but markedly more expensive new Yaris.
While Toyota’s pre-launch information hinted at a sizeable step up in technology and safety equipment, few expected the price rise it would take to cover the cost of those inclusions.
With a starting price from $22,130 before on-road costs, the cheapest new 2021 Toyota Yaris, the Ascent Sport manual, is $6740 more expensive than the previous Yaris Ascent manual. Go auto-for-auto (given the relative scarcity of manual buyers) and the Ascent Sport automatic’s $23,630 kick-off sounds the death knell for cheap and cheerful Toyota runabouts.
Add in the value-intensive run-out deals on the old model before the new car arrived in showrooms and that gulf only widens. Even the previous base Yaris with Toyota Safety Sense lane keep and pedestrian detecting AEB only added $650 to the bottom line.
Above: The previous-generation Yaris Ascent.
At the top of the Yaris range, the Yaris ZR rather boldly asks for $30,100 with a petrol engine or $32,100 for the petrol-electric hybrid model. Check the full rundown of price and specs here.
While it’s the first time the Yaris has been offered in Australia as a hybrid, it’s not Toyota’s first play in the market. Previously the Prius C, itself broadly Yaris-based, was priced from $24,040 in entry trim or $25,540 for the pricier i-Tech when it stepped out in 2019.
Put that up against the Yaris SX hybrid from $29,020, and the gap isn’t quite so large. It’s still not small though either, with at least a $3480 hike between the cheapest Yaris hybrid and the most expensive Prius C.
A quick look back through history (and we’ll keep this auto-to-auto from here on, for the sake of simplicity) shows that the $23.5k mark could get you into a Corolla Ascent hatch as recently as 2018, or potentially a Corolla Ascent sedan right up to the end of 2019 (below).
The most expensive Yaris ZR hybrid even comes within spitting distance of something like a Toyota 86 GT – not that a Yaris hybrid buyer is likely to cross-shop the two.
Tellingly, the bigger brother – the Corolla hatch – is just $1765 more expensive in base-model Ascent Sport trim. Step up to the top spec ZR hybrid and the upsell does stretch out somewhat, with a $2595 step up.
Things get interesting when you start comparing specs. At 3940mm long, the Yaris is 435mm shorter than a Corolla, and that’s a pronounced difference. The new Yaris is 1695mm wide, or 95mm narrower than a Corolla – but, at 1505mm tall, it sits 70mm taller.
Height isn’t the only dimension where the Yaris out-stretches the Corolla, though. The boot of a Corolla measures just 217 litres when equipped with a full-size spare in Ascent Sport petrol. The Yaris trumps this with 270 litres, but only fits a temporary spare.
On the other hand, it’s possible to select a tyre-repair kit in place of a spare for the Corolla Ascent Sport to boost boot volume to 333 litres. You’ll get the same 333-litres in the ZR hybrid, which fits a repair kit as standard. All models of Yaris, regardless of powertrain come with a space-saving spare wheel, as do all Corolla models aside from the base petrol and flagship hybrid.
Under the bonnet, the Yaris runs a new 1.5-litre three-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine, while the Corolla uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol. Yaris is rated at 88kW and 145Nm, Corolla at 125kW and 200Nm.
Fuel consumption is a suggested 4.9 litres per 100km on the Yaris, while for the Corolla it’s 6.0L/100km.
Pitting the hybrids against each other, Yaris runs a variant of the 1.5-litre engine tuned for efficiency and rated to 85kW and 120Nm combined with a 3.3L/100km fuel claim. Corolla hatch uses a 1.8-litre four-cylinder with 90kW and 163Nm outputs and a 4.2L/100km fuel sticker.
Outside of Toyota’s own range is where the real competition ramps up. We’ll just forget about the hybrid Yaris for a moment here and focus on the petrol versions – as Toyota’s petrol-electric light car is somewhat unique in Australia for the moment.
This is by no means a full and comprehensive list of the alternatives available, but offers a little food for thought in terms of value.
We’ll take a look at two alternatives for each of the following: light cars that undercut the Yaris on price, cars on budget that deliver more performance, much larger cars you could get for the same spend, and finally urban SUV alternatives.
For the sake of simplicity, cars compared will be automatics, and prices will fall within the $23,360 - $30,100 window of the petrol Yaris range.
Starting with light cars, from the same segment. If a compact footprint and small dimensions are a must-have, could you get something similar for less? You can. For much less, in fact.
So far in 2020, the top-selling light car in Australia is the MG 3 hatch, which not only outsells the Yaris, but also undercuts it on price substantially.
The MG 3 is a little simpler, both in its range, which comes in just two models and is only available as an automatic, but also based on its technical specs – for instance, that auto is a four-speed unit rather than a newer six-speed, CVT or dual clutch transmission.
That’s undoubtedly less important for a car that’s likely to be confined to urban settings. Not only that, but it’s all the more forgivable, given the price. The MG 3 Core starts from $16,690 drive-away, the slightly more upscale Excite starts from $18,690 drive-away.
Under the bonnet, the naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine delivers 82kW and 150Nm, just a touch less power but a little more torque than the Yaris. Fuel consumption is rated at 6.7L/100km, or 1.8L/100km more.
Equipment looks good on the surface, with the Excite boasting 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, synthetic leather and tartan cloth seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, navigation, and Yamaha-branded six-speaker audio.
Cruise control, rear-view camera, and rear park sensors, auto headlights, LED running lights and climate control all pad out the MG 3 Excite’s spec sheet, and for a representative saving of over five grand compared to the Yaris Ascent Sport once on-road costs are added.
Even the MG’s 307-litre boot is bigger than the 270-litre Yaris, though the overall package list is a little longer too.
To balance things out a little, safety and driver assist technology isn’t a match for the new Yaris. Features like autonomous emergency braking are missing from the MG 3, not to mention lane centring, lane keep assist, intersection turn assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, and auto high beam – all of which are standard on all Yaris variants.
Just behind the Yaris on the sales charts is the Kia Rio, which has started to arrive in updated 2021 form. Although it isn’t as cost effective as the MG 3, the Rio S automatic starts from $19,990, via the $21,990 Rio Sport, and tops out with the $24,490 Rio GT-Line – all at drive-away prices.
Advanced safety such as autonomous emergency braking (with cyclist and pedestrian protection), lane-keeping assistance, and lane-follow assistance feature on Sport and GT-Line variants, but not the entry-level Rio S.
Engine options include a 1.4-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol engine on S and Sport, or a 1.0-litre three cylinder turbo of GT-Line. The 1.4 can’t quite match the Yaris with 74kW and 133Nm, likewise the 1.0 turbo has lower peak power but more torque with 74kW and 172Nm.
The atmo engine mates to a six-speed auto, while the turbo engine is tied to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fuel consumption is a little higher too at 5.4L/100km for the 1.0T and 6.2L100km for the 1.4L
The Rio also claims a boot space win with 325L of cargo capacity, while the key equipment highlight is a new 8.0-inch infotainment system including Android Auto and the still-rare wireless Apple CarPlay, not seen elsewhere in the segment.
Suzuki Swift Sport
If a little more driving fun is on the agenda, can you get a sporty hatch for Yaris money? You absolutely can.
The most logical option is the Suzuki Swift Sport. With lesser Swifts battling the Yaris in the mainstream market, the Swift Sport pops up as the wild-child in Suzuki’s range, for less money than the $30k Yaris ZR.
Under the bonnet is a 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder engine, mated to a six-speed automatic (but a manual is available too) from a cheerful $28,990 plus on-road costs.
The Swift Sport packs in sporty styling, firmed-up suspension, and a lower kerb weight than a top-self Yaris, to really drive home the sporty impact. It’s not lacking for substance either, with ZR-matching features like adaptive cruise control, AEB, blind spot monitoring.
The Swift flagship has a few aces up its sleeve like driver attention monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and 17-inch alloy wheels too, which the Yaris ZR lacks.
At 103kW and 230Nm, the 1.4T engine has the Yaris licked. At 265L the boot is smaller, but only just, and with an official 6.1L/100km fuel consumption sticker the Swift Sport can't quite match the frugal 4.9L/100km claim from Toyota.
Hyundai i30 N Line
Also on the agenda, the Hyundai i30 N Line. With a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine good for 150kW and 265Nm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, the i30 N Line just squeezes in at $60 less than a Yaris ZR.
For that, you get 18-inch alloys, a sports body kit, suspension set up for Aussie roads and driver preferences, and 395 litres of boot space.
More power is the main attraction, obviously, but being from the small car class, and larger than the light Yaris, the i30 has some real estate benefits.
At 4345mm long, the i30 N Line is 405mm longer than the Yaris, and with its 2650mm wheelbase has 100mm extra between the front and rear axles which should translate to more space inside for passengers.
Width is more generous too, at 1795mm – again 100 up on the Yaris, and again to the benefit of passenger room. Only the vehicle height is less, by 70mm with a 1435mm roof height for the i30, meaning you mightn’t quite match the head room inside the Yaris.
All that extra metal also means a heavier vehicle, and with a 1344kg kerb weight the i30 carries 269 extra kilograms around with it, compared to the heaviest Yaris at 1075kg. Both weight and performance take their toll on fuel economy too, with the i30’s 7.1L/100km rated 2.2L/100km more than the Yaris.
Still, grunt isn’t all the N Line has to offer, with pedestrian-detecting AEB, tyre pressure monitoring, driver attention warning, lane keep assist, and distance-keeping cruise control in its bag of tricks.
An 8.0-inch infotainment system houses factory navigation, smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android, and digital radio. Leather-appointed seat trim, rear air vents and an electric park brake are among features the Yaris misses, not to mention the available (extra cost) option of a panoramic sunroof which isn’t available from Toyota.
As if a small car crashing the Yaris party wasn't enough, two medium cars also hit the ground for less. If you’re looking to get the most car for your money, these next two might be the perfect fit.
A Skoda Octavia, with the current model in runout, starts from $29,390 in base Octavia 110TSI liftback form with a seven-speed automatic.
That gets you a much, much larger car, still with AEB, auto lights and wipers, 17-inch alloys, 8.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, plus 568-litres of boot space.
Skoda also likes to pack in unusual surprise-and-delight features, like a windscreen ticket holder, fold-away bag hooks, a lidded rubbish bin in the door pocket, and even an integrated umbrella holder – complete with umbrella. That’s all standard, by the way, and not out of the accessory catalogue.
Even Toyota’s own Camry Ascent crashes the Yaris party. There’s a 133kW/231Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine under the bonnet, distance-keeping cruise control, LED headlights and of course room for the whole family.
The Camry is bigger than the Octavia on the outside, and slightly cheaper too, from $28,990. That also makes it comfortably cheaper than the flagship Yaris, occupying the middle-ground between the Yaris SX and ZR.
Other equipment highlights include a 7.0-inch touchscreen with digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a CD player (if you still have those). It may be specified as a fleet special, and short on some of the more enticing features available higher up the range, but makes for a very interesting alternative for families who thought a second family car might mean going small.
Last, but by no means least, the ever-popular SUVs. It’s easy to see the attraction of a car that’s still compact on the outside, but with better forward visibility and a higher hip-point to make getting in and out easier.
Getting into an SUV for the same spend does mean going small, but it doesn’t mean going without. In fact, Australia’s favourite light SUV, the Mazda CX-3 Neo Sport starts from $24,710, the better equipped Maxx Sport can be yours from $26,650, or even the Maxx Sport with all-wheel drive checks in at $28,650.
Engine performance is respectable, with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder rated to 110kW and 195Nm. Consumption starts at 6.3L/100km for FWD models or 6.7L/100km for the AWD Maxx Sport, both utilising a six-speed automatic.
Admittedly, the CX-3 Neo Sport might be a little bare for some with 16-inch steel wheels and hubcaps, manual air-conditioning and a urethane steering wheel.
Standard features also include cruise control, a 7.0 inch touchscreen with digital radio (but features like navigation and smartphone mirroring need to be added at extra cost), an electric park brake, forward and reverse AEB, and push-button start.
If the urge to include a few extra bells and whistles is too compelling to ignore, the Maxx Sport includes 16-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and satellite navigation.
Also on the top-seller list, though a little larger in the small SUV class, rather than a light SUV, is the Mitsubishi ASX.
It tops its class, largely on the back of fleet sales, but still has plenty to offer private buyers. Pricing starts from a very approachable $25,990 for the base model ASX ES auto, but the boosted safety of the ES with optional ADAS package (advance driver assist systems) from $27,740 seems like the most sensible option.
Make no mistake, the ASX isn’t the freshest of vehicles, with this generation having first gone on sale in 2010. It represents huge value, though: the ASX ES ADAS has an ongoing $26,740 drive-away price, undercutting its own list price.
The ADAS pack in particular has some of what it takes to match the Yaris for safety equipment, with additions like lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rain-sensing wipers.
The basic ASX package also includes things like 18-inch alloy wheels, 8.0-inch infotainment with digital radio and smartphone mirroring, a leather wrapped steering wheel, cruise control (the non-adaptive kind), and single-zone climate control.
The ASX also boasts more interior space, a bigger 393-litre boot, a 2.0-litre engine with 110kW and 197Nm outputs – but fuel consumption of 7.6L/100km which isn’t as lean the smaller, lighter Yaris.
There’s plenty of other options in the sub-$30,000 space too, of course. These are just some of the most popular.
Let us know in the comments if there’s anything you’d prioritise over the new Yaris – or if the technology, features and packaging of Toyota’s new light car have you interested, regardless of price.