Car reviews - Toyota - Yaris - ZR Hybrid
Styling, handling, active safety gear, fuel economy
Room for improvement
Price, open road NVH, no armrests, steering wheel switchgear
Toyota stands by its decision to push upmarket with new Yaris, but is it worth it?
16 Oct 2020
AUSTRALIAN motoring journalists were sent into a frenzy when news broke that the new Toyota Yaris range would kick off from north of $20,000, with some variants even surpassing the $30,000 mark.
For reference, the old Yaris kicked off from $15,390 plus on-road costs and topped out at $22,670 before options.
The new fourth-generation model meanwhile now starts at $22,130 plus on-roads with the flagship ZR Hybrid nudging $33,000.
They are some significant price hikes, all of which Toyota Motor Company Australia (TMCA) stand by and attribute to the new model’s all-new nature, its advanced TNGA platform, significantly higher levels of safety equipment and new powertrains, including a hybrid system.
But the question still remains, is the new model really worth that much?
During the Yaris’ national media launch, TMCA vice-president of sales and marketing Sean Hanley said it was never the brand’s intention to launch its smallest car way upmarket, but rather “produce ever-better cars and price them fairly to represent strong value for money”.
Priced from $32,100 plus on-roads, the ZR Hybrid is the flagship of the new Yaris range and perhaps the one that raised the most number of eyebrows regarding its new pricetag.
Visually, TMCA has nailed the styling of the new Yaris, especially so with the ZR and its two-toned colour scheme (black roof) – it looks tough and chunky with a series of swooping lines and bulges giving it a real sense of attitude.
The same cannot be said for the interior however which is awash with grey fabric and plastic.
Its actual cabin and dashboard layout is fine, but at first glance we could not help but wonder if the interior had to be so bland, especially for the price.
The grey cloth of the seat upholstery and door trim in particular are the main culprits here and cheapen the cabin’s appearance, but thankfully there is nothing wrong with its functionality.
Being the flagship, the ZR scores sports front seats as standard with more pronounced bolstering and we are pleased to report they do their job well in being both comfortable and supportive.
That said, some of that comfort does slip away on longer journeys (two-hours plus) but that is not really what the Yaris is made for.
What it is made for though is pottering about suburbs and through busy CBDs and it is here that the little hatch shines, especially the hybrid versions.
Measuring in at 3940mm long, the new model is actually 5mm shorter than the old one which makes negotiating busy inner-city traffic and carparks a breeze, even if rear visibility is a bit skewed by the oversized C-pillars.
The steering is light and direct, the brakes are strong with a solid pedal feel and the hybrid powertrain provides ample punch to get up to speed and exploit gaps.
The system is based around a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine paired with an electric motor which draws its power from a 178-volt/4.3Ah lithium-ion battery.
When all said and done there is 85kW on tap with a claimed combined fuel consumption of 3.3 litres per 100km, making it the world’s most fuel-efficient traditional series/parallel hybrid car.
We were unable to replicate these figures during our time with the Yaris, instead returning a combined figure of 3.8L/100km, although our stint with the car did involve long stretches of freeway and highway driving.
As for the ride, TMCA claims the new Yaris to be a “driver’s car” and around town the pint-sized little hatch does a reasonably good impression of one with an informative ride and – when not loaded – a half-decent engine note.
In fact, we would go so far as to say that in top-spec ZR Hybrid form, the new Yaris actually has bit of a mischievous side, especially when paired with its aggro styling.
After dark when the roads were quiet, we were able to give the little city car a nudge through the suburbs in almost total silence thanks to the alternating nature of the hybrid powertrain – electric and petrol power.
Roundabouts and traffic islands were dispatched with ease which eventually lead us to one of our favourite driving roads about 25 minutes out of Bunbury in the Ferguson Valley.
Here we were able to get the Yaris up to a proper cruising speed and test its mettle on a road full of bumps, crests, cambers, corners and elevation changes.
Despite being outside its preferred environment, the Yaris again proved to be a good steer with decent handling, communicative steering and a playful chassis.
Ultimately its skinny tyres and urban-minded ride prove the limiting factors – a few mid-corner bumps had it pushing well into its suspension travel and pushed its tyres towards the edge of their capabilities but at the end of the day this is a city car, not a sportscar.
With this in mind, our only real complaint is the lack of a manual override for the continuously variable transmission (CVT) as found on the non-hybrid versions, as it would add an extra layer of driver involvement to the experience.
Back in town, the EV drive mode will net you around a kilometre of range at up to 45km/h before the internal combustion engine kicks back in, often rather abruptly, with the transmission nearly always overdoing it with the engine revs to begin with.
Best then to just leave it in normal mode and let the ECU decide when to use petrol or electric power.
An indication of this is the fact we actually managed to cruise along at 80km/h purely under electric power for around 1.5km on the way back from an extended highway run with the car set in normal mode.
In terms of space and practicality, there is more than enough head and shoulder room upfront for a pair of six-footers, however legroom for the driver can prove a little cramped with an overly wide transmission tunnel robbing room that should really be left for your left leg.
Things are unsurprisingly cramped in the rear with the situation further exacerbated by the lack of rear air vents or a fold-down armrest.
On the topic of armrests, even the driver and front passenger forgo that luxury with the centre console being devoid of any enclosed compartments at all, something we class as unacceptable, especially for a city car.
Save for the glovebox and deep, oddly shaped door bins there is nowhere particularly safe within the cabin to leave or hide any keys or valuables.
Boot space is pegged at a decent (if not groundbreaking) 270 litres while the rear seats split and fold in a 60:40 arrangement, drastically increasing cargo room but we would not recommend trying to fit a mountain bike or anything else particularly big in there.
On the open road, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a very small, very light car with even a mild breeze able to blow it around its lane while its narrow tyres are prone to tram-lining through bumps and cambers in the road.
The extended two-hour stint from Bunbury to Perth also revealed a fair amount of wind and tyre noise at speed, so much so that we gave up trying to use the voice command system.
The switchgear on the steering wheel also proved finicky and cheap feeling, especially in comparison to the rather nice leather-wrapped wheel rim.
Despite dripping in active safety tech – front-row centre airbags, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, secondary collision braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam, speed-sign recognition, lane-keep and cornering assist, reversing camera, blind-spot monitoring, intelligent clearance sonar, front and rear parking sensors and parking support brake system – and riding on an all-new platform, we cannot help but question the value of the new Yaris ZR Hybrid.
Yes, it is good around town and in the bends, safe and looks great, however $32,100 is a lot of money for a city car, especially when two of the three Corolla hybrid offerings are cheaper yet literally offer more car.
Likewise, if you want a genuine compact driver’s car, the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI only $190 and $790 more.
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