You will have noticed that Toyota are on a mission to change perceptions and infuse excitement into the brand. Cars like the 86 sportster sought to cast an exciting glow onto the line-up. Things look set to heat up further with enticing prospects like the thrilling FT-1 on the horizon. The lengthy online hashtag we were encouraged to use at the launch of the new Yaris last week best sums up their new direction.
#ToyotaGetsMyPulseRacing is what they hope young B-segment buyers will start thinking. The industry is one of unrelenting change. Buyers have a smorgasbord of choice that could have never been imagined a decade ago. These days, you can have a B-segment car that boasts charisma, sharp dynamics, gadgetry aplenty and unwavering reliability. So it was refreshing to see some brazenness in the new car, which sports a visage that rivals the French automakers for quirkiness. It is absolutely un-Toyota-like in design and will no doubt divide opinion.
The 2014 model is an extensive overhaul rather than an entirely new vehicle. The mandate was to address the shortcomings of its predecessor. One of these, according to Toyota representatives, was a lack of cool factor, which is something young upstarts shopping in this segment prioritise. Boosting refinement was also on the list. As was the greater demand for technological niceties. The handling received attention, too. In fact, the revitalised city-slicker gained more than 1 000 new parts and an investment of 85-million euros.
The results of this holistic improvement plan were noticeable over our 200km test drive that spanned the varying roads of the scenic Western Cape. The interior failings of the previous model have been remedied. Soft-touch materials have been employed in favour of the coarse and cheap-feeling old surfaces. Over bad road surfaces, there was not a rattle or squeak to be heard in the cabin.
Under the hood, things remain the same. Buyers still have a trio of petrol engines to pick from. Marking the entry-point is a 1-litre engine (51kW and 95Nm), followed by a 1.3- litre mill (73kW and 125Nm) and headlined by a 1.5-litre hybrid derivative (74kW and 156Nm). The least-endowed model was not available to sample at launch. A pity, because it was the recipient of a number of revisions. Over elevations and twisty bits, the 1.3-litre proved to be fizzy and willing. It is eager to rev and in sixth gear, on the open road, settles quite happily at 120km/h. This is also available with a CVT gearbox.
The hybrid is still a bone of contention. Sure, it is unique since it is the only powertrain of its kind available in this segment. But you pay a hefty premium. Still, the two-pedal hybrid is leisurely to pilot in traffic and also affords one the novelty of creeping around silently in full-electric mode. It gets up to speed briskly, but the momentum is accompanied by a painfully monotonous drone.
I find it strange that Toyota see more sense in continuing to offer the HSD, of which they sell only a handful, as opposed to a diesel derivative.The new Yaris is more rigid thanks to additional spot-welds and reinforcements. Not that its predecessor was particularly flaccid. But with an effortless gearshift action, soft clutch pedal and light steering wheel, it makes no pretence about its status as an easy-to-use urban commuter.
Standard kit is plentiful. Even the starter 1-litre gets a multi-information display, six-speaker sound system, Bluetooth, and audio and telephone controls on the steering wheel. This is in addition to the stuff we come to expect as obligatory in 2014: air-conditioning, air bags, anti- lock brakes and electric windows. At R167 900, this model is exceptional value. But your decision might be tougher when you consider the other models. The 1.3 goes for R194 300 and the CVT for R206 500.
They sit squarely in the realm of the striking Kia Rio 1.4 (R193 995); formidable Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost Trend (R204 500) and evergreen Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI Trendline (R191 600). The Volkswagen is extortive when it comes to extras that should come standard. But the former pair are hard to ignore at this price point.
You would have to be really hellbent on hybrid ownership to opt for the HSD, which has a steep asking price of R276 900. You must weigh this up as you could hop into the frugal and well-built new Corolla 1.4D Prestige for less. Be in no doubt that the upgraded Yaris is considerably better than the outgoing model. But for all its nips and tucks, one cannot help but feel that the grumpy new face it wears is out of envy at the competition, which seems to have supplanted Toyota as the first port of call in the fierce B-segment.
Power: 51kW at 6 000rpm (1.0); 73kW at 6 000rpm (1.3); 55kW at 4 800rpm (1.5)
Torque: 95Nm at 4 300rpm (1.0); 125Nm at 4 000rpm (1.3); 111Nm at 3 600rpm (1.5)
0 -100km/h: 15. 3sec (1.0); 11.7sec (1.3); 12.6sec (1.3 CVT); 11.8sec (1.5)
Top speed: 155km/h (1.0); 175km/h (1.3); 175km/h (1.3 CVT); 165km/h (1.5)
Fuel consumption: 5l/100km (1.0); 5.6l/100km (1.3); 5.5l/100km (1.3 CVT); 3.6l/100km (1.5)
Pricing: R167 900 (1.0); R194 300 (1.3); R206 500 (1.3 CVT); R276 900 (1.5)