What is it?
Yaris lore won’t be a specialist topic for too many petrolheads, but it’s a relatively interesting story and worth recounting now that the almost entirely new fourth-generation model is upon us.
The original Yaris arrived in 1999 with an almost comically curvaceous body and an instrument binnacle playfully skewed towards the centre of the dashboard. It was fun to look at, but it was also roomy and carefree to drive, and because of this, it sold so well that even Toyota was surprised. Young people especially liked it, and it duly reshaped the supermini class.
However, better-looking rivals had appeared by the mid-2000s (chiefly the Ford Fiesta), so where the Yaris’s cute boldness had once endeared it to recent L-platees, increasingly it was bought by older drivers, who were lured in by the promise of reliability and the efficient (but dull) hybrid powertrains first seen in 2012. For a small car, the Yaris therefore had an image problem, and Toyota tried but mostly failed to remedy this by over-styling subsequent iterations.
Lately, though, Toyota seems to have remembered those things called ‘hype’ and ‘desire’. Our first real whiff of the new Yaris came not in the forgettable form of some tiny-engined prototype but with the news that in development was a homologation-lite uber-Yaris incorporating technology from the nightmarish Yaris WRC rally car. We now know it as the GR Yaris. It makes 257bhp from a 1.6-litre turbo engine and puts it to the ground via all four wheels, some clutch-based rear-axle trickery and proper torque-sensing differentials. And lo, people are talking about the Yaris again.
Of course, the new Yaris Hybrid driven here is very unlike the GR Yaris. It isn’t available with just three doors, nor will it take roundabouts sideways. However, what’s important is that they appear related, and the regular Yaris’s butch wheel arches, squat rear and rising beltline indeed give it an attitude that its predecessor lacked. Even the entry-level Icon, on 16in wheels and without the striking two-tone paint job of our test car, looks decently memorable – fun, even – although well it might for £19,910.
Yes, the Yaris is now dearer than before. Why? Because it uses the Toyota New Global Architecture, the same comparatively costly modular platform that underpins the larger (and frankly very good) Toyota Corolla. The benefits are a much stiffer car, a lower centre of gravity and accommodation for several driver assistance systems, all of which are standard on the Yaris.
This architecture also allows for better use of space. The Yaris is now 55mm shorter than before so sneaks below four metres in length, yet its wheelbase has grown by an impressive 50mm. This is the sort of statistic worth mentioning even when it comes to executive saloons, let alone city-centric hatchbacks.
What hasn’t improved is the old Yaris’s superbly tight turning circle; actually, it has grown slightly, but it’s still no worse than that of the Fiesta or Volkswagen Polo.
The hybrid system is also new, although the technology is familiar. The 1.5 Hybrid tested here is only derivative coming to UK, mostly because, even were Toyota UK to offer the basic 1.0 and 1.5 petrols, almost everyone would go for the electrified model anyway – hardly surprising given that its official economy is almost 70mpg. Total output for the powertrain, which features a three-cylinder Atkinson-cycle petrol engine and two electric motors (one in the driveline proper, another to start the engine and charge both the drive and ancillary batteries), is 114bhp. That’s 16bhp more than before, and every bit of that will be gratefully received by current Yaris drivers who, by Toyota’s own admission, struggle to overtake.