The Toyota Yaris is the company’s rival for the evergreen Ford Fiesta, the classy Volkswagen Polo and the stylish Renault Clio. It’s now had an extensive face-lift to address some of the criticism levelled at the latest version, which arrived back in 2011.
The car’s steering and suspension have been retuned to try to make it more involving to drive, the body has been stiffened and there has been a major effort to improve refinement. Toyota's European team has also expended a lot of effort to push up the perceived quality inside the cabin.
So has it worked? We tried the 1.33-litre four-cylinder petrol engine to find out. This Icon version costs from £14,095. It‘s £450 cheaper than a (less well-equipped) Ford Fiesta Zetec 1.0-litre Ecoboost, which is one of the best small cars to drive, but is only £115 less our current favourite, the VW Polo 1.2 TSI.
What’s the Toyota Yaris 1.33 Icon like to drive?
The previous Yaris was rather inert and disappointing to drive, and Toyota has gone to some trouble to try to correct this. Where the older car's steering was overly light, and made the car feel twitchy at speed, the revised model has had weight added to its steering to increase stability.
It's a partial success; the Yaris is now more planted on the motorway, and the steering wheel weights up more evenly through corners. It’s still vague around the straight-ahead, though, which means you need to make constant corrections to the steering on the motorway. Overall, it’s still nowhere near as good to drive as a Ford Fiesta.
The petrol engine isn’t well suited to spending lots of time on faster roads, either. It’s strong enough around town, but quickly runs out of puff as speeds increase, with motorway overtakes requiring one or even two downchanges through the six-speed manual gearbox. The Fiesta’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is much more flexible, and feels genuinely fast by comparison.
Ride comfort has been improved, however. A stiffer body helps the retuned suspension work more effectively – the car takes big bumps and speed humps in its stride. This compliance continues as the speeds increase, although the car can lean rather alarmingly during more enthusiastic cornering.
Smaller imperfections in the road are still transferred to the cabin occupants, though. There’s a constant patter through the suspension and tyres that can be both felt and heard. Over the course of a long journey this gets tiresome very quickly - a Volkswagen Polo is definitely a more refined choice.
At high speeds, wind noise joins the din made by the tyres, and the Yaris is not a car you’ll want to use for long journeys. In its natural habitat (city streets) it feels much more at home, although the hybrid may be a better bet for its better low-speed refinement, cheaper running costs and mild electric capability.
What’s the Toyota Yaris 1.33 Icon like inside?
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, but if they’re really tall they might find their knees touching the front-seatbacks. The central rear passenger will be cramped, but with no transmission tunnel in the floor they’ll at least have somewhere to put their feet.
The plastics aren’t great. There’s now a big bar of soft-touch material on the dashboard, which goes some way to improving perceived qualit, but have a poke lower down and you find cheaper materials, particularly on the centre console.
A touch-screen infotainment system is standard on Icon trim and up. The 7.0-inch screen is fairly easy to use, with simple menus and clear (if slightly small) icons, although it reflects glare in bright sunlight, which makes it impossible to read, and is not always as responsive as you might want.
The boot is marginally better than in the hybrid model, as it doesn’t have to give up any space to any hybrid paraphernalia. It’s still not as big as that in the Fiesta, but it has an evenly shaped opening and split-fold seats, which help increase the available space.
Equipment is fairly generous, with this mid-spec Icon trim getting USB and aux input, alloy wheels, a leather-covered steering wheel and infotainment screen. Step up to Sport to get LED running lights, tinted windows, DAB radio and a rear spoiler. Top-spec Excel models get cruise and climate control, auto lights and wipers, and part-leather seats.
Option packs are available: the Style pack brings aluminium and chrome detailing; the Protection pack gets front and rear parking sensors, mudflaps and an extra protection bar for the rear bumper; Design brings tinted windows and LED head and brake lights.
Should I buy one?
The supermini market is flooded with choices and unfortunately the Yaris is still an ‘also-ran’ rather than a genuine class contender. When the Fiesta handles brilliantly and also rides comfortably for not much more money, we cannot really recommend the Yaris to keen drivers.
Nevertheless, it’s predicted to hold on to its value better than some of its more common competitors, and Toyota’s five-year warranty should add peace of mind. While Toyota as a brand was rated average for reliability in the last JD Power survey, the Yaris as a model performed better than average.
The hybrid is more expensive to buy, but if you’re looking for a car to use almost exclusively on city streets its electric power helps keep running costs low and gives better acceleration – and it's one of the cheapest company cars you can run.
If you’re just looking for a cheap petrol hatchback, however, there are better choices out there.
What Car? says…
Toyota Yaris 1.33 Icon 5dr
Engine size 1.33-litre petrol
Price from £14,095
Torque 92lb ft
0-62mph 11.7 seconds
Top speed 109mph
Fuel economy 57.6mpg