The Yaris has long been Toyota’s most popular model in Europe, so to ensure the it can keep pace with the likes of the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo, Toyota has invested £70 million, engineered 1,000 new parts and spent 576,000 man hours developing the facelifted model.
Such is the severity of the mid-life refresh, you be forgiven for assuming this facelifted Yaris was in fact a completely new model. The Aygo inspired front end is the most obvious change, with the distinctive cross motif crafted onto the nose. There’s also a new headlamp design and daytime LED running lights have been added, while at the rear a reshaped bumper houses a new diffuser.
Toyota has invested heavily in redesigning the interior, too. Every surface has been trimmed with softer and more premium materials, however, there are still a few harder plastics lurking down low on the centre console. Imbedded in the dash is a larger seven-inch touchscreen featuring the latest Toyota Touch 2 multimedia systems. It’s one of the most responsive and intuitive systems in its class but sat-nav is a £650 option throughout the range.
However, the Yaris’ green credentials have been boosted, with the Hybrid model cutting its emissions from 79 to 75g/km meaning it’s now exempt from the London congestion charge. Currently, the Hybrid accounts for one in three Yaris sales in Europe so that’s the model we’ll be getting to grips with first.
Like before, the powertrain is made up of a 1.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor, combining for a total of 100bhp. Comprehensive reengineering to the body structure and suspension should mean it is as fun as it is frugal, but sadly that isn’t the case.
If you’re light on the throttle you can cruise away in pure EV mode, and even when the engine kicks in its surprisingly muted but it feels lethargic in its power delivery. And despite the lengths engineers have gone to to increase sound deadening and reduce vibrations, there is a constant intrusive drone from the engine when you press on. It also has a tendency to fidget over uneven surfaces at higher speeds – the updated VW Polo is a more relaxing and comfortable car to drive.
The steering has been improved, so it’s light but accurate although Toyota’s good work has been undone with poor body control and a car that feels a little flimsy through faster bends. The Ford Fiesta is by far a more convincing and engaging hatchback to drive.
Minor adjustments to the hybrid powertrain mean over 85mpg should be achievable but on our 90 mile test route, which featured stop start city traffic and several motorway miles, we managed to just creep over the 55mpg mark.
The Yaris claws back some credibility with its spacious interior, so there’s enough room to comfortably fit two adults in the rear, although a third adult passenger would be a squeeze. The 286-litre boot remains unchanged so it’s still one of the biggest in its class. But in such a competitive market shortcomings in driving dynamics and comfort are highlighted by accomplished rivals from the likes of Ford and VW.