Can’t really sugarcoat it, can you? If you’re in the market for a new light car, or city runabout, they’re not all as cheap as they once were.
Everything creeps up over time, but in the case of the 2020 Toyota Yaris range, that creep-up happened almost overnight, as the cheap and cheerful previous generation made way for this all-new car.
At least those 'all-new' claims really are valid. The platform the Yaris is built on, the engines, the transmissions, the interior fit-out, and the styling are appearing for the first time on the Yaris – or even, in some cases, for Toyota as a whole.
That has to be worth something, right? In a segment that stretches from a little under $17K drive-away for something like an MG 3, the new Toyota Yaris has its work cut out justifying its value.
The cheapest in the range starts from $22,130 before on-road costs. That’s the Yaris Ascent Sport manual. Step up to the auto-only mid-grade SX and the price is $27,020, compared to the 2019 Yaris SX auto at $7410 less, before run-out offers.
Opt for the available hybrid engine and it rises higher still to $29,020. That’s the version shown here, which also adds $500 for the Atomic Rush metallic paint shown, bringing the tally to $29,520 plus on-roads, or around $33K on the road in most states.
For the Yaris in Australia, hybrid power is available for the first time, though it's been available overseas before. Meanwhile, Toyota has offered the similar-sized Prius C previously, so this car steps in for that one.
Compared to a flagship Prius C iTech, the new 2020 Toyota Yaris SX Hybrid is still more expensive, but the $2480 step seems at least a little more realistic.
|2020 Toyota Yaris SX Hybrid|
|Engine||1.5-litre naturally aspirated, three-cylinder, petrol-electric hybrid|
|Power and torque||67kW at 5500rpm, 120Nm at 3800–4800rpm (petrol), 59kW, 141Nm (electric), 85kW total system output|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined (ADR)||3.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||3.5L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||270L / not supplied|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5 stars (2020)|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mazda 2, Volkswagen Polo, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Corolla|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$29,520 ($500 metallic paint)|
The hybrid powertrain – which promises to lower fuel consumption by combining a traditional petrol engine with electric assistance that charges as you drive – is unique in the segment.
The system isn’t really any more powerful than other cars in the class. The 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine is tuned to minimise consumption and produces 67kW and 120Nm on its own; however, the 59kW/141Nm electric motor assists and results in a combined 85kW total system output (no combined torque number is given). Drive is channelled through an e-CVT to blend inputs from the two different power sources and direct them to the front wheels.
That’s pretty close to the ‘regular' petrol Yaris with 88kW and 145Nm, and slots in alongside the 1.5-litre four-cylinder Mazda 2 GT with 82kW and 144Nm from $25,990, or the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo Volkswagen Polo Style with 85kW but a superior 200Nm from $25,690.
How does that translate in the real world? Well, surprisingly well. The Yaris could be the most fully realised of Toyota’s hybrid vehicles yet.
Its lower weight means it can use the electric motor without petrol assistance up to higher speeds than a Corolla or Camry can. It’ll even shut down the petrol engine at steady-state high-speed cruising – 100km/h with the EV status light showing is no problem.
It’ll even pull up car park ramps and steep driveways, or build speed on the open road, without always needing to add petrol assistance. That’s impressive, and shows system capabilities the bigger, heavier Toyota hybrid models haven’t mastered yet.
It’s rare to match a manufacturer’s fuel consumption claims, but Toyota’s suggested 3.3L/100km on the combined cycle was exactly what this little Yaris managed. Using the Power drive mode and being aggressive with the throttle in busy traffic did have an impact, though – pushing consumption up, barely, to a 3.5L/100km average.
By comparison, the regular Yaris uses a claimed 4.9L/100km, a Mazda 2 claims 5.3L/100km, and a Suzuki Swift GLX is rated at 5.1L/100km (but also requires premium unleaded). In percentage terms, the Yaris hybrid impresses, using almost 33 per cent less fuel than its petrol equivalent. In raw cost savings, the hybrid premium would take a long time to buy back in savings.
If you drive 10,000km per year, and pay between $1.20 and $1.40 per litre for fuel, you’d save between $192 and $224 per year, taking roughly 10 years before you broke even (and, obviously, this may vary depending on your particular situation).
The on-road experience is nice and quiet around town, the petrol engine usually doesn’t kick in until over 30km/h in most conditions, and the electric whine of older hybrids has been dulled right down.
In gentle driving, the engine start-up can be almost imperceptible. A few times a glance at the instruments was required to see what was doing the work.
If you’re chasing more speed, though, the engine does get raucous, and can flick from resting to running at high RPM as you zoom onto a freeway on-ramp, spoiling the serenity.
The other aspect dulling the Yaris’s shine is a tendency to shudder and boom over some road surfaces, despite an all-new, more rigid structure.
Toyota hasn't fully stamped out tyre noise at highway speeds – blame the eco-oriented Dunlop Enasave EC300+ tyres for this, and for a lack of wet-weather grip. Nor has wind noise been fully arrested, with no shortage of white noise curling around the driver's door glass.
Under the skin, the Yaris uses one of the Toyota New Global Architecture platforms (GA-B, in this instance) that have delivered significant improvements to the dynamics, handling and refinement of cars like the Corolla (GA-C) and RAV4 (GA-K). In the Yaris, the transformation isn’t quite as apparent.
It’s definitely improved on the road compared to the car it replaces, but it’s a step ahead, not the leap it could have been. It might be the rear axle – a simpler torsion beam set-up – compared to the more sophisticated multi-link Corolla, but it's just as likely a series of changes designed to keep production costs for the smaller car down.
There are no roaring disappointments. It’s just that the steering isn’t as playful as a Mazda 2 or Suzuki Swift, and the suspension isn’t as agile as a Volkswagen Polo. Refinement is mostly decent, though, and averaged out, the Yaris hybrid is still thoroughly impressive.
It’s super light and breezy to park. There’s no hesitation about low-speed three-point turns, the rear-view camera is clear, and even without park sensors, the car’s dimensions are easy to manage.
The same goes for the interior. Perhaps not the best in class, but certainly more modern-feeling than Mazda’s, more substantial than Suzuki’s, and more practical than Volkswagen’s.
Receptacles aplenty in the dash surface mean the driver and passenger have space for phones and wallets to rest. The design really spoke to my preference to drive without things in my jeans pockets (odd quirk, I know).
Bafflingly, Toyota has overlooked lidded storage. There’s no centre armrest or lidded console, so if you keep change or small items on hand and want to store them out of sight, you’ll have to lean over to the glovebox. A lidded centre console is a basic inclusion that shouldn’t be missing for the money.
On the other hand, placing the window switches up on a pod above the door pull and door release handle is a stroke of genius. It preserves width down low and makes them super easy to reach.
It’s hard not to like the space that’s on offer. The Yaris remains compact on the outside, but with a tall roof feels roomy inside. There’s decent head, shoulder, and leg room for the front seats, and the driving position strikes a nicely balanced natural sitting position without feeling either too low, too high, or too cramped.
The back seat is surprising. Again, the tall roof helps head room, and the way the front seats are mounted means there’s stacks of room for feet. Knee room is the tightest measure, and yet it feels like as much (if not more) room to move as a Corolla.
At the rear there’s up to 270L of storage with a dual-layer floor, and 60-40 folding rear seats if you need to pack in bigger, bulkier items. The boot space isn’t world-beating, but it’s a useful space for the segment. My one wish would be a better bag hook instead of the barely useful one cut into the boot wall that every single bag I tried slid off of.
Standard equipment is strong, but still not segment-besting, with the SX featuring things like keyless entry and start, single-zone climate control, LED headlights with auto-on and auto high beam, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, rear privacy tint, LCD digital instruments flanking a 4.2-inch colour info display, auto-folding mirrors, 7.0-inch infotainment with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and digital radio, cloth seat trim, and 15-inch alloy wheels.
The interior design is nice enough. The dark charcoal and black trim of the SX is nicer, and sure to look newer for longer, than the pale grey seats in the more expensive ZR.
There are reminders that Toyota has cut corners, though. Little things like no auto or variable intermittent wipers, and body paint showing around the rear window instead of a plastic-trimmed panel (fine on dark colours but distracting if you opt for any of the more lurid paint shades). Big things, too, like rear drum brakes and manual handbrake – not deal-breakers, but not in keeping with the new premium positioning.
On the safety front, Toyota leads the way in its class for now, with unique features like a centre airbag to prevent front-seat occupants from striking each other in a side collision, and advanced AEB that combines vehicle and pedestrian detection at intersections to prevent turning into harm’s way.
That’s on top of road sign assist, lane-trace assist (lane centring), eight airbags in total, secondary collision brake, and all-speed active cruise control (as listed in the spec, on test the vehicle we had cruise cancelled at below 20km/h, though), and the usual straight-line, high- and low-speed AEB functions with pedestrian and cyclist detection.
If you were to opt for the more expensive ZR model, you’d also get front and rear park sensors, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert on top.
Toyota’s standard warranty runs to five years with no kilometre limit for private buyers (or 160,000km for commercial use). On top of that, the engine and hybrid driveline (excluding battery) are subject to two additional years when serviced to the logbook standard, while the hybrid battery can be covered for up to five more years subject to an annual battery health check at a dealer.
Services, under Toyota’s capped-price program, are at 12-month or 15,000km intervals and cost $195 each for the first five visits.
Without a doubt, the slick hybrid system, improved interior design and ergonomics, and improved road manners make this generation the best Yaris Toyota has ever made. Whereas previously the Yaris trailled some of the best in class, largely due to its age, this fresh Yaris is as good as any other city car in Australia.
Except, it isn’t. Pricing now steps it out of the league of thrifty buyers. The segment’s seen rises, but none so dramatic as Toyota’s. The new technology and safety specifications are welcomed, but the Yaris is now so close to an equivalent Corolla that a few-dollars-a-week difference on finance is all it takes to upgrade.
That certainly makes the Corolla look like sharper value, but for first-car buyers or those with budget limitations, a Yaris is probably out of the running. Toyota disingenuously suggests those buyers can pick a used car from its approved pre-owned program, but the reality is they’ll be more likely chatting to a Kia, Suzuki or MG dealer instead.
Life for the little Yaris is harder than it’s ever been. Price now counts against it, and while Toyota hasn’t always been the cheapest, it has long had a firm grasp on decent value.
The market is a little cloudier now, too, with pint-sized crossover SUVs like the Hyundai Venue and Toyota’s own Yaris Cross providing viable alternatives for buyers unsure if a compact hatch is the right move.
It’s such a shame that the best Yaris yet, with Toyota’s frugal hybrid technology included, is the one least likely to find homes with private buyers – and no doubt falling off the lists of fleet buyers looking to cap costs.
Worse still, dealer stock is low, and without cars crowding forecourts, sharp deals may be a while coming. The Yaris SX Hybrid would absolutely be worth buying once those deals trickle in. Right now, though, there’s better value elsewhere.