Good ‘handling and stability’ means something different for superminis than it does for just about every other class of car. This is because all the memorable handlers in the supermini class achieve enjoyable handling by quite deliberately sacrificing stability. The short wheelbases and narrow tracks are carefully weaponised, and when done well the result is a car like the current Fiesta, which is engaging and satisfying to drive even in its lowliest specifications.
The Yaris is less ambitious than the Fiesta and errs more on the side of stability but it is nevertheless a surprisingly fine-handling car given its humble roots. Riding on 16in wheels – which are paired with softer springs than models with 17in wheels or larger – our test car is not the sharpest Yaris money can buy, and the upcoming GR version should offer another level of involvement altogether, but the chassis balance is neutral and grip levels (aided by the significantly increased track widths) strong in light of the low-friction Continental tyres.
Pretty soon it becomes clear that the fourth-generation Yaris, on its new platform, not only tolerates being grabbed by the scruff of the neck but also actually seems to enjoy it and maintains composure even when driven with the kind of commitment few owners will ever inflict on their car. The steering feeds into the sense of composure. It isn’t as rawly responsive as some in this class, but it is well matched to the Yaris’s generous roll rates. Toyota claims this new supermini is almost 40% more torsionally rigid than its predecessor – chiefly because of the stiff dashboard panel and greater use of spot welding, it says – and on this evidence we’ve little reason to doubt it.
Ultimately, in its standard guise, the Yaris shows more potential as a driver’s supermini than it actually realises. There’s little flair here and the car is impressively settled over a broad range of speeds and quietly satisfying on the right road.
The Yaris proved reasonably composed and precise on the Millbrook Hill Route, although a version on 17in wheels and with the sharper suspension set-up would no doubt have proved more adept. There is also no doubt that numerous rivals offer more in the way of entertainment – not only the Ford Fiesta but also any Peugeot 208, Seat Ibiza or Mazda 2 equipped with three pedals and a conventional engine.
The Yaris’s electronics nevertheless helped to prevent power-on understeer well enough and the inherently neutral handling balance meant decent speed could be carried throughout the lap.