Wheels (Australia)

Toyota Yaris



”Pushes the safety envelope for the segment ... and the tech envelope with the hybrid” ALEX INWODD

THE YARIS has grown so sophistica­ted it sparked a philosophi­cal debate about pricing versus value.

Just in case you missed the big news, the base grade now costs $7000 more than before at $22,130, while the flagship ZR is now nearly $10K heavier on your wallet.

Buyers are already voting with their feet. By the end of

2020, sales had halved. Toyota’s response is that – with Yaris adopting the Corolla’s TNGA platform technologi­es for dramatic advances between the third and fourth generation­s – price hikes are unavoidabl­e.

From a COTY perspectiv­e, surely this would kill it on value grounds alone? Even a new Volkswagen Polo or Suzuki Swift cost $3K less. Time to dig a little deeper.

Yes, Yaris is now substantia­lly more expensive. Adjusted for inflation, the Ascent Sport costs $3300 more than the then-new third-gen five-door equivalent did in 2011.

Yet, besides being usefully roomier, today’s model brings eight airbags (including a segment-first front-row centre SRS), AEB with pedestrian/cyclist detection, secondary collision braking, adaptive cruise, auto high beam, road-sign recognitio­n, active lane-keep and cornering, a central touchscree­n with reverse camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and digital radio. Specify a Polo accordingl­y and watch its pricing lead go poof!

The reality is, no new car democratis­es so much safety and technology. That’s three COTY criteria ticked off.

Then there’s efficiency, thanks to the Yaris’s two all-new powertrain choices, both provided by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine, available in 88kW/145Nm (Ascent Sport) or 85kW/120Nm (ZR Hybrid) guises.

Whether via a natty six-speed manual or unobtrusiv­e continuous­ly variable transmissi­on (CVT), this unit is a real cracker, with a willing, unburstabl­e nature to its power delivery that never lets up, resulting in smooth, flexible performanc­e. In Sport mode, the CVT even steps off the line like a normal torque-converter auto, and can achieve a pleasing 4.9L/100km.

Yet the $2000 optional (starting in mid-level SX from $29,020) hybrid alternativ­e manages a spectacula­r 3.3L/100km, while also ushering in a creamy, muscular, electrifie­d torque boost in the process. Reliabilit­y and durability, long brand strengths, can probably be assumed here, but from a driving perspectiv­e, the Yaris/Echo/ Starlet lines have fell short at times, especially for refinement.

The good news is that the latest Yaris chassis far exceeds its modest engine outputs. Linear, well-weighted steering makes the most of the agile yet secure handling, resulting in an endlessly chuckable supermini. In sudden-avoidance manoeuvres, there’s a new-found fluency to the chassis, backed up by a decent level of suspension absorption. Finally, there’s something for keener drivers to sink their teeth into.

In contrast, the 55kg-heavier Hybrid isn’t as dynamic, but it is noticeably quieter. Our Ascent Sport sounded hollow (but never tinny) over gravel – but then, at 1050kg, it is light, even by citycar standards. Both are leagues ahead of the noisy old Yaris.

Finally, the smallest Toyota aces functional­ity, thanks to a comparativ­ely spacious cabin offering comfy (if somewhat too lofty for taller folk) seating, and featuring an attractive­ly styled dash that’s on a par with current Euro alternativ­es. The instrument­ation looks swish, too.

That the boot capacity actually exceeds big-bro Corolla hatchback’s is a bonus, but it’s far from being the class champ here. And while we’re nit-picking, the base hubcaps are disgracefu­l, rear-seat ambience falls short of the ZR Hybrid’s $32,100 ask, more sound-deadening wouldn’t go astray and the ESC gravel calibratio­n borders on paranoia.

Despite us seeing its intrinsic value, many buyers can’t or won’t, and – feeling betrayed – will instead ignore Toyota’s bestever light car because of inaccessib­le pricing.

Perhaps true democratis­ation can only occur if something’s actually in reach of all, and that’s quite a rare misstep for Australia’s number one carmaker.

Cultivated as it now is, this is why the Yaris cannot quite make it over the line to claim a COTY crown.

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 ??  ?? Variants tested Ascent Sport CVT, ZR Hybrid, GR As-tested prices $24,130, $33,050, $50,000 Warranty 5-year unlimited km
Variants tested Ascent Sport CVT, ZR Hybrid, GR As-tested prices $24,130, $33,050, $50,000 Warranty 5-year unlimited km

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