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Engine options, top speed, acceleration and refinement

Toyota’s hybrid powertrains have always delivered fuel economy better than the class average, but this has generally come at some cost to drivability.

This remains the case for the fourth-generation Yaris, even though the new 1.5-litre parallel hybrid system has been designed to feel more natural under load, with the ‘e-CVT’ transmission (which isn’t strictly a CVT at all) exhibiting less of the so-called ‘elastic band’ effect than it once did. With revised tuning and more electric power at hand, those yawning stretches of fixed-rpm din are if not banished then at least ameliorated somewhat.

Electric propulsion is a real asset in town, enabling the Yaris to be quick off the mark, and the base-spec model’s greater pliancy over its firmer range-mates is welcome.

This set-up nevertheless puts its best foot forward with light to middling throttle applications, when only modest force – if any at all – is asked of the naturally aspirated three-cylinder engine. The Yaris is therefore especially effective in urban environments, because the electric drive motor endows it with the usefully sharp step-off and a healthy measure of the linear initial acceleration for which pure-electric cars are known. The official claim is that the Yaris can operate on electric power for 80% of the time at low speeds, and it seems a plausible statistic, if you can learn to use the accelerator pedal deftly enough.

However, on the open road, the Yaris is still no natural, especially when it comes to anything more lively than merely keeping pace with traffic. Although the extra power has made the Yaris more effective when it comes to overtaking – which was a weakness of the previous model that owners often highlighted – such activities still need to be planned carefully. If you want to quantify that, consider our timed 8.8sec effort for the dash from 30mph to 70mph.

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Indeed, performance is unlikely to be the top priority of any hybrid Yaris owner, although our test car did acquit itself well during acceleration testing from standstill. The Yaris proved quicker to 60mph than the Ford Fiesta equipped with Ford’s excellent 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine.

Admittedly, this small victory can probably be chalked up to the striking effect of the electric motors when pulling off the mark, because the manner in which the hybrid system gives up the goods when the engine properly comes ‘on song’ is neither enjoyable nor especially forceful.