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

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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.

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