The 2017 Toyota Yaris has been given a third chance at sales success in Australia, getting yet another makeover to keep it looking fresh.
Despite its older underpinnings, age isn’t the problem. Australia’s top-selling light car is the Hyundai Accent and it’s even older. Value is always a big issue in compact cars, and surprisingly Toyota hasn’t made a major move to trim prices or add extra equipment with this update.
instead, Australia’s favourite automotive brand has modernised safety adding the availability of must-have technology like autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning, although you’ll need to pay a little more to get it added to a base- or mid-spec Yaris.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $18,860 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 80kW/141Nm 1.5-litre 4cyl petrol | 4sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.4 l/100km | Tested: 7.3 l/100km
For 2017 the updated Toyota Yaris hatch sticks to a three-variant range comprising of the entry-level Ascent, mid-spec SX tested here, and range-topping ZR. The three-door Yaris is a thing of the past, so too the Yaris sedan, leaving a five-door hatch as the only body type available.
In its most basic form, pricing starts from $15,290 before on-road costs. Moving up to the SX and the price rises to $17,330 and if you’d like an auto as well (like this car) that’ll be $18,860, then $450 for metallic paint, and $650 for the extra Toyota Safety Sense package bringing the total up to $19,960 before on-road charges are added.
That shakes the Yaris SX’s value proposition slightly, putting it just a stone’s throw away from cars the next size up. But for urban dwellers and downsizers, size isn’t everything, and as light and small car sales continue to fall in favour of bigger, bulkier SUVs the question is can the Yaris justify its positioning?
- Standard Equipment: Cloth seat trim, leather-look steering wheel, manual air conditioning, rear privacy tint, 15-inch steel wheel with full wheel covers
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch touchscreen, CD player, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker audio
- Options Fitted: Toyota Safety Sense $650
- Cargo Volume: 286 litres to rear seats
Clever design elements inside the Yaris help keep it from feeling out of touch next to newer competitors, and that focus on space and storage is essential in such a compact car.
You may not notice it at first glance, but the panel in front of the passenger swings up to reveal a second glovebox on top of an open storage tray that sit above a regular glovebox under the dash. Take a look at the binnacle in front of the gear selector and you’ll see that it’s huge, with a removable divider that lets it hold everything from cups and cans to phablets and purses.
The interior presentation has also been given a light once-over with new finishes and decor panels, but some of the materials used, like the grained plastics on the doors that mismatch with the dash, and the shiny upper dash tend to feel a little budget-grade.
Front seat passengers will have little to complain about in terms of head or legroom, but a lack of interior width will see driver and front passenger rubbing elbows and the lack of a centre armrest can be a little tiresome on long drives.
Adults in the rear won’t find quite enough kneeroom without asking for more from the front passengers, but kids will have an easier time in the back although their view out the side glass might be impeded by the rising window line.
At 286 litres the boot is a decent size, and the 60:40 split-fold seats free up more room, but don’t create a level floor in either of the boot floor's two positions.
Standard SX features include funky cloth seat trim, power windows, remote central locking, touchscreen infotainment, Bluetooth connectivity, but Toyota still drags the chain on smartphone connectivity with no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol, 80kW @6000rpm, 141Nm @4400rpm
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic transmission, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, rear drums
- Steering: Electric power steering, 9.6m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 900kg braked, 550kg unbraked
While the interior is a little nicer in the Yaris SX than the entry-level Ascent, it’s the more flexible engine that’s the biggest reason to step up to the more expensive model with an 80kW 1.5-litre engine providing motive force.
In the cheaper Ascent a smaller 1.3-litre engine has to work harder to do the same job and falls behind the SX by 17kW and 21Nm which makes a noticeable difference in such a compact vehicle.
The Yaris’ optional automatic is less than modern, with just four forward speeds and not the CVT or six and seven-speed autos of some rivals. As a result, the big gaps between gear ratios make the Yaris feel far from willing in city driving.
You might find yourself leaning heavily on the throttle to keep everything ticking along, and the more the little Toyota revs the more refinement falls away with a coarse engine noise and plenty of vibration filtering through to the cabin.
It might come as a surprise to learn that in spite of the buzzy engine, other areas of refinement are well controlled, with low wind noise and barely audible road noise, even over roughly surfaced bitumen.
As a born city dweller the Yaris offers light and easy steering, making it ideal for tight spaces, but as the pace picks up the steering can be a little too easy to wander off course, and the ride, although comfy enough, doesn’t feel composed or settled.
The endless churn of peak hour traffic suits the Yaris to a tee, with a gentle throttle and brakes that are easy to control. Tthe Yaris proves to be one of the better commuter tools to be stuck in every morning. There’s no CVT quirks and no jerky dual-clutch action to spoil the hurry-up-and-wait of start-stop traffic.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Toyota Yaris scored 34.41 out of 37 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2011.
Safety Features: Standard equipment includes seven airbags, electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, front force-limiting seatbelt pretensioners and a rearview camera.
Toyota Safety Sense is available as an option on the Yaris SX (and standard on the ZR) adding forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and automatic high beam for $650.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Toyota’s Service Advantage capped-price servicing program covers up to six standard scheduled services at $140 each.
Service intervals fall every six months or 10,000km, up to a vehicle age of three years or 60,000km (whichever comes first). Terms and conditions apply, your Toyota dealer can explain the offer in full
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Like the Yaris, the Holden Barina also wears a 2017 facelift which helps it look like a much more substantial light car and out-of-town buyers are sure to like its confident open-road cruising. Infotainment packs in smartphone connectivity, but safety misses out on advanced features like autonomous braking.
The Hyundai Accent is Australia’s favourite light hatch (and sedan) by a long shot, and this year the Accent drops to a single model - the Accent Sport - with a more powerful engine and a few more premium touches over the Yaris.
Speaking of premium, the Mazda2 feels rather substantial on the inside once you move up from the base model and even the cheapest 2 includes autonomous braking as standard. Rear seat space isn’t much to write home about and while the infotainment system is good, it goes without CarPlay and Android Auto.
Suzuki’s all new Swift bears a family resemblance to its predecessors, but it’s all-new under the skin and although it’s not too powerful, the low weight of a new platform means peppy performance and thrifty fuel consumption. The interior is a little plain, but the rear seat is roomy, handling is quite a lot of fun, and like the Yaris advanced safety can be optioned in.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
From an ownership perspective, the Yaris lacks the long warranty of a Honda, Hyundai, or Kia but also enjoys some of the cheapest servicing costs and carries Toyota’s reputation for reliability. The optional safety kit is also handy to have, though it’s a shame Toyota wasn’t able to squeeze it in for free on this mid-grade model.
Ultimately the Yaris is stuck in a tricky position - it’s now getting on in years and lacks the kind of fresh driving dynamics of something like the new Suzuki Swift, it can’t match the interior presentation of the Mazda2, and hasn’t been given a value boost like the Hyundai Accent.
None of those things make it a bad car though, they just prevent it from being best in class. Its simplicity works for plenty of buyers, and the comfortable way it trundles about town is something more light cars should aspire to. If you can negotiate a good deal the Yaris becomes a fairly sensible option.
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