Motoring reviews, or rather the people who write them, have a penchant for favouring cars that are powerful and fun to drive down a twisting B-road. But let’s face facts. Most people don’t care about driving like that, and when it comes to shelling out their hard earned cash, want something they can depend on for years to come.
Which is why the Toyota Yaris has always been a favourite in the small car class with buyers, but you won’t see it winning many tests. It’s just dependable, easy to drive transport. Yet far from being another dull-as-beige Toyota, the first two generations of Yaris built on this dependability with character and clever design features. With this new, third generation, the company claims they’ve gone even further - building a car for people like us at Pocket-Lint, loaded with clever ideas and stuffed full of tech at reasonable prices. Sounds promising, doesn’t it?
The first generation Yaris included a, futuristic for the time, set of digital gauges, a sliding rear seat allowing you to choose between passenger and luggage space. There was a higher-than-normal seating position, meaning the car felt, and was, spacious inside, but was short and easy to park on the road. It also had bags of that hard to quantify thing called personality.
The second generation Yaris squared off the corners and dialed down personality, but kept lots of the clever design. So we’d like to know who’s stolen the clever bits and thrown them in the rubbish bin while they were designing this new model? Without any of this smart packaging, the Yaris is a car devoid of personality and with very little to distinguish it in a very competitive and diverse market. Which is a shame.
Inside, you get lots of space but the contrast colour insert on the dash in front of the passenger is as interesting as it gets. It’s not bad per-se, but nor is it innovative like a Honda Jazz, or full of soft-touch plastics like a Polo.
Great credit goes to Toyota for seeing the light of reality and building the Yaris’s integrated SatNav option into a wider tech pack priced at a point which might just make you think twice about that off-the shelf TomTom unit and all its trailing wires.
The system’s called Toyota ‘Touch and Go’. The first level (Toyota Touch) includes CD/MP3/WMA player, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, a USB port, and a rear-view camera for reversing – all accessed and shown through a 6.1inch touchscreen. This is standard on TR, SR and T Spirit (i.e. all but the base car) models. Upgrade to ‘Touch and Go’ and you’ll get full pan-European sat nav with speed camera and safety alerts, Google local search function and live update services: such as parking availability, petrol prices and so on. It’s a £500 option, but if you order a Yaris in 2011, they’ll chuck it in for free.
And it works well, with easy phone pairing and music streaming. So it’s a shame these functions are built into a centre console unit which is badly positioned for the driver. The screen sits canted slightly toward the passenger side of the car because of the shape of the dash.
Beyond this, ignore the base spec T2, and all models in the range are well equipped with air-conditioning, seven airbags and a host of other kit as standard.
This is safe, steady driving which is never going to spit you off the road backwards and into a ditch. The brakes are good, the gearbox light and for a car in this class it’s pretty refined at motorway speeds. Yet the ride is curiously hard - it never settles down, which spoils the refinement. And the weighting of the clutch is oddly springy, which make the Yaris far harder to drive smoothly than it should given it’s billing and likely customers. Expect to see one being lurched away from Sainsbury’s car park soon, by someone in a flat cap, accompanied by a flourish of revs and slipping of clutch.
The thicker C-pillar this third generation car has acquired makes it harder to park too. And while that reversing camera’s a nice-to-have-tech gadget, why on earth would you need it? This isn’t an SUV, so it should be easier to see out of and position than it is.
We drove the most powerful 1.33 petrol engine. It was smooth and powerful enough, (there’s a smaller 1.0 petrol and a 1.4 diesel engine too) and the CO2 emissions are decently low. It returned nearly 50mpg in our hands, so expect more if your drive gently. We were disappointed not to see stop-start as standard on a brand new model of car though.
You won’t be surprised to read that - while it’s far from a bad car - we aren't giving it a glowing recommendation either.
The tech packages and high level of equipment are appealing and, in many ways, the Yaris’s real saving grace. But unless you absolutely must have a sat nav system that’s capable of turning down the radio while it barks instructions at you, we’d recommend you buy something else and put up with the trailing wires of a TomTom.
All of which is a great shame. Toyota has long been known for its quality and dependability, but the first two Yaris’s added to that by being fun and full of clever ideas that gave them character and made them real star buys in the class. Now, it’s rare to find a car that isn’t well built and won’t be reliable over the first five years of its life. And anyway, if that’s your primary concern, may we point you in the direction of Kia’s new Rio - with its seven year warranty - or Honda’s ingeniously designed Jazz (the 'Fit' in the US), which repeatedly tops the reliability tables wherever its sold.
And if you’re just after a good small car, a Polo or a Fiesta deserves a space on your drive far more than this new Yaris does. It’s only those sensibly thought through tech packs that haul the new Yaris up to a three star rating. The smaller iQ proves Toyota still has the ability to build a car with smart, innovative features, a characterful design and make it fun to drive. It’s just a pity they left all of that out of the mix in the new Yaris.