Cars are expensive to own. It’s an unavoidable fact of life – but ploughing loads of our disposable income into simply getting from A to B isn’t for everyone, so if there is a supermini out there that promises to be more affordable than any of its rivals, then it might just be worth a look.
The Hybrid version of the new Toyota Yaris is the only non-plug-in vehicle that qualifies for the ultra-low 5% company car tax band - with CO2 emissions of just 75g/km. That makes it not only the cleanest small car around, but also one of the cheapest to run as a company car.
There are two trim levels to choose from, but only the entry-level Icon emits that headline CO2 figure, thanks in part to its standard 15-inch alloy wheels, and narrow, low-rolling-resistance tyres.
It starts from £16,195, putting it on a par with top-spec diesel rivals from Audi, Mini and VW, and is available only as a five-door hatchback.
What's the 2014 Toyota Yaris Hybrid like to drive?
That largely depends on how you drive it. Choose to be smooth and measured with your inputs and the Yaris is a relatively refined and comfortable town car. Most of the time the 1.5-litre petrol engine and single electric motor (both borrowed from the Prius) work together in tandem, and the instant oomph from the batteries gets the Hybrid Yaris going off the line a bit quicker than its diesel rivals.
Drive really gently, and keep your speed below 40mph, and it will enter an electric-only mode, something you’re made aware of by a green symbol that lights up on the dashboard. In this mode the Yaris is fairly refined, apart from the odd bit of suspension noise on bumpy surfaces.
There’s no rev counter, which is perhaps another obvious clue that anyone in the market for a Yaris Hybrid is not the type of buyer likely to be seeking the open road any time soon. It uses a CVT automatic gearbox, which becomes problematic if you do decide to venture out of town.
Try to build up speed to join a motorway, or quickly accelerate away from a junction, and there’s a brief pause before the CVT ’box sends the engine revs soaring – filling the cabin with an intrusive and unpleasant whine. The Yaris does settle down at a steady cruise, but by then wind and road noise also invade the cabin, and you’ll soon find yourself reaching for the volume knob on the stereo.
Adding this complicated hybrid powertrain to the Yaris does increase its overall weight – only by around 75kg – but the added bulk has an effect on how the car handles. It feels unwilling to change direction quickly in tight corners, with overly light steering, and a considerable amount of body roll.
It does at least ride better than before, with speed bumps and other imperfections absorbed easily by the suspension. Sharp-edged ridges will still catch it out though, sending a jolt through the cabin.
The skinny tyres fitted to the standard 15-inch wheels also mean it has less grip than rivals such as the Renault Clio, and the regenerative brakes are quite grabby. There is little response at the top of the pedal, before they suddenly bite very hard, which makes it difficult to drive smoothly.
You should hopefully see the benefit of all these tweaks to aid fuel economy at the pumps. Our real-world range tests revealed the Yaris returning close to 60mpg, which makes it one of the most efficient small cars in this class, backing up the impressive official claims.
What's the 2014 Toyota Yaris Hybrid like inside?
Almost exactly the same as any other version of the new Yaris, which is certainly a testament to how well-packaged the hybrid technology is within the interior. The only changes are to the dials and in the boot, where you lose a bit of extra storage space beneath the load bay floor.
The face-lifted Yaris has been given special attention by Toyota’s European division to improve interior quality, and from behind the wheel you can notice the difference. There is a large slab of new soft-touch plastic across the dash and in the door panels, and a smarter steering wheel.
There are still some harder plastics lower down though, and although most of the switchgear feels robust, some of the trim pieces move and flex with worrying ease when you touch them.
Cabin space is reasonably good in the Yaris, considering it’s a supermini. There’s plenty of room for tall adults up front; the driver has lots of adjustment in the seat, but the steering wheel is quite low, and some will find the wheel doesn’t come out far enough to get truly comfortable.
Space in the back is more limited, but about average for the class. Two full-sized adults can fit with enough head- and shoulder room. The central rear passenger will be cramped as the Yaris is quite narrow, but with no transmission tunnel they’ll at least be able to put their feet down.
The Hybrid is only available in two trims - Icon and Excel. To reflect its higher price though, the Hybrid versions of the Icon get extra kit, including electronic climate control, different alloy wheel designs and keyless start.
The Excel that we tested adds automatic lights and wipers, cruise control, electric rear windows and passenger seat height adjustment. However its larger 16-inch wheels increase CO2 emissions to 82g/km – pushing the Yaris out of its ultra-cheap BIK band.
Should I buy one?
We could certainly see why you would. The standard petrol Yaris we tried previously felt like an also-ran, whereas the hybrid model is a genuinely unique proposition in the supermini sector.
It may not drive particularly well, but if your priorities are decent passenger space, very low running costs and a hassle-free ownership experience, then the hybrid will tick a lot of boxes for company car buyers on a tight budget – provided that they spend most of their time in urban driving.
It’s similarly priced to top-end versions of diesel small cars such as the VW Polo and Renault Clio, which are better on the motorway but will cost more to run. The other downside is that when you’re not driving in town, the car's poor refinement and the annoyance of the CVT gearbox make it tiring to drive.
For private buyers though, petrol-engined rivals such as the VW Polo 1.2 TSI offer a better compromise between fuel economy, engine refinement and driving fun. Many are much cheaper, too.
What Car? says...
Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI
Honda Jazz Hybrid
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Engine size 1.5-litre petrol + electric motor
Price from £16,195
Torque 89lb ft
0-62mph 11.8 seconds
Top speed 103mph
Fuel economy 78.5mpg