Toyota Yaris review
The Toyota Yaris is spacious and reliable, but lacks the driving sparkle of class leaders like the Ford Fiesta
The Toyota Yaris supermini has long sat in the shadow of rivals like the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, as the driving experience doesn’t offer the same level of fun and the interior doesn’t have the same high-class finish.
However, there are plenty of Yaris models to choose from. All are cheap to run, and all represent good value – including top-spec cars with up-to-date infotainment tech.
The basic 1.0-litre petrol engine is economical but gutless, so the 98bhp 1.33-litre is a better bet for most drivers.
If you want rock-bottom running costs – and spend most of your time in town – then the Yaris Hybrid is worth a look, too. With its petrol/electric drivetrain, this model emits just 75g/km of CO2 on the smallest wheels, which means free road tax, as well as exemption from the London Congestion Charge.
Toyota says the name Yaris is derived from Charis, the Greek goddess of beauty and elegance. Looking at recent versions of the popular supermini, you might think that’s stretching the point.
But the original Yaris was significant as the first car penned in the Toyota European design centre, and did bring something fresh to the party. It made its showroom debut in 1999 and created enough of a stir in the supermini sector to win Car of the Year accolades in both Europe and Japan. Its main asset, apart from a fresh face, was an interior that offered an unexpected amount of room from such a small package.
Production moved to a new Toyota plant in France in 2001, and new versions of the Yaris were introduced in 2005 and in 2011. Nowadays, the car does battle in a market packed with great-value, high-quality superminis – not just from Europe and Japan, but also Korea.
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The latest Yaris, launched in 2014, adopts the funky ‘X’ face from the much more contemporary-looking Aygo city car, in an effort to bring back some of that much needed pizazz which surrounded the original.
The supermini is available in the UK with three or five doors, as well as a choice of four powertrains: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol, 1.33-litre four-cylinder petrol, 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol/electric hybrid and 1.4-litre four-cylinder diesel.
All come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, apart from the Hybrid, which has a CVT automatic. You can also opt for an auto on the 1.33 petrol.
Trims range from the basic Active, through Icon, Sport and Excel. All are reasonably well equipped, with even the most basic versions offering a height-adjustable driver’s seat, USB connectivity and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Top-spec cars don’t lose their focus on value, either, adding 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and a touchscreen infotainment system.
Engines, performance and drive
The Toyota Yaris isn't bad to drive, but while there's good grip and composure, the steering provides little in the way of feel. As a result, the car isn’t as nimble or engaging as a Peugeot 208 or Ford Fiesta.
Although there’s not much feedback from the steering, turn-in is positive, and the Yaris does feel light and manoeuvrable – especially around town.
The six-speed manual gearbox has a light yet positive shift, so it’s easy enough to keep the engine in a relatively narrow power band – especially important in the three-cylinder version – while the rest of the Toyota’s controls are light and easy to use.
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Kicking off the Toyota Yaris engine range is a 1.0-litre petrol three-cylinder with 69bhp. This is great for driving around town, but can get a little noisy at motorway speeds. It’s utterly gutless, too – 0-62mph takes 15.3 seconds – so you’ll need to plan any overtaking manoeuvres well in advance.
Go for the 1.33-litre petrol, and you get a smooth four-cylinder engine that’s quiet and refined at idle. It’s also unruffled on the move, although you need to use all of the revs to extract the best performance. The 1.33 is our pick of the line-up, and when hooked up to the manual gearbox it delivers 0-62mph in 11.7 seconds; with the auto, the benchmark sprint takes 12.6 seconds.
Meanwhile, buyers doing more miles might want to consider the 1.4-litre D-4D diesel, which promises 0-62mph in 10.8 seconds and a top speed of 109mph.
The CVT automatic gearbox in the Toyota Yaris Hybrid has an advantage over some of its rivals around town, making quiet and smooth progress if you’re gentle with the throttle. However, while the petrol/electric Yaris is the king of the urban jungle, it feels all at sea on the open road.
When you hit the throttle to accelerate, the gearbox holds the revs uncomfortably high in an effort to maximise the engine’s pulling power. Its 0-62mph time is quoted at 11.8 seconds, but at anything other than a sedate cruise, the Yaris Hybrid feels thrashy and underpowered.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Running a Toyota Yaris isn’t going to be too financially taxing whatever spec you choose, with low emissions across the board. Coupled with good-value pricing and decent residual predictions, it’s definitely a purchase to please your accountant.
The great thing about the Yaris is that all engines in the range are very economical. We'd opt for the Hybrid if efficient (and clean) motoring is your goal; it combines a 1.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor to great effect, claiming 81mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of just 75g/km. However, if you specify 16-inch wheels on the Yaris Hybrid (these come as standard in Sport and Excel trim), fuel returns drop to 78.5mpg, while emissions go up to 82g/km.
Plus, in Excel spec, the Hybrid is the most expensive car in the Yaris line-up, at over £18,000, so you have to weigh that against the potential savings you’re going to make on the road – as well as the all-important ‘feelgood factor’ of running a car that’s kind to the planet.
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If saving a few grand in the showroom is more of a priority, the 1.4-litre diesel is still impressively efficient. It claims 81mpg fuel economy, while its CO2 emissions remain low enough – at 91g/km – for free road tax. That’s a pretty convincing showing in its own right.
Elsewhere, the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine returns a respectable 67mpg, while the more powerful 1.33-litre petrol achieves 58mpg. The 1.0 is still exempt from road tax, thanks to its 99g/km CO2 emissions, while the 1.33-litre car emits 114g/km and falls into band C for VED, which means you’ll pay £30 a year.
Insurance ranges from group 8 to 9 depending on which model you pick, so few drivers are likely to be put off buying a Yaris by the potential cost of cover. By way of comparison, the entry-level Peugeot 208 sits in insurance group 7, and while one version of the Ford Fiesta qualifies for group 3 cover, most models sit in groups 11 or 12.
Residual values for the Toyota Yaris remain relatively strong, in spite of the plentiful numbers for sale on the UK used car market. Clearly, the reputation the car has built up for practicality and efficiency is attractive to second and third owners, too.
Interior, design and technology
Toyota has tended to forge its own path when it comes to styling, and while earlier versions of the Yaris didn’t set the world alight with their rounded shapes, the current car has some sharp angles in its design to keep it interesting. The facelift carried out in 2014 has arguably made it even more distinctive, although behind the new look the car is fundamentally unchanged from the 2011 model.
The biggest updates are reserved for the nose, where you’ll find a new headlamp design featuring high-intensity LED daytime running lights on Sport models and above, as well as a grille that takes inspiration from the new Toyota Aygo city car. On the Yaris, this comprises a subtle ‘X’ that cuts from the lights through the Toyota badge and into the bumpers. It’s a distinctive styling cue, and certainly looks more dramatic than the upright nose on the Volkswagen Polo, for example.
Elsewhere, Sport models get unique 16-inch alloys, a subtle boot spoiler and rear privacy glass, while there are distinctive full-LED tail-lights on Sport and Excel models.
Buyers can give their Sport model a more distinctive look inside by specifying the Piri Piri pack, which brings a red dashboard, door inserts and seat trim. This is a no-cost option, and a stylish alternative to the simple, dark-grey plastic fitted as standard – it adds a welcome dash of excitement to the otherwise low-key design.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Dominating the dashboard of the Yaris is the seven-inch touchscreen that’s central to the new Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system. This set-up is easy to use, responding quickly and logically, and can be specified with sat-nav as an option. The navigation system is also relatively simple to operate and shows 3D images of key features on your route.
In addition, owners can access features like Google Street View and social media apps through the Touch 2 display, while the options list includes features like a £350 mobile hotspot.
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Practicality, comfort and boot space
This is an area where the Toyota Yaris excels, as the little supermini delivers interior accommodation to rival models in the compact family class, such as the Ford Focus.
Three or five-door bodystyles are available with all engines and trims, unless you opt for the Yaris Hybrid, which comes as a five-door only.
Yet Toyota hasn't compromised on space with the Hybrid thanks to clever packaging of the petrol/electric drivetrain, which means boot capacity is unaffected. The battery pack does encroach into the rear footwell, however, leaving an awkwardly shaped bulge for back seat occupants to place their feet around.
Still, the driving position is pretty good in all versions of the Yaris, particularly if you specify seat height adjustment to go with the fully adjustable steering column that comes as standard. The upright driving position ensures great visibility, too.
The rear provides a decent amount of room for three people, and no matter where you’re sitting in the car, there are plenty of storage spaces and cubbyholes for odds and ends.
One of the secrets of the Yaris’s success is a high cabin which – combined with that relatively upright seating – gives a great sense of space inside. At 1,510mm tall, the Toyota is higher than the 1,495mm Ford Fiesta and 1,462mm Volkswagen Polo.
It’s also shorter than both rivals, though; the Yaris measures 3,950mm in length, compared to the Ford’s 3,969mm and the VW’s 3,970mm.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
In three-door versions of the Yaris, there's plenty of rear leg and headroom, and three adults can fit in the back – although taller passengers probably wouldn’t want to spend too long sitting there.
Naturally, the five-door model greatly improves rear access, which will be especially relevant if you intend to use the Isofix child seat mountings.
Toyota claims the boot in the latest Yaris is 25 per cent bigger than the previous-generation car’s, serving up a capacity of 286 litres with the rear seats in place. That's quite spacious, and edges the Volkswagen Polo. With the rear seats folded, this increases to 768 litres. It’s just a shame the seats don’t fold completely flat, while the relatively high lip can make loading a little awkward.
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Reliability and Safety
One area where the Toyota Yaris will excel is reliability. That’s not really surprising, as despite a handful of high-profile recalls, the brand has a first-class reputation for building cars that will run and run.
The third-generation Yaris ranked 26th out of 200 cars in the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey – a drop of 19 places since the previous year, but still pretty respectable in the bigger picture. It achieved high scores for reliability, running costs and in car-tech, with owners criticising the car for performance, seat comfort and practicality. Meanwhile, Toyota finished eighth in the Driver Power 2015 manufacturers’ chart – a climb of nine places over 2014.
The current-generation Yaris was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. You get seven airbags and tyre pressure monitors as standard, although Toyota doesn’t offer the advanced options of rivals like the Volkswagen Polo, such as adaptive cruise control and tiredness alert. Still, many versions come with a rear view camera, which should help cut down the risk of parking bumps.
Euro NCAP hasn’t tested the Yaris Hybrid separately, but there’s nothing to suggest the petrol/electric model should perform any differently in a crash to any other version.
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As with the rest of the Toyota range, the Yaris is supplied with a five-year/100,000-mile warranty, which is up there with the best deals on the market – although the paint is only guaranteed for three years. Kia’s manufacturer guarantee has the edge for longevity – its cars are covered for seven years – but most rivals still only offer only three-year warranties.
The Yaris benefits from competitive fixed-price servicing deals, and a scheduled visit to the dealership will cost from £125 for petrol and diesel versions, and £139 for the Hybrid.
The Toyota package includes use of a courtesy car, though, and the dealer should collect and deliver your car free of charge. This is the kind of excellent customer that helped the network finish second in our Driver Power 2015 dealer survey.