Toyota Yaris: First Drive Review
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Toyota customers have always been willing to pay a premium for the trust that comes with this brand’s badge. While the price premium the Yaris commands isn't exorbitant is trust all you’re paying for?
The Japanese have always been known for their rigid punctuality. But in the case of a mid-sized sedan for India, they are surprisingly late. This segment has seen multiple cars establish their USPs: the Maruti Ciaz for sheer value for money and comfort and the Honda City for its rich backseat experience. The Hyundai Verna achieves a balance of usability and feature-rich packaging, while the Volkswagen Vento/Skoda Rapid are popular for their premium quality and driver-pleasing performance & handling.
With the competition covering almost every need and want, how does the Toyota Yaris differentiate itself? Importantly, is the premium it commands justified?
The Yaris doesn't sport the most striking design in the space. If you're looking for a car styled to make you go WOW, the Honda City does a better job. Why is that? Well, Toyota has opted to give the Yaris a sober and clean design. Chrome, for example, is limited to the door handles. There's no overdose of cuts or creases either, just the shoulder line that connects the front fender to the tail light.
Even the wheel design isn’t over the top and unlike its competition, you don't get 16-inch wheels. 15-inchers are offered across the range, with wheel caps on the Yaris J and Yaris G & alloys on the Yaris V and Yaris VX.
However, this isn't to say the Toyota Yaris doesn't grab attention. The plus-sized lower front grille and vertically stretched fog lamp enclosures add some mass to the face. They also look distinctly Toyota. Even the headlamp clusters that house the standard halogen projectors look similar to units used in the pre-facelift Corolla Altis. LEDs have been used for the grille-integrated daytime running lights (VX grade only) and the tail lights (V and VX grade). But LED headlights or wing mirror indicator lights (you get halogen bulbs) remain unavailable.
The curvy haunches make its profile seem Nissan Sunny-like while the rear end gives you a sense of how wide the Yaris is, at least on paper. The design actually plays a bit of visual trickery and the Toyota Yaris sedan looks smaller than its competition. However, while it's shorter in length than the Honda City, Hyundai Verna or Maruti Ciaz, it's one of the tallest and widest cars in the mid-sized sedan segment. The wheelbase, though, is 50mm short of the City and a full 100mm less than the Ciaz.
So what does that mean for cabin space?
There’s one thing that strikes you about the cabin first: It doesn't seem as wide inside as the dimensions chart would suggest. In fact, the cabin feels a bit narrow and even the Toyota Etios has a greater sense of space. It'll even seat 3 abreast better. Additionally, the front row has a storage console that doubles up as the front armrest. This unit juts into the rear row unnecessarily, nullifying the impact of the flat floor. Not to mention, it's not a very usable front armrest unless you set the seat way back. Simply put, the Yaris’ cabin is for four, not five. Knee room too isn’t palatial and the City or Ciaz will prove to be better. But it is adequate for two six-footers and no doubt, it's a properly roomy car. There's even oodles of space to tuck your feet underneath the front seats. Headroom, though, will feel a bit underserved for tall occupants in the rear (read: over 6ft tall).
But with that caveat out of the way, the experience only gets richer. No matter which variant you pick, the Yaris gets a light beige cabin contrasted with a black dashboard, black door tops and black floor mats. So the cabin may not be the most accommodating in the segment but it feels nice and airy. Oh yeah, sorry to disappoint - there's no sunroof to amplify that sense of airiness.
What will have you sold though, is the quality. Save for a few panel gaps in the door pad and lower half of the centre console, the fitment quality is top notch. We really appreciate the premium grade of plastic used all round that feels almost as good as what we've seen in the Corolla Altis. Then there's the beige fabric headliner and carpeting that leaves no sheet metal exposed. Best of all is the top-spec VX’s leather upholstery. Not only does it envelope the seats, armrests, door armrests and steering, the quality is superior to what we've seen in any other car in the segment. It feels quite close to genuine leather! That said, the choice of light beige comes with challenges in upkeep. Our test cars already had stains on the seats and plastics.
What really sets the Yaris apart are the experience enhancers. These subtle additions go miles in making you feel like you're sitting in a car from a segment above. Noise insulating glass that cuts the outside world off impeccably. Just have a conversation with the window open and whirr it shut to see the difference. Or there's the roof-mounted AC that helps cool the cabin more effectively (more details on that in the technology section). There aren't any soft-touch plastics but there is a stitch pattern on the dashboard to make it look richer.
Even the analogue-digital split instrument cluster looks futuristic. It gets a 4.2 inch MID with detailed information like two tripmeters, outside temperature display, a digital fuel gauge and speedometer, distance-to-empty, average speed and fuel consumption. Like in the Innova Crysta and Fortuner, here too we see the Eco wallet that monitors how efficiently you're driving. Backseat occupants are treated with a rear manual sunshade, two 12V power sockets and individual reading lamps.
Seat comfort and support is impressive. There's adequate under thigh and back support, and the backrest angle is comfortable for both slim and overweight occupants. Also, the front and rear seats have a little side bolstering for lateral support.
This makes driving the Yaris a comfortable experience, with the driver getting the added benefit of an 8-way adjustable electric seat (manual seat height adjustment comes as standard). But while we may forgive the absent auto-dimming interior rear view mirror, a big miss for the driver is reach adjustment for the steering. The default setting feels like it's glued onto the dashboard.
Finally, the Yaris scores high on practicality. There are 1-litre bottle holders in the centre console and front doors (two each), 500ml bottle holders in the rear doors and armrest (two each), and a phone slot for the driver next to the handbrake, with a smartly placed 12V socket right behind. On paper, the 476-litre boot isn't segment-leading but is large enough for a week's worth of the family’s luggage. Besides, it's the only car in the segment that gets folding 60:40 split seat for added storage space. Even the seatbelts have proper harnesses to ensure they don't get tangled up or tucked into the cushioning when the backrest is folded down.
The Toyota Yaris offers many gizmos but let's explore the unique bits first. We begin with the roof-mounted AC. The setup has a large suction unit that takes in air from the front AC vents and channels it through a nozzle to two vents. But these aren't regular vents but rudders the size of your palm that give you a wide spread of cool air. This makes rear seat cooling a lot more effective and it gets ambient lighting of its own with rheostat.
While a basic music system with Aux/USB/Bluetooth/CD comes as standard, the G and V variants of the Yaris get a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The Panasonic unit supports HDMI and Miracast. It's actually better to use and has a cleaner interface than the one you get in the VX. The range-topping Yaris VX gets a Pioneer head unit and adds MirrorLink, WiFi and navigation. Also, both head units get gesture controls, another first in segment. While the Panasonic head unit gets touch-based gesture controls, the top-spec gets air gesture controls, like you get in the BMW 5-Series and 7-Series! The feature needs you to hold your hand ahead of the sensor to activate it before each use. Then, swipe up and down for volume adjust (raises or drops four points at a time) or swipe left or right to shuffle through songs or switch radio stations. Cool stuff aside, we have a gripe. The placement of the touchscreens makes them prone to glare under direct sunlight.
Of course, you also have the standard segment fare - auto AC, cruise control, auto headlamps and wipers and an impressive 6-speaker sound system.
The Toyota Yaris will not be available with a diesel engine and don’t expect to see one any time soon. What it uses is a 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine that has the same block as the Etios - but everything else, including the head, is unique to the Yaris.
A major draw of this motor is its refinement. At idle, whether it’s inside the car or outside, the motor’s barely audible. This smooth nature is experienced whether you’re driving at 40kmph in the city or cruising at 120kmph on the highway. Where it gets noisy is during overtakes. We drove the CVT-equipped version and even low speed overtakes are usually accompanied with a downshift and a significant surge in revs. It's here that the engine note is quite audible. The vibes though remain well in check.
High speed overtakes do need some planning, as even pinning the throttle doesn’t get you an immediate surge in performance. In fact, going from 60-100kmph does take a while and you can find yourself playing catch up with highway traffic.
However, since we spent most of our drive time on the highway, we discovered the Yaris is a decent cruiser. Left to its own accord (and not in manual mode), the 7-speed CVT drives at 100kmph with the rev counter locked at about 1,600rpm. At that point, the engine note is nothing more than a light hum and the only thing that’ll take a toll on your fuel efficiency (claimed 17.1kmpl for the manual and 17.8kmpl for the CVT) will be the overtakes.
For us though, this will make for a great city car - to drive or to be driven in. Throttle response is smooth and very predictable. The performance is flat throughout the rev range and while it won’t please the enthusiast in you, most drivers won’t find a reason to complain. For the driven, the smooth throttling results in a jerk-free drive experience with no head nod unless you’re really pushing the car. Even the brakes (all round discs on the Yaris V onwards) offer progressive bite under normal circumstances but offer reassuringly sharp shopping power when you need to brake hard. But, what is a M-A-J-O-R selling point in our books, is the ride quality.
Ride & Handling
With the Toyota Etios and Corolla Altis both set up for comfort, you’d expect a similar story from the Yaris. But the car actually finds a healthy middle ground. Ride comfort is consistent, no matter what speed you’re doing. If you decide to open up your laptop and send a few reports, be assured, you can do it with the same ease at 30kmph or 100kmph, without feeling fatigued.
Low speed bumps and potholes can be heard as light thuds in the cabin, but you won’t really feel them. Yes, even with a full passenger load, the Toyota Yaris remains complaint and unphased over bad patches. Also, unofficially, the ground clearance is a touch over 150mm unladen. That's not much, but even with the aforementioned heavy load, it was only the monstrously large speed breakers that saw the car scrape the underbelly. At 0-100kmph, even with 4 passengers and a full boot, the Yaris goes over highway undulations, expansion joints and even rough patches without ever losing composure. Even after exiting an uneven section, the suspension settles immediately, with almost no vertical movement and only small hints of body roll. An achievement even the Corolla can't brag of. Sudden lane changes will struggle to make the Yaris’ suspensions break a sweat too as it gets in line instantly.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to take the Yaris cornering, so we’ll have to share our impressions on its handling once we get a chance to put it through a thorough road test. But, the steering is light enough for city use and weighs up well enough on the highway.
Safety is a core differentiator for the Toyota Yaris. While the competition offers 6 airbags on their top-end models, Toyota is offering 7 (including a driver knee airbag) as standard! That aside, ABS with EBD and brake assist, along with ISOFIX and central locking come as standard. Opt for the higher variants and you add hill-start assist, vehicle stability control, front and rear parking sensors, front and rear fog lamps and a rear camera.
J - This variant gets the safety basics right and then some. Seven airbags comes as standard, as do ABS with EBD and brake assist, along with ISOFIX child seat mounts. It also gets steel wheels with wheel caps, halogen projector headlights, body-coloured wing mirrors and door handles, along with a basic audio system with AUX, USB, CD, radio and Bluetooth connectivity, paired with a 4-speaker sound system.
The packaging is further enhanced with a driver’s side seat height adjuster, solar energy absorbing windshield and a 60:40 split rear seat that folds down. Yes, you also get keyless entry, tilt steering, electrically adjustable wing mirrors and power windows all round.
G - We can imagine a lot of buyers opting for the G variant, that sits one above the base as it’s a well-rounded package. This variant offers turn indicators on the wing mirrors, a chrome front grille, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system (adds Miracast, weblink and HDMI) and a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display. Auto AC, rear reading lights, acoustic and vibration control glass, a smart key with push-button start, steering-mounted audio/phone/MID controls and power-folding mirrors are also thrown into the mix. For safety, you get rear parking sensors, front and rear fog lamps, a rear defogger, and auto locking and impact-sensing auto unlocking doors.
V - This variant is where the more premium touches start to come in. The Yaris V gets alloy wheels and the projector headlamps get LED line guides as do the tail lamps. Inside, the sound system is improved with the addition of two tweeters, the Yaris finally gets cruise control and auto headlamps and wipers. Safety is enhanced with the addition of front parking sensors, four rear parking sensors (earlier 2) and a reversing camera.
VX - The VX is the fully-loaded variant of the Toyota Yaris. This variant gets LED DRLs, chrome door handles, a more advanced 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, MirrorLink and Wi-Fi connectivity, along with air gesture controls. The cabin feels more premium with the addition of leather interiors, an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, paddle-shifters for the automatic variant and a rear sunshade. The car even gets safer with the package including hill-start assist, vehicle stability control and a low tyre pressure warning.
The Yaris definitely has more going for it than just the Toyota badge. In fact, the Yaris has done a good job of cutting out a niche for itself. It sets itself apart by setting new expectations for safety features in the segment and even offers many segment firsts. What’s special here is that the focus is heavily on the experience of luxury. The cabin insulation, the premium interior trim/upholstery quality, and the sublime ride comfort make this a great car for a wide range of buyers.
Yes, it isn’t the most driver centric car and there have been a few misses, in terms of features and in the sense of space. But these aren’t deal breakers, especially since you get a rich in-cabin experience in the tradeoff and there isn't any compromise on usability. In fact, if you wanted the Corolla Altis and didn’t have the budget for it, the Yaris matches the experience on most counts and even betters it on some (ride, for example). Launched at Rs 8.75 lakh for the Yaris petrol manual and Rs 9.95 lakh for the Yaris petrol CVT (introductory prices ex-showroom all-India), the Toyota Yaris justifies its price premium well.
Photography: Vikrant Date