Ryan Bubear finally gets to put the Toyota Yaris 1.3 XS five-door hatch through its paces...
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"Chief! Hey, chief! I don't like the Yaris, but I love that colour!"
These were the words directed at me by a chatty fellow motorist as we sat in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour one afternoon last week. I didn't have a chance to ask him about the reasons behind his aversion to the latest Yaris hatch, but I'm guessing he simply wasn't a Toyota fan.
You see, the Toyota brand has a strong following in South Africa, and therefore it has a number of staunch critics too (for example, die-hard VW fans, which my traffic comrade may well have been, seeing that he was driving a Polo). Detractors must concede, though, that the third-generation Yaris comes across as more of a "grown-up" than its predecessor. With a bit of a grown-up B-segment pricetag to match, though...
Now that the cheap-but-solid Etios has arrived to fulfil the entry-level role in the Toyota SA line-up, the Yaris no longer has to pretend to be something it is not (the tiny Aygo didn't really suit this role either). No longer will it have to compete directly against the likes of the VW Polo Vivo and the Ford Figo, and no longer will it be viewed as the brand's budget-beater.
13 new hatch derivatives
That being said, the Yaris range is rather comprehensive (a hybrid version is on the way too). There are 13 hatch derivatives in total, in addition to the five not-yet-restyled Yaris Zen sedans. The new line-up features two engines across three trim levels, with either five doors or three, and prices range from about R125 000 all the way past the psychologically scary R200k-mark.
We had the Yaris 1.3 XS five-door on test. This all-new 1.3-litre petrol engine puts out a respectable 73kW and 125Nm, and sees the little hatch hit 100km/h in 11.7 seconds. More important though, is the claimed fuel consumption figure of 5.6 litres per 100km. During our test period — which involved a fair mix of driving conditions — we managed a figure of about 6.6 litres per 100km. Not too far off then, considering our heavy right foot and rigorous testing procedures.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the manual gearbox mated to this four-cylinder engine contained six forward gears. Kudos to Toyota for adding the extra cog, which when used correctly, can make a marked difference to fuel consumption and highway cruising noise levels. The six-speed 'box also benefits from a delightfully short gear lever throw, lending it an almost sporty feel, as well as a gear shift indicator to help the driver get as close to that claimed fuel economy figure as possible.
For the record, the Yaris is also available with the 51kW three-cylinder 1-litre lump carried over from the previous generation. This, of course, has to make do with a five-speed manual gearbox, and has a claimed consumption figure of 5.1 litres per 100km.
Surprisingly fun to drive
Back to our test model... The steering is typically light and responsive, making the Yaris nimble around town, and the ride is pretty much what one would expect from a compact hatch. While it is by no means sporty, there is a certain enjoyment to be found in thrashing the perky four-cylinder and chucking this lightweight around corners.
So, what's changed aesthetically from the second-generation Yaris? Well, the new model bears Toyota's latest family face, which is built around an automotive "smile". The rear side windows have been enlarged, the A-pillar shifted forward, and the windscreen more steeply raked — all of which do only good things for visibility. The wheelbase has grown by 50mm, but the overhangs are now shorter. Chuck in a few choice curves, and you have an all-new Yaris. Toyota reckons that this latest exterior design will "increase its appeal to young male drivers". It may be more masculine, but it's more mature too.
Inside, much of the instrument cluster has been given the analogue treatment, and the clocks all have a simple, clean feel to them. The redesigned front seats are comfortable, and their new shape means there's more room for long-legged passengers in the back too. The gun metal and chrome detailing in the cabin is a nice touch, but some of the plastics used aren't particularly great to look at, and detract from what is otherwise a rather pleasant place to spend a journey.
The base Xi models come standard with colour-coded bumpers, rear fog lamps, tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment, remote central locking, six-speaker sound system with radio/CD player (with AUX, USB and iPod), audio controls on the steering wheel and a multi-information display. Air conditioning is available as an option, but will set you back over R10k. Ouch.
Our XS model had all that plus 15-inch alloy wheels, colour-coded mirrors and door handles, chrome garnish strips, chrome interior door handles, air conditioning and front power windows. The range-topping XR is packed to the rafters with additional kit, such as front foglamps, tinted windows, climate control, touch-screen audio system, Bluetooth, leather gear lever and steering wheel, and rear power windows. XR models in 1.3 guise get rain sensors, auto headlamps, electrochromatic rear view mirror, smoked headlamps, rear spoiler, chromed fog lamp surrounds, sports steering wheel and gearshift lever and an eight-speaker sound system too. The 1.3 XR three-door boasts a panoramic glass moonroof as well. Not the sort of tech you'd expect to find on a Yaris...
So, while Toyota may have taken a bit of heat for its pricing of the Yaris, models towards the top of the trim spectrum certainly have more-than-just-decent specification levels. And while a month ago we would have advised you to go for a base Yaris, the cheaper Etios now seems a better option, and is likely to pinch a few sales from its older sibling.
Where does that leave you? Well, if you're determined to get a Yaris, the wide range means there's certainly something to suit most pockets. Personally, we'd rather have an Etios with a 1.5-litre heart than the three-cylinder 1.0-litre Yaris. But the 1.3 Yaris in mid-range trim makes the most sense, giving the buyer a decent mix of grunt, style, comfort and affordability.
Oh, and selecting the right colour can make all the difference too. According to my VW Polo pal, "Lava Red Metallic" is the way to go.
Follow @Ryan_Bubear on Twitter to see what he's currently driving.
See page 2 for specs and pricing.