Toyota has released its smallest hybrid yet, with a new petrol-electric version of the Yaris supermini. But how will this expensive technology stack up at the cheaper end of the car market?
Well, the starting price-tag of £14,995 isn’t as high as you might expect – it’s only £600 more expensive than the cheapest five-door diesel Yaris – and the rock-bottom running costs will be a real draw for many buyers.
In its most frugal form the Yaris Hybrid emits just 79g/km (though range-topping T Spirit models emit 85g/km), which is enough to make it the cleanest car in its class. That also comes with other benefits, such as car tax exemption and while fuel economy of 80.7mpg can’t match models like the 88mpg Kia Rio 1.1D, it should keep trips to the petrol station to a minimum.
Those impressive figures are down to a petrol-electric set-up that has been developed from the system found in the Prius and Auris Hybrid models. While both those use a 1.8-litre engine, the Yaris uses a smaller 1.5-litre petrol and a more compact electric motor. Together they produce 98bhp and can accelerate the Yaris Hybrid from 0-62mph in 11.8 seconds.
Out on the road things aren't quite as good as they sound on paper. The hybrid set up works perfectly around town, providing enough low-end shove to get you to speed but it soon feels as though it has run out of steam. Getting up to motorway speeds is a struggle and once there, there's a consistent drone from the petrol engine and the CVT gearbox is constantly adjusting the revs, which does eventually grate.
The good news is that unlike the Toyota Prius, the Yaris Hybrid actually rides quite well. The occasional deep pothole will cause a loud thud to enter the cabin but otherwise the suspension deals well with very rough roads.
The handling is good, too, thanks to the quick and direct steering, but there's too much roll and too little feel in the steering for this to compete with the best in class, like the Ford Fiesta.
Unlike the Toyota Auris, the Yaris was designed with a hybrid model in mind so the packaging and practicality are much better. The batteries are now located underneath the rear seats, instead of compromising boot space. That means there's a full 286-litre load area available.
It's also the best-looking Yaris available, both inside and out. New LED daytime running lights and an aerodynamic front end have both done their part to smarten up the supermini. Inside, blue stitching and new dials have helped lift an otherwise drab interior.
The Yaris Hybrid's biggest problem though, will be its diesel competitors. The new Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi ECOnetic boasts similar emissions, a similar power output and far superior driving dynamics along with a price-tag that's just £500 higher for the same level of equipment.
But, the Yaris Hybrid does have an ace up its sleeve – all models in the range are automatic. Generally in this class an automatic gearbox costs an additional £1,000 or so, and speccing one has an adverse effect on emissions, too. In that sense, the Yaris Hybrid provides something unique and it's certain to draw some buyers in for that alone.