Toyota Yaris review - Engines, performance and drive

It’s comfortable and competent around town, but (with the notable exception of the GRMN version) the Yaris isn’t exactly thrilling to drive on the open road

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. On the other hand, 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 its 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.

Given all that, what Toyota’s motorsport engineers have done to the GRMN’s chassis and running gear is amazing. It has stiffer springs than in a regular Yaris, as well as more responsive dampers, stronger brakes, strut braces and a new Torsen front differential that hugely improves traction and stability. With bespoke 205/45 ZR17 Bridgestone tyres, the combined effect is to elevate it to a place where genuine enthusiasts might well fall in love with it.

True, the ride is firm and may well prove to be a sticking point on a UK road (we drive the car on fairly smooth roads and on a glass-smooth circuit in Spain) but the way the GRMN turns into and then sticks in corners is something of a revelation. It’s a proper little driver’s car, with a touch of controlled lift-off oversteer if you really start to throw it around, plus a fine set of brakes to go with it. Grip is good, but not excessively so, with a touch of GT86-style gusto to its behaviour on or near the limit.

A member of the Yaris line-up to avoid is the GR Sport. This mild-hatch take on the Yaris makes little sense, pairing what feels like trick suspension and steering revisions verging on full fat GRMN territory with the mild mannered and hardly powerful 1.5-litre hybrid powertrain. It's a total mismatch, and expensive too.

Engines

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 108bhp 1.5-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 1.5 is our pick of the line-up, and when hooked up to the manual gearbox it delivers 0-62mph in 11 seconds.

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.

• Toyota Yaris Hybrid review

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. 

With a supercharged 1.8-litre engine, the off-sale GRMN is a curious hot hatchback. Maximum power of 209bhp and max torque of 250Nm is healthy, and all up the GRMN weighs just 1,135kg. So it’s quick, with Toyota claiming a 0-62mph time of 6.4sec plus a top speed electronically limited to 143mph.

If anything, the performance is going on ballistic for a car that wears a humble Yaris badge, with real potency and instant response available across the rev range. Even from 2,000rpm it pulls hard, and from there the acceleration stays strong and hard all the way to the 7,000rpm rev cut-out. 

Next Steps

Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    1.0 [72] VVT-i Icon 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £14,809

Most Economical

  • Name
    1.0 [72] VVT-i Icon 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £14,809

Fastest

  • Name
    1.5 VVT-i Icon 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £15,589

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