First, a confession: if I was to name my ‘best’ car of 2020 based on its staggering technical ability, immense desirability and complete driving experience, it would be the Porsche Taycan. But we - and I - have sung its praises on so many occasions now that it felt right to extol the virtues of something less obvious. The new Toyota Yaris Hybrid.
Yes, my colleague Matt Saunders has already waxed lyrical about a Yaris, but that’s the epic-sounding (and mechanically unrelated) GR I’ve yet to experience. Rather, the humble standard Yaris deserves merit as being the most improved mainstream model over its predecessor that I can recall in recent times.
Frankly, I firmly disliked the old Yaris Hybrid. It had its positives, but it was white goods transport that only really excelled around town. Unremarkable ride and handling, a dreary cabin and an oddly MPV-like feel and driving position meant it was pretty far from the class best. But it was the powertrain – that constantly droning four-cylinder engine combined with elastic-band CVT revving and a wearisome lack of pace – that made longer journeys and spirited, out-of-town driving quite unpleasant.
The new car doesn’t totally rewrite the formula, but Toyota seems to have realised that somebody paying well over £20k for a supermini might want to use it outside city limits. It’s more frugal and has better EV range in urban use, but on the open road, it’s a bit of a revelation. The new platform, wider track, less upright body and lower seating position mean there’s a genuinely capable (and fun) chassis underneath, and its predecessor's lacklustre design and (to a lesser extent) cabin have been brought right up to date.
Ditching the Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder motor for a three-cylinder was an inspired choice, too. It’s more powerful and torquier, and feels like it doesn’t have to work as hard just to keep up with the general traffic flow. Not only is it generally quieter, too, the sound no longer conjures up images of a dying farmyard animal when you clog it and the revs soar. It's enjoyable anywhere, not just in town.
Yes, a Fiesta is still the class driver's choice. But you expect a Fiesta to be good. The standard Yaris has spent years offering nothing whatsoever to titilate the interested driver. That it can now appeal to 'us' while still pleasing its traditional customer base is cause for celebration, and gives me hope for the electrified future.