Toyota Yaris 2020
launch-review

2021 Toyota Yaris review: Petrol and hybrid

Australian first drive

Toyota has left the sub-$20,000 segment for the first time since it began selling cars here in 1959. Is the new Toyota Yaris worth the money?
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The starting price for the first new Toyota Yaris in almost a decade has risen by a more than $9000, and now costs from about $25,500 drive-away.

Until recently, that amount of money was enough to buy a brand-new Toyota Corolla, which is the next size up in hatchbacks.

According to our research, it’s the first time Toyota has not participated in the sub-$20,000 price range since it began selling cars in Australia in 1959.

The price rise is so dramatic, Toyota suggested buyers on a budget consider a used car if they can’t afford a new Yaris. I’ve never heard a car company make that suggestion before when trying to launch a new model.

Toyota has attributed much of the price rise to the extra cost of advanced safety technology and more stringent criteria to earn a five-star rating. However, all car brands face the same requirements.

There are other factors: two new three-cylinder engines, a completely new body structure (the DNA of the 2011 model can be traced to the 2005 version), and currency pressure against the weakening Australian dollar.

I also suspect there is an element of Toyota testing the market to see how much buyers will pay for a completely new model, especially as rivals such as the Mazda 2 also introduced sharp price rises following a recent facelift.

Reduced competition may also be a factor in Toyota’s pricing decision. A decade ago, there were almost two dozen choices in the city hatchback category (or Light Car class as the industry defines it).

Today, there are half as many cars in the Toyota Yaris class: the Holden Barina and Hyundai Accent are no more; the Ford Fiesta is out of the affordable end of the segment and sold as a hot hatch only; and Honda has announced it won’t replace the Jazz when this model reaches the end of the line.

2021 Toyota Yaris2021 Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Price (drive-away)From $25,500 to $33,700From $32,600 to $35,800
Servicing 12 months/15,000km$170 each for the first five visits$170 each for the first five visits
Warranty5 years/unimited kilometres5 years/unimited kilometres

Inflation has also played a part in the price rise, but not by as much as you might think.

The starting price of a 2021 Toyota Yaris manual is $22,130 plus on-road costs, which equates to about $25,500 drive-away, according to Toyota’s website (prices vary from state to state depending on stamp duty and registration fees).

The previous model started from $15,990 drive-away as a manual and $17,490 drive-away as an auto for the past two years.

The starting price of a Toyota Yaris in 2011 was $14,990 plus on-road costs, which equates to $17,383 before on-roads today based on the Reserve Bank’s inflation calculator.

If we wind back the clock even further, the starting price for the first-generation Toyota Yaris in 2005 was $14,490 plus on-road costs, which equates to $20,800 today based on the Reserve Bank’s inflation calculator. That's still a couple of thousand dollars less than the latest model's starting price, which the company attributes to the raft of new tech. Will customers buy that line, and the car?

Those in the car industry who defend the recent round of price rises say buyers have had the upper hand for the better part of the two decades, and we’ve been paying too little for new cars for too long.

Ultimately, however, customers will dictate the price. If customers don’t buy the new Yaris en masse, Toyota will be forced to reassess the price.

The Global Financial Crisis a decade ago led to a level of desperation and discounts not seen before in the new-car market. Then a prolonged era of favourable exchange rates helped keep prices down.

It would seem the halcyon days are over, for now at least, as almost every brand has started to boldly raise prices in the past six months – some by a small amount, and some by a substantial hike, as is the case here.

Will Australians finally start paying prices that are more in line with other countries? Contrary to perception, Australia is one of the cheapest countries in the world for cars priced below $40,000. It’s why we no longer have a local car manufacturing industry and why hatchbacks that cost less than $20,000 are disappearing.

The starting price of a 2021 Toyota Yaris automatic is about $27,000 drive-away according to the Toyota website. (Final prices may vary depending on registration fees, stamp duty and dealer delivery).

The range tops out at $35,800 drive-away for the flagship ZR version with hybrid power. The full list of price and specs for each model can be found here.

In essence, there are three model grades of the new Toyota Yaris: Ascent Sport (petrol only, manual or auto), SX (petrol auto or hybrid), and ZR (petrol auto or hybrid). Hybrid tech adds $1500 to the SX and ZR.

The top two model grades come with LED headlights, a fancy digital dash, and a sensor key with push-button start, but the base model gets halogen headlights, a turn-key ignition, and an analogue speedo dial.

All models come with eight airbags in total, including twin centre airbags (on the inboard cushion of both front seats) to better protect occupants in a side-impact crash.

All models also come with speed sign recognition, lane-tracing assistance, autonomous emergency braking with intersection assistance, reverse camera, and automatic high beam.

But only the top ZR grade comes with blind-zone warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking sensors. Given the price premium for all models, it is unfortunate Toyota has not shared this extra tech more widely, especially as it is increasingly standard on new models.

The new Toyota Yaris is also likely the newest and most expensive vehicle – other than workhorse utes – to have rear drum brakes.

There are two ISOFIX child seat mounting points in the back. The boot has a 270L capacity, which is less than the old model (286L) and more than the Mazda2 (250L). All models come with a skinny, space-saver spare wheel and tyre.

Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km, whichever comes first. The cost for routine maintenance is capped at $170 for each of the first five visits. Warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres.

2021 Toyota Yaris2021 Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Engine configurationThree-cylinder petrolThree-cylinder petrol
Displacement1.5L (1490cc)1.5L 1490cc)
Power88kW85kW
Torque145Nm141Nm
DriveFront-driveFront-drive
TransmissionCVT auto or 6-speed manualCVT auto
Fuel consumption (claimed average)4.9L/100km auto, 5.4L/100km manual3.3L/100km
Fuel tank size40L36L
Fuel type91 regular unleaded91 regular unleaded

On the road

This generation of Toyota Yaris is new from the tyres up, and the biggest change in philosophy and shape in 15 years.

The new platform has a bigger footprint for more sure-footed cornering and better comfort over bumps. It’s also slightly longer bumper-to-bumper than before, but the roof line is lower for a sleeker appearance.

The cabin is still roomy – for a city hatchback – but the base-model Ascent Sport conspicuously lacks upmarket technology, and comes with a basic instrument cluster rather than three digital screens in the SX and ZR grades.

We only sat in and crawled over the Ascent Sport, but we got to extensively test-drive a Toyota Yaris SX petrol and a ZR hybrid, clocking up 1000km across both models combined.

Both are powered by a three-cylinder engine, though one is paired to a hybrid drivetrain, and an electric motor helps it move from rest.

The 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine has an output of 88kW/145Nm, and when paired with a CVT automatic has a claimed fuel consumption average of 4.9L/100km based on laboratory tests.

The hybrid has a revised version of the 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine paired to an electric motor and battery for a combined output of 85kW/141Nm. The automatic-only hybrid has a claimed fuel consumption average of 3.3L/100km based on laboratory tests, making it one of the most fuel-efficient cars on sale in Australia. Both models can run on regular 91-octane unleaded.

On test, the hybrid briefly dipped to as low as 2.8L/100km in stop-start traffic, but over our 700km drive it averaged 4.3L/100km – about 30 per cent higher than the rating label figure.

On a 300km test drive in mostly inter-urban conditions, the petrol-only Toyota Yaris automatic returned an average of 5.2L/100km, which we thought was impressive, albeit six per cent worse than the rating label figure.

2021 Toyota Yaris2021 Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Length3940mm3940mm
Width1695mm1695mm
Height1505mm1505mm
Wheelbase2550mm2550mm
Ground clearance150mm150mm
Boot volume270L270L
Turning circle10.2 metres10.2 metres
Kerb weight1000kg to 1075kg1085kg to 1130kg
Wheels/tyres15-inch or 16-inch15-inch or 16-inch
Spare tyreSpace saverSpace saver
BrakesFront discs, rear drumsFront discs, rear drums

Refinement of both engine variants was surprisingly good. The trademark three-cylinder thrum was muted, and there was little to no vibration (or no worse than a four-cylinder in our experience).

The steering is well weighted and the suspension is quite supple over bumps. There is road roar from the tyres on coarse-chip surfaces at highway speeds, but otherwise the Yaris has acceptable levels of refinement. That said, although we are yet to test them back to back, a VW Polo would be quieter and more supple still.

Performance between the two Yaris engine options is similar, but surprisingly the hybrid is perkier than the petrol model. From the seat of the pants they feel like they have similar acceleration, so we put a stopwatch on them to be sure.

The Toyota Yaris hybrid stopped the clocks in the 0–100km/h test in 9.5 seconds, while the petrol-only model took 10.2 seconds to complete the same task.

Emergency braking performance was disappointing. Despite the Toyota Yaris being a light and nimble car, it has almost the same long braking distance as a two-tonne four-wheel-drive ute.

The fact that both models have inferior rear drum brakes could be one reason behind the long braking distance. The other is the low-friction tyres, which tend to lack grip.

On our precision GPS timing equipment, the non-hybrid Toyota Yaris pulled up from 100km/h to zero in 39.8m, while the hybrid variant stopped in 40.2m. The subtle difference is likely down to the hybrid variant carrying slightly more weight, and a different level of tyre grip between the two models. One had 15-inch, the other had 16-inch rubber.

Either way, 40 metres to stop in an emergency is not ideal for a car of this size and weight. Other cars in the city hatchback class can pull up in 36 to 38 metres. The new Toyota Yaris braking performance has a whiff of attempting to get away with the bare minimum rather than engineering the best possible outcome.

The good news is, the new Toyota Yaris is a thoroughly pleasant and (for a city hatchback) comfortable car to drive. It has the road manners of cars in the next class size up. Then again, it has the price to match.

VERDICT

The Toyota Yaris has evolved from a cheap and cheerful first or last car for many buyers, into a city hatch with European flair and an eye-watering price tag. The new Toyota Yaris may have found its mojo, but it also may lose buyers at this price.