Toyota refreshes its small wonder, the Yaris Hatchback SE+.
Toyota gives its popular hatch a comprehensive overhaul but misses an opportunity to make it the best small car on the market, says wheels’ Sony Thomas
Toyota is one of the very few carmakers in the world that can afford to be big-headed about its phenomenal sales figures. You can see this haughtiness very well in our market, where it sells cars with considerably fewer features than elsewhere, smug in the knowledge that people will still keep flocking to its showrooms.
However, thankfully complacency has not seeped into the frequency with which models are updated. In fact, Toyota in the Middle East has been vigorously refreshing most of its models; the all-new Yaris launched here a few weeks ago replaces a model that’s just over two years old.
Launched in 1999 globally and in 2005 regionally, the Yaris has been one of the most successful small cars in the world, and it has kept the sales tills ringing for Toyota with its reputation for bullet-proof reliability, fuel efficiency, low maintenance costs and high residual values. While the first-generation car divided opinion with its bug-like looks and the centremounted instrument cluster, the second-gen was more of an all-rounder that offended no one.
It impressed us with its ride and handling compared to its predecessor, winning wheels’ Best Small Car of the Year award in 2011. The all-new 2015 hatchback seeks to further improve upon these credentials, which helped Yaris own 19 per cent of the UAE’s small car market, and first impressions are that it has.
It’s a positive improvement in the looks department. Boasting a new trapezoidal grille that seems to have taken inspiration from Lexus’s spindle grille, the new Yaris looks bolder and more muscular than the current model. No design element is carried over from the previous model, and the redesigned headlamp cluster, a more distinct profile and the restyled rear lend a tinge of athleticism to the car’s
It’s easier for a buyer seeking driving fun to find it in this car than in the previous versions
previously bland looks. And it’s grown substantially in dimensions with overall length of 4,115mm and a 40mm-longer wheelbase, taking it closer to Nissan Tiida territory in size.
The cabin is completely different from the last model’s but those who’ve seen the new Yaris Sedan will know that it’s the same as the four-door’s. Although the dashboard and the door cards are all made of hard plastics, nothing feels cheap in the cabin, and the moulded stitch design gives it a slightly more upmarket look.
And thanks to the longer wheelbase, close to 50mm of extra room is available in the cabin, which now offers an impressive 663mm of rear legroom. Also, the flat floor design at the rear makes it easier to accommodate a third passenger in the middle seat. However, compared to the first-gen Yaris, there are very few storage compartments and pockets in here.
Although this has been a comprehensive update with significant changes in exterior and interior styling as well as dimensions, Toyota has missed an opportunity to revamp the aging powertrain.
Power comes from the same old 1.5-litre and 1.3-litre four-pots, mated to the same old rudimentary fourspeed automatic. While the 107bhp 1.5-litre powering my SE+ test car is smooth and refined once settled into mid-range highway speeds as well as lowspeed city drives, it vocally begs for a cog more when sudden acceleration is called for. But having said that, I must also point out that this engine is more than enough, to all intents and purposes, for an average Yaris customer.
It’s also easier for a buyer who looks for driving fun to find it in this car than in the previous versions of the Yaris. The new electric power steering and the newly developed front suspension have definitely paid dividends as this car feels more poised and agile than its predecessor around corners, with a steadier highway ride than before.
In SE+ guise, the Yaris gets automatic air-conditioning, keyless entry and push-button start, a six-speaker music system (but it’s not great), split-folding rear seat and projector headlights.
Features like ABS, EBD and brake assist are part of the standard safety features, but Toyota has stuck to its policy of offering just two front airbags across all trim levels here, while Yaris customers in other markets get up to nine airbags. So if a salesman in the UAE tells you it’s a five-star safety rated car, it’s not.
While the new Yaris is an overall improvement, I wish Toyota had used this opportunity to break the shell of self-satisfaction it seems to be cocooned in and show it’s interested in its customers’ safety as much as it is in their money. If it did, the new Yaris would have been the best small car available in this market.