This car, or the Toyota Yaris as an overall model, was very nearly the 2021 Wheels Car of the Year. So, as you can imagine, your reviewer here went into a week of test driving the lower-spec of the two Yaris Hybrid variants (the higher is the ZR) with high expectations.
Those expectations were pumped up by two other factors, one being that the hybrid present at COTY was the top-spec ZR Hybrid. The other is that the Toyota Yaris SX Hybrid wears a comparatively bloated price tag of $29,020, almost the same as the larger Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid ($30,785).
In fact, it’s not even Toyota’s cheapest hybrid – the Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid is almost $2000 cheaper. And the Yaris Hybrid is certainly more expensive than many of its compact hatch ‘rivals’. Any VW Polo bar the GTI is cheaper than the Yaris SX Hybrid. If that’s arousing suspicion, there’s a little more to the Yaris once you dig a little deeper.
It’s very expensive for the light car segment, especially from a brand known for its value and affordable entry-level variants. But the Toyota Yaris has also taken a big step up since its last generation and Toyota says its value for money remains. Before we get to the driving, let’s consider what you get for your dosh.
Mechanically, the hybrid Yaris drivetrain is the same no matter the variant: a combined 85kW output from a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and a lithium-ion battery, driving the front wheels via an electrically integrated e-CVT gearbox. It has three drive modes (Normal, Eco, and Power) and can also be used in full EV mode, though this relies on sufficient charge in the battery and gentle acceleration from the driver.
Visually, there’s not a lot to distinguish the SX from the Ascent Sport inside – the 7.0-inch touchscreen and much of the material (bar the leather on the steering wheel) is the same, though the SX does gain a nicer horizontal version of the 4.2-inch multi-info display on the instrument panel.
The central touchscreen does gain satnav though, with a speed limit display and warning. The air-conditioning also gets an auto option, while keyless entry adds another layer of convenience, and the ignition button replaces the key-based barrel.
From the outside, it’s a little clearer with 15-inch alloys replacing the steel wheels from the Ascent Sport, plus privacy glass on the rear windows, and LED lights all around.
Standard on the Yaris, regardless of spec, are a few neat additions such as Toyota’s Active Cornering Assist, which uses the front brakes to quell understeer, as well as a ‘two-deck’ boot floor that can be adjusted for extra room. Toyota says space in the boot, with rear seats up, is 270 litres. The boot is actually more spacious than the larger Corolla. Win.
The safety suite for the Yaris also remains the same across all variants, with a total of eight airbags: one each for the driver and front passenger, two front-centre, two front-side, and two curtain airbags.
It also has a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and cyclist detection during daylight hours. Road sign assist, lane and steering assist and auto high beam are also joined by the standards such as ABS and a basic reversing camera. There are also outboard ISOFIX anchors in the rear seats with three upper tethers.
Something that needs to be stressed about the Yaris is just how packed with features it is for what was once a very affordable compact hatch. If you take one of the Yaris’ competitors and option it up to the same level, you can expect to be paying more anyway. But even then, from the driver’s seat of the Yaris, it doesn’t quite look like $30,000.
Despite plenty of functionality and tech, the materials in the Yaris and its relatively plain design (bar some elements like the organic-shaped door trim) make it still feel a little ‘cheap’. Still, it’s a spacious and comfortable place to be for the front passengers, with fairly straightforward but supportive seats, and places to put drinks in the centre console or a 1.5-litre bottle in the door storage.
There’s also a USB plug under the climate controls, which lets you use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to bypass Toyota’s own infotainment system if you wish.
Once you get moving in the Yaris, its price hike starts to make sense. Really. The platform underneath the newest Yaris is a version of Toyota’s TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), different versions of which have all brought other Toyota products up to a new standard of driveability and comfort (see Corolla and RAV4). The Yaris is no different. If you’ve ever driven an older-gen Yaris, you’ll know that it’s fine as a commuter, and it gets the job done, but the current Yaris is much more than that.
Coupled with a hybrid drivetrain that’s a clear product of many years of refinement from Toyota, the Yaris quickly becomes one of the best all-round compact cars available. Firstly, Toyota’s combined fuel consumption claim of 3.3L/100km seems genuinely achievable… if you were to drive incredibly gently, something the Yaris can do well.
The Yaris’s electric torque and smooth CVT allow for traffic light take-offs that left passengers commenting on how comfortable and smooth the ride felt during our stint with the SX Hybrid. The back seat, however, isn’t a place for adults to spend any extended amount of time. There’s enough room to sit relatively comfortably, but not much space to stretch, and over a longer trip the rear seat would feel cramped for most.
Sans passengers, however, the Yaris can actually prove quite a lively companion on a back-road blast. The TNGA chassis, with steering that’s well-weighted and lively without being unruly, plus suspension that soaks up bumps, holds a cornering line in a manner you’d imagine from a much more driver-focused hatch. It’s clear there’s talent in the TNGA platform, and it comes out in a character that’s both playful but sturdy.
Worried about understeer? The Active Cornering Assist does a fine job of avoiding that, while the combination of instant electric torque and an engine that is most powerful when revving high means that acceleration out of a corner is consistent. Of course, its low power figure means you can’t expect to be rocketing out of a tight bend, but the Yaris does hold speed through curves surprisingly well.
Is the Yaris by any means a hot hatch? No, not unless you find yourself able to buy one with a GR badge on the back, but it is definitely a car that keen drivers can enjoy.
It’s also definitely no longer the budget option for small city cars, though there are other options if you really just need a small car to get around in (the Kia Picanto, for example, is about half the price). But they’re not as packed with tech or as refined as the Yaris and if you want something that ticks those boxes, your other options are European, and then you’ll be the one ticking boxes. On an options list.
Pros Comfortable, smooth, and fun; loaded with tech; hybrid drivetrain savings
Cons Pricey! Interior still not quite ‘Euro-nice’; back seats are tight for adults
Toyota Yaris SX Hybrid specifications
Body: five-door, five seat hatch
Engine: 1490 inline-3, DOHC, 12v, turbo
Bore/stroke: 80.5mm x 97.6mm
Power: 67kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 120Nm @ 3800-4800rpm
Electric output: 59kW
Total output: 85kW/141Nm
Fuel consumption: 3.3L/100km
Weight: 1085kg (up to 1130kg)
Suspension: MacPherson struts, dampers, springs (f); Torsion beam, dampers, springs (r)
Steering: Electrically assisted rack and pinion
Brakes: 255mm ventilated discs, single-piston floating calipers (f); 200mm drums
Wheels: 15 x 6-inch
Tyres: 185/60R15, Dunlop Enasave EC300+
Price (before on-roads and options): $29,020
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