The Toyota Yaris Hybrid takes some of the tech that has made the Prius such a massive hit and miniaturised it. Jonathan Crouch checks out the revised, now more affordable range.
Ten Second Review
Hybrid technology now features in every Toyota Yaris trim level, building on a package of improvements that had already made this petrol/electric supermini model smarter, plusher inside, better to drive and quieter. Oh and did we mention it still can record over 85mpg?
Petrol electric technology has worked well for the Toyota Yaris and the result is that hybrid variants accunt for an increasingly large proportion of total Yaris sales. It's also helped that this model has been refreshed in recent times as part of a general Yaris range update that incuded 1,000 new parts and saw 576,000 man hours of development.
Though this wasn't the market's very first hybrid supermini, it was the first able to improve upon the running costs of comparable eco-conscious diesel models in this segment, while matching (or beating) them on price. Which has made this model a game-changer in its town-targeted market sector and, in theory at least, an impossible option to ignore for those who spend much of their lives in the kind of stop-start traffic where hybrid technology really comes into its own. Let's put it to the test.
The Yaris Hybrid is powered by a combination of a 1.5-litre petrol engine and a small electric motor which together combine to produce a modest 100PS. That might not sound much, but such is the torque of the motor that it feels as if it's got the lazy flexibility of a bigger engine which is exactly what you want around town. You can pull away and drive just over a mile purely in electric mode if you're light on the throttle and when the petrol engine does kick in, it's anything but uncouth. Drive goes to the front wheels via an e-CVT continuously variable transmission and the turning circle is, at 4.7 metres, just as tight as the regular Yaris. The power pack is effectively a downsized version of that featured in the Prius, with a more compact electric motor, transaxle, inverter and battery pack.
Toyota has tried to boost the driving dynamics of the Yaris but it's still no Fiesta. That said, the Hybrid does what it was designed to do brilliantly, namely handle stop and start city traffic. Ride quality retains a decent suppleness, courtesy of a retuned torsion beam rear suspension. The steering is also a tad sharper and the springs and dampers have been fettled for better body control. Toyota has further improved the refinement of what was already a very quiet car by reducing wind noise at speed and increasing the amount of cabin soundproofing material.
Design and Build
This improved Yaris takes its styling influence form the Aygo, with the X-shaped frontal graphic giving it a far sharper look. It's a more assertive-looking car and Europeans like that. Where Toyota Motor Europe invested 25% of the development budget into the initial third gen Yaris, they paid for 75% of this revision. The headlights get projector technology for high and low beams and the clusters incorporate LED daytime running lights. If you owned an original Yaris Hybrid model, you might also notice this current version's revised door belt moulding, LED light clusters, smarter bumpersand updated 15 and 16-inch alloy wheel designs.
The interior is also a lot plusher than it used to be, with a narrower upper instrument panel, a sleeker door panel and a centre console that's been raised by 23mm so that the length of the gear lever can be reduced by 30mm, improving the ergonomics of gear changes. Adopting the latest Toyota Touch 2 multimedia systems has brought an increase in the size of the central touchscreen from 6.1 to seven inches. Better materials with more consistent grains and softer padding also feature. By cleverly packaging the hybrid drive system, this Yaris features just as much boot space as its more conventionally powered siblings. That means you get 272 litres under the parcel shelf and when you drop the 60:40 folding EasyFlat rear seats you've got up to 477 litres at your disposal.
Market and Model
Originally, it was only possible to order a Yaris Hybrid with very plush trim, but you can now specify this technology right across the range, which means a lower starting point for prices which begin at around £15,000. Active is now the entry point to the five-door-only line-up, but even at this level, the car comes equipped with dual-zone climate control, trip computer, power front windows and a split-folding rear seats.
The plusher Sport variant cuts a sharper dash with rear privacy glass, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler and a rear pillar treatment that creates a floating roof effect. Other key features include climate control, power windows all round and the Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system with DAB radio, Bluetooth, touchscreen control and rear view camera. An optional Skyview panoramic roof can also be specified.
Further up the range lie Icon and Excel variants. The range-topping Excel gets features like part leather seats, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers and dusk-sensing headlights.
The Toyota Touch 2 system is interesting, offering an updated take on the touch screen multimedia system with a higher resolution seven-inch display. The package includes Bluetooth for hands-free calling, sending and receipt of text messages and audio streaming. There's a rear-view camera, vehicle information, including trip data, climate control profile and management of settings for door locking and lighting. It comes with DAB digital radio as standard, with an FM link that automatically switches the system to FM reception when there is no DAB signal. Toyota Touch 2 is also MirrorLink-ready, allowing users to connect compatible smartphones and operate them entirely using the touch screen. Toyota Touch 2 with Go is available as an option, adding navigation, connected services and access to a range of applications, including Toyota Real Time Traffic and services such as fuel prices, weather and parking information.
Cost of Ownership
The question many will need answered is whether the Yaris Hybrid works out cheaper to run over a three year period than, say, the 1.4-litre diesel model you could also choose. In truth there's extremely little in it. The Hybrid scores better for fuel economy, insurance costs and emissions while the diesel counters with slightly better residual values and cheaper servicing.
With ever stricter emissions-based tax legislation, the 79g/km Hybrid future-proofs itself better than the 99g/km diesel - which could be critical. The other thing to bear in mind is that you're building the additional cost of a CVT transmission into calculations on the Hybrid whereas the diesels just campaign with a manual 'box, so on balance, the Hybrid probably just squeaks it. All told, it's hard to argue with a car that can return 85.6mpg on the combined cycle.
Is the Toyota Yaris Hybrid a car that appeals on grounds other than mere skinflintery? The answer has to be yes. Even if you didn't care what fuel economy or emissions figures it was getting, you'd be impressed with its ride quality in town, its smooth powertrain and the way it integrates big car features into a supermini. Choose the base Active model and you're getting an awful lot of car for around £15,000. You can easily spend that on a sparsely-equipped feebly-powered Fiesta or Corsa diesel, so the Yaris Hybrid's value proposition is easy to appreciate.
The changes to the Yaris have worked well on the Hybrid. While it's still not the sharpest driver's car in the sector, it never set out to lay claim to that title. Instead it's a car that works brilliantly at its key remit; taking the slog out of city driving. You can't ask for much more than that.