Great Yaris All-Rounder for the Young & Young at Heart

By Lee Pang Seng

TOYOTA is warming up very nicely to the new theme ‘All About The Drive’. Its successive range of vehicles in the current era is getting more dynamically sound and would hold its own through winding road sections, quite unlike the scenario more than a decade ago.

It has to step up in the game especially when the closest rival here is winning sales on vehicles that look younger and are competent performers on the road. The latest Toyota Yaris is a continuation of this new image and a drive to Janda Baik convinced us that it’s more than ready to take on its rival for a strong share of young customers and even the young at heart.

Let’s start from the beginning. When we learnt that UMW Toyota Motor was going to bring back the Yaris, we were a bit sceptical. Having had a go in this model more than 10 years ago, we saw its limitations in appeal then due mainly to its rather high price even though it wasn’t a bad car to drive. Few could see the value in a pricey imported hatchback, when there was the Perodua Myvi delivering decent motoring for a lot less.

There was also the fun-to-drive and decently priced Suzuki Swift before its sales were discontinued in our market. Perhaps this was the opportunity that was suddenly available in the market if a right product could come along with strong appeal and good price. Honda saw that opening but its Jazz was still on the pricey side.

In that respect, UMW Toyota Motor’s move to re-introduce the Yaris as a locally assembled model made good sense. If it could deliver a car that could catch the attention of young customers who want a fun-to-drive hatchback that didn’t cost the earth, then there was a fairly sizeable pool in the market to tap on.

For us, the ‘Y’ factor was the Yaris’s drive performance that we were looking for as we assembled at UMW Toyota Motor’s premises in Shah Alam recently for that drive to Janda Baik. In looks, the Yaris has the youthful cut that the younger set could relate to and depending on the model, the level of standard features was enough to please most. With prices (on the road without insurance) ranging from RM71,000 for the J variant to RM84,000 for the top Yaris G, the new Yaris couldn’t have been more attractively priced.

As expected, all the 20 Yaris hatchbacks made available for the drive were the top G variants and that meant we had the gamut of features to check out along the way. While the Yaris G doesn’t come with leather seats, the fabric ones were comfortable and firm in the right places to accommodate us nicely.

There is the standard engine push start facility, which we always like to use as we have yet to own a vehicle that comes with such a feature, and we like the feel of the steering wheel. It might not be wrapped in leather but it has enough of a tactile feel that is comfortable to grip and use.

There are no steering wheel paddle shifts (like its direct rival) but then again, we aren’t the type who would use them, apart from the novelty of checking them out. We are just as happy pushing or pulling the gearshift on the centre console when manual shifting is preferred.

Besides, the Yaris comes with three drive modes; Normal, Economical and Sport. This would activate the electronic control system to select the best ‘gears’ for the CVT (continuously variable transmission) based on accelerator pedal pressure. And we discovered how effective Sport mode was during the Genting Sempah drive.

Powering the Yaris is the same engine in the Vios, this being a 1.5-litre (1496cc) engine with double overhead camshafts and Dual VVT-i (variable valve timing – intelligence). As such, the output figures are a carbon copy in the 79kW (107hp) at 6000rpm and 140Nm at 4200rpm.
The power-to-weight advantage we were looking for over the Vios was marginal as the Yaris was only a little lighter for the G and E models (by 5kg) while the J models weigh the same 1110kg kerb; the Yaris G tips the scales at 1140kg and the Yaris E 1115 kg.

Both Toyota models are developed from the same floorpan and thus share the same 2550mm wheelbase and 1445mm front and rear wheel treads. In fact, both are of the same 1730mm width and 1475mm height. The only difference is in body length where the Vios sedan is 4425mm long and the Yaris hatchback 4145mm. However, the heavy fifth door of the Yaris sort of evens out the weight despite being shorter.

On the road, the engine performed as expected in Normal mode, giving us a nice, easy pace to move briskly and revving up quickly as and when we wanted to enjoy some quick spurts. When we selected Eco mode on the highway, the CVT upshifts earlier for the engine to run at an easier trot so that good fuel mileage could be gained.

And when it came time to push, the Yaris obliged as we had the speedometer needle at 140 to 160km/h when the highway was clear. This was exactly the same feeling we had with the Vios and it was fine if you don’t pit it against the direct rival.

UMW Toyota Motor provided us the opportunity to drive a direct rival’s car to compare the merits but with a power deficit of about 9.5kW (13hp), it was clear which was the faster car. The difference was that the Yaris took its time building up speed while the rival model simply galloped away. But once on song, the Yaris would hold its own on the highway.

It was in the suspension tuning that swung in the Yaris favour. For the fast sweeping corners, the Yaris held its line through with barely noticeable body roll and if there were road undulations, the Toyota hot hatch might be momentarily unsettled before regaining its steady poise quickly despite being pushed through at a quick speed. We experienced some body wallow with the rival model.

But it was driving through the tight and twisty Genting Sempah road that we enjoyed the new Yaris the most. Engaging Sport mode, we could push the Yaris through the respective corners with quite a bit of abandonment while enjoying every minute. Steering response was accurate even for an EPS (electronic power steering) and we could determine how the front wheels were pointing as we rushed from corner to corner. The CVT would select gears accordingly so that maximum engine torque was available to aid road traction.

There was hardly any body roll to speak of – though we could see via the rearview mirror that the Yaris following us was dipping slightly through the corner - and that gave us the confidence to push the Yaris even harder as we explored its dynamic limits. And when we ran into some understeer due to our exuberance, lifting off the accelerator momentarily reduced corner speed and we could regain direction to charge into the next turn. This uplifting dynamic experience certainly made us feel young again.

The Yaris suspension design might seem ordinary with a MacPherson strut front and a torsion beam rear with anti-roll bars front and rear, it’s the tuning of the system components and a strong chassis that allow it to perform strongly in a dynamic way. The standard Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control systems played their part too. So too did the tyres, which were 195/50 R16 Toyo Proxes R50 for the Yaris G.

Like the highway experience, it would take a lot to unsettle the Yaris, even when taking tight corners at full speed. Where there were ruts, road breaks or uneven surfaces, the suspension was well tuned to absorb the roughness and perform up to expectations and predictably. Other than a slight twitch, we were never at a point where we felt the Yaris had lost traction.

We were always in control and this was with a standard specification Yaris. We were fully impressed with the strong dynamic qualities of the Yaris and indeed, this Toyota hot hatch has fully taken over the spot vacated by the Suzuki Swift. If you want a fun-to-drive car at an affordable price, look no further than the new Yaris.

Stopping power was just as good; the Yaris G’s four wheel disc brakes (ventilated in front) provided progressively strong slowing performance. There was hardly any brake fade during the few times we had to hit the brakes really hard and they don’t grab either.

At the same time, ride comfort is just as much a part of the Yaris package. We covered many bumpy roads on the assigned route to Janda Baik, some sections were rutted and potholes were a-plenty, but the Yaris rode them out with the least of a hassle. The suspension system absorbed the uneven road surfaces and bumps so well that we didn’t felt toss about like salad. It was like being in a bigger car.

This is part of the added refinement that the new Yaris has to offer, much like the latest Vios. Being an entry level model doesn’t mean you get a car that’s noisy on the highway, has a lower level of standard fittings, suffers a bumpy ride and comes with a cheap, plasticky interior. The new Yaris has defied all that.

Despite its price, you get a hot hatch that is as good in social graces as the other models up the ladder. When we were barrelling along the highway, the Yaris knifed through the air without raising a ruckus, thanks to good body aerodynamics. It tore along as quiet as could be expected, helped also by good insulation, and we could even compare notes among us in the car without having to raise our voice.

Fine, the Yaris G might have a lot of plastic fittings with very minimal leather appointments but the tactile experience remains on the satisfactory side. If we were in a market for such a car, the Yaris would be top on our list. It scores highly as an overall package; youthful looks, strong dynamic performance, acceptable acceleration, quiet and comfortable ride, lots of features, attractive price. Bro, you couldn’t ask for a better deal!