I had one simple and straightforward question about the new Toyota Yaris. And I got my answer early in the course of country and town drives in its new frame. The question was: should I buy the petrol version I tested, which has recently gone on sale, or should I wait and go for the new-gen 1.5 hybrid version?
It might seem like a no-brainer given the Government push for an ‘electrified’ future (Toyota claims their hybrids ‘charge on the move’ — to the anger and distraction of some competitors). But was it a such a simple decision?
First, a little bit about the car. It’s brand new, claimed to be the world’s safest compact car and has been redesigned inside and out. The fact that it is one of the first of the brand’s small cars to be built on the new GA-B platform is important because I noticed an improvement in driving and suspension dynamics.
Not that performance per se should be a concern for most people who drive a mainstream supermini of this nature. But with a lower centre of gravity and improved body rigidity, there has been a notable uplift in that area.
The abiding sense as soon as I sat in was of a much bigger cabin. So much so that it felt like a mini-SUV or people carrier.
The design contrives to create exceptional visibility front and back. I wish some of the people who make small SUVs would take a look at how Toyota has managed to let all that light in.
Other little things help in other ways: the steering wheel, for example, is smaller for easier viewing of the dials (no, not as extreme or effective as Peugeot’s mini version, but helpful nonetheless). By way of sharp contrast, the look on the outside is one of a tidy, low-slung, short car with sharp styling lines dovetailing into a smart front while rising to a strong, chunkier rear. All of which embraces the roomy cabin and a reasonably sized boot. One simple screen dominates the fresh-looking dash; it basically co-ordinates nearly everything — though I’m delighted they left a few buttons for things like radio volume.
There is, however, a bit of button clutter on the steering wheel, whose functions took a while to get used to. I happen to think levels of safety are often taken for granted in the push to win the infotainment battle in new cars.
In the case of the new Yaris, there’s an array of elements that warn, highlight and intervene in the case of danger or emergency.
The brand’s Safety Sense package includes advanced driver assistance systems such as emergency steering assist and intersection turn assistance. The pre-collision system can now detect pedestrians not only by day but by night — and cyclists in the daytime. The Yaris is also the first Toyota to have centre airbags. These help prevent the driver and front-seat passenger from colliding with each other in the event of a side impact. All vital aids in reducing injury or worse.
Powering my test version was a 1-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine (a 1.5-litre works the new hybrid model). My verdict on the 1-litre is divided. Around town it was grand, with the emphasis more on it being a comfortable drive. I was thankful for the great visibility.
Once on a long drive to Wexford, however, I noticed it struggled in fifth gear under the threat of any kind of pressure for acceleration.
Believe me, I wasn’t trying to push it hard, but I had to change down to fourth a few times and was surprised at having to do so to even slowly pick up speed. I did make allowances for the fact that it was a new car and things can take time to bed in. Most people won’t want any more power than this offers. There is a 1.5-litre petrol, 125hp non-hybrid model, though, and that might do the trick for those travelling longer open-road distances.
The imminent hybrid version is likely to cost more — and that adds further weight to the argument, such as it is, of buying a ‘pure petrol’ model.
On the other hand, however, I know people who switched from the outgoing hybrid to the previous generation petrol and can’t wait to get back into the former. It just drove better.
Be that as it may for others, I have no doubt from my stint in the 1-litre that I got my answer straight and true.
I’d hold on for what looks like being an excellent hybrid regardless.
Facts & Figures
Toyota Yaris hatchback: Range from €18,595. Luna Sport, on test, from €20,890; 3cyl, 72hp, 1-litre petrol engine; 5.6litres/100km, 125g/km (WLTP), 5spd manual. Spec includes spread of driver, vehicle safety assists, 16in wheels (entry level Aura has 15in), front fogs, 8in touchscreen, reversing camera, six speakers, air con, electric windows, automatic high beam, automatic wipers.