From £15,034
Europe's cheapest hybrid delivers easy-going performance and effortless economy; it's just a shame the fun factor is absent

What is it?

Only the cheapest hybrid car you can currently buy. At £14,995, the new Toyota Yaris Hybrid is more than £1000 cheaper than the previous holder of that crown, the £16,300 – and less sophisticated – Honda Jazz Hybrid.

The Yaris also boasts the lowest CO2 rating of any new car on sale that isn't an electric car or extended-range electric car. Its 79g/km puts it 5g/km below the recently revised Hyundai i20 in that department.

As well as appealing to the head, Toyota also hopes the Yaris will appeal to the heart in the way no Toyota hybrid – or third-generation Yaris, even – has managed. For starters, it looks a darned sight better than the standard Yaris on which it's based, with a much bolder front-end look.

Toyota also promises "more natural acceleration feel" thanks to its retuned CVT gearbox, something that has blighted the performance potential of Toyota's previous hybrid efforts.

What's it like?

Anyone who has ever driven a Prius or an Auris Hybrid will feel instantly at home in the Yaris Hybrid. The Yaris is a class smaller than those, but the Toyota hybrid hallmarks carry over. So look closely on the outside and you'll spot the blue Toyota badging and the 'Hybrid Synergy Drive' logos. Inside, there is the EV mode button, and on the go there's myriad whirring noises as the petrol-electric drivetrain does its efficient work.

The Yaris uses a 1.5-litre petrol engine based on the second-generation Prius's instead of the 1.8 found in the latest Prius and Auris fuel-sippers. The hybrid system – electric motor, transaxle, inverter and batteries – has been downsized from the larger models to fit into the Yaris without compromising on its spacious interior or 286-litre boot.

The hybrid system offers three different driving modes: Normal, Eco and EV. EV allows the Yaris to run on electric power only for short bursts (something the Jazz Hybrid can't manage). This mode is good while it lasts; the Yaris is silent apart from a slight whirr from the electric motor, but inject anything more than a big toe's worth of pressure on the throttle and the engine kicks back in.

Trying Eco mode once is enough; it saps power too much and makes acceleration either a painfully slow or painfully noisy experience (usually both), as the hybrid system doesn't like to be revved.

So it's best to leave the Yaris Hybrid in Normal mode, which is where its best work is done. Drive at a steady pace and the Yaris Hybrid delivers a decent amount of performance, and it also has a surprisingly good turn of speed off the line. But all this is undermined by the CVT gearbox; you're not likely to be able to enjoy a burst of acceleration as there's a constant drone from the transmission.

And whereas the Prius's hybrid system almost effortlessly and silently blends all the components that go into the hybrid drivetrain (save for the CVT), in the Yaris Hybrid you're continually made audibly aware that under the bonnet is not your average small turbodiesel engine.

The Yaris Hybrid is therefore a car to which you need to adapt your driving style in order to get the best out of it. Gentle throttle inputs are the best way to enjoy driving it, something you'll be rewarded for at the pumps. It's also fun to watch the graphics on the interior screen plotting how efficiently you're driving and whether it's the engine or electric motor/battery pack sending power to the front wheels. And in urban driving conditions you're likely to spend at least 40 per cent of the time driving on electric power only; as usual, it's a case of leaving it in Normal mode and letting the clever electronics decide when to run on all-electric power, rather than sticking it in EV mode yourself.

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As for the all-important economy figure, a three-hour test route that took in a decent range of everyday driving conditions returned a figure of 65mpg, versus the official claimed figure of 76.3mpg for the T Spirit we tested (the base T3 and T4 models boast an even more impressive 80.7mpg). It was a highly commendable performance, but it's worth noting that the flat roads around Amsterdam didn't allow for a test replicating the UK's naturally hilly road conditions to be factored into the overall figure.

The Yaris Hybrid rides, handles and steers in much the same way as its conventionally powered siblings, even given its extra weight, 20mm increase in length and the 16in alloys of our T Spirit test car. The mature ride quality is a particular highlight that, coupled with steering that is light but not completely devoid of feel, makes the Yaris Hybrid a fine performer around its natural habitat of town centres. 

Should I buy one?

Clearly, the Yaris Hybrid is aimed at a very particular type of buyer, one who cares more about economy, comfort and space than performance and driver involvement. And Toyota has absolutely nailed the Yaris Hybrid for the type of buyer who's going to buy it, a type that's on the rise in these increasingly eco-conscious times.

It looks funky enough on the outside, if a little dowdy inside (but the amount of space helps compensate for this). It also rides nicely and is comfortable and well equipped.

Crucially, the fuel economy is impressive, as is a sticker price that is not only lower than the Jazz Hybrid's but also undercuts super-frugal turbodiesel economy specials including the Ford Fiesta Econetic and Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion.

But would you, the enthusiast, go for the Yaris Hybrid over its more zesty peers? Like the Prius and Auris Hybrid before it, the Yaris Hybrid will certainly appeal to the head, but the heart may not thank you for buying one.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid 

Price: from £14,995; 0-62mph: 11.8sec; Top speed: 103mph; Economy: 80.7mpg (T Spirit 76.3mpg); CO2: 79g/km (T Spirit 85g/km); Kerb weight: 1085kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1497cc, petrol, plus electric motor; Combined power: 98bhp: Torque: 82lb ft (petrol engine), 125 lb ft (electric motor); Gearbox: CVT

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phantom67 13 October 2012

Fun factor

You don`t need powerful engines,  hard suspension etc to have fun behind the wheel. We ran an old Nissan Micra with 55bhp! for five years as a second car that put a smile on my face everytime I used it more so than its E-class Mercedes stablemate

Fidji3 3 June 2012

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I'm sure this is a very impressive car, but whilst the price is quite off-putting, the whole package is just too boring for words.

HybridRabbit 30 May 2012

I bought a Prius 2 (second

I bought a Prius 2 (second hand) for its mpg. I would recommend a Toyota hybrid for much more than that : there is fun to drive these hybrids with no sensation of changing gears (as if you had only one very long gear), absolute silence when at the red light, relative silence when coasting even on the motroway (the engine shouts only when accelerating)... and the ability to jump out at the traffic lights, getting to 30mph much faster and easier than most cars of that size (and maybe even BMWs), because of the instant torque from the electric motor.

There is no comparison to ANY normal car when driving a Toyota hybrid in cities and their inevitable traffic jams, starting, creeping, stopping, etc. You will also enjoy the ability to move inch per inch without getting tired on the clutch in narrow parking spaces...

You must try it for a while to understand what I am talking about. There is definitely fun driving those, just not the kind of "fun" you would have driving a Clio V6 for sure, but there IS fun...

Adrian987 30 May 2012

CVT fun

HybridRabbit wrote:

I bought a Prius 2 (second hand) for its mpg. I would recommend a Toyota hybrid for much more than that : there is fun to drive these hybrids with no sensation of changing gears (as if you had only one very long gear), absolute silence when at the red light, relative silence when coasting even on the motroway (the engine shouts only when accelerating)... and the ability to jump out at the traffic lights, getting to 30mph much faster and easier than most cars of that size (and maybe even BMWs), because of the instant torque from the electric motor.

There is no comparison to ANY normal car when driving a Toyota hybrid in cities and their inevitable traffic jams, starting, creeping, stopping, etc. You will also enjoy the ability to move inch per inch without getting tired on the clutch in narrow parking spaces...

You must try it for a while to understand what I am talking about. There is definitely fun driving those, just not the kind of "fun" you would have driving a Clio V6 for sure, but there IS fun...

I can understand where you are coming from on this.  I've not driven a Prius (only ridden in one, in London), but have good experience of owning a ordinary CVT, they are not as bad as some make out and have their own enjoyment factor.  Ideal for painless pottering, use in town, in congested conditions, country lanes, and ultra smooth for passengers.  If the driver is looking for conventionally geared sensations, though, they could end up disappointed. A press-on driving style shows CVT in its worst light, and there is not the same finesse to things in the twisties as the engine revs bear little relationship to road speed, and on-off-on-off the throttle is really unsatisfying.

CVT hybrid is not really for conventional car enthusiasts, then, you need the right mindset.  If you have that, then you can have fun.  I think some of Autocar's criticism is about what they feel could be a better execution of the drive-train performance in this car, and if this was improved, then there would be more enjoyment/fun to be had.

ja9ae 1 August 2012

0-30 surge of the prius

0-30 surge of the prius rental I had recently was quite a surprise. Electric torque all the way!