Better late than never, that all but sums up the Toyota Yaris. The B+ segment has been a gaping hole in Toyota’s India line-up, a segment in which Honda has made hay for the longest time, and a gap that was hard to explain considering that Toyota hasn’t left the Honda City unchallenged in South East Asia. Our Asian neighbours call it the Vios, in India it is called the Yaris, but the target is the same – Honda’s City and all the other rivals including the Hyundai Verna, Skoda Rapid, VW Vento and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz.
We’ve been vocal, vehement and unrestrained in our criticism of bland Toyota’s and they’ve taken all that to heart, addressing it most recognisably in the styling department. Today Toyota does not make a boring car to look at. Polarising for sure, but not boring. Same holds true for the Toyota Yaris that has a dramatic front end with the gaping grille flanked by slinky headlamps cutting a striking and, I have to say, quite attractive shape. Move to the flanks though and it’s obvious that this car is a mid-life facelift of what was once a rather boring car. The flanks are bland and unadorned while the 15-inch wheels together with the raised-for-Indian-roads ride height make it look very undertyred. Things get much better at the rear with the slim and stretched-out taillamps with the LED lighting strip, but the Yaris is a car best viewed from up front.
I’m struggling to say what is it exactly that reminds me of the Corolla but the Yaris definitely has the genes of its big brother, and most Toyota customers will be very happy with that. Step inside and the leather upholstery feels rather premium, as do the wide and accommodating seats and the piano-black inserts liberally scattered around the cabin. Slide back and lower the driver’s seat – electrically, a first in this segment – adjust the steering wheel to get comfortable and – shock! – you realise the steering does not telescope out to adjust for reach. That used to be the case with the Honda City, not anymore.
The centre armrest does not slide ahead so you cannot rest your elbow on it, which is a good thing because the cabin is narrow and driver and passenger are guaranteed to get into arguments if both want to rest their elbows. The narrowness is more pronounced at the rear where three abreast is a definite squeeze. I’m five foot nine inches and I had half an inch of headroom to spare while ingress and egress meant ducking a bit to avoid hitting my head on the door aperture. And the knee room is just about enough – a bit more than the Verna, not as spacious as the Honda City, Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, Skoda Rapid et all.
On the upside there’s a blower mounted on the roof that works really well in directing cool air to the rear seat occupants. The unit is only a blower, doesn’t have a condenser like the Innova, but for the Yaris’s cabin it works very well, much better than floor-mounted vents like its rivals. The incline of the rear seat is also perfectly judged, as is the hip-point, and I was perfectly happy sitting in the back for the first hour of our drive. I must also add that the top-end variants get acoustic and vibration control glass that results in a very silent cabin while cutting down UV rays into the cabin by 50 per cent leading to a more agreeable environment, less load on the air-con and better fuel efficiency.
You don’t get alloy wheels or rear disc brakes on the base variant but you get seven airbags and in my book – as it should in yours’ too – that’s a big plus point. In addition the top-of-the-line Toyota Yaris gets Vehicle Stability Control along with ABS and EBD and a tyre pressure monitoring system. On the equipment front you get a feature-laden touchscreen infotainment system that also gets gesture control. However, in a weirdly Japanese way, you have to hold your palm in front of the sensor for a few seconds for it to recognise your hand, beep an acknowledgement and then you swipe sideways to change audio stations. And unlike BMW that requires a perfectly natural finger-twirling gesture to adjust volume here you raise or lower your palm, which I found difficult to get used to. The system also looks like a (high-end) after-market stereo and, in this day and age when your mobile phone is the first thing to get plugged in, the only USB slot in the car is behind a flap on the stereo, a flap that will dangle inelegantly till such time as it inevitably will fall off. And for those who demand and throw good money at a sunroof (why!?) I must tell you the Yaris doesn’t offer one.
Nothing to get alarmed here. 70 per cent of Honda City sales are still petrol while even the Hyundai Verna has around 50 per cent off-take for the petrol. And in any case Toyota doesn’t have a suitable diesel engine that they can throw into the Yaris, sensibly resisting the temptation to plonk the Corolla’s underpowered 1.4 mill in. So the only engine you get on the Yaris is the 1.5-litre petrol that makes 105.6bhp and 140Nm mated to a 6-speed manual. On the plus side you get the option of a 7-speed CVT, right from the base version, and it has excellent fuel efficiency with a claimed 17.8kmpl (17.1kmpl for the manual). On the other end of the scale the Yaris isn’t a lightweight at 1135kg and with just north of 100bhp performance isn’t sprightly.
The CVT has that typical rubber-band effect where, under hard acceleration, the revs drone away at around 6000rpm as the car picks up speed. Using the paddles does reduce this to an extent but there’s no hiding it completely. And to add to that the initial acceleration on the CVT is surprisingly leisurely. There isn’t any urgency and on uphill starts it takes very long time to pick up the pace. Good thing it has hill hold assist.
Motorsport folk will remember the iconic hill climb that used to carve up the 30-odd corners to Tipu Sultan’s fort at the top of the hill. The hill climb has long being abandoned and today Nandi Hills is crawling with brides and grooms to be. Seriously! On the way up we saw no less that 20 pre-wedding shoots being done, all of them giving us dirty looks for shattering the calm with our squealing tyres. The Toyota Yaris though wasn’t built for the Nandi Hill Climb. Body roll is generous and the steering is lifeless. The front-end grip, in fact overall grip levels, are compromised by tyres chosen for ride and fuel efficiency. And Vehicle Stability Control cannot be switched off so if you get a little enthusiastic the electronics get alarmed and cuts power while throwing the anchors to slow you down mid corner. On the subject of anchors the CVT doesn’t deliver any engine braking so down Nandi Hills I really had to stand on the stoppers. And I can report that the disc brakes on all four corners gives the Yaris very good retardation with very little brake fade.
While the Toyota Yaris doesn’t like being hustled it feels perfectly at home driven at eight-tenths. Let me explain. Descend the Nandi Hills and it is a 40km drive on typically narrow and broken country roads before we get to the excellent Bangalore – Hyderabad highway. We are four-up in the Yaris, with some luggage, and we’re running behind schedule so the gear lever is in Sport mode, my foot is hard on the gas, and my fingers are on the paddles to cut out the rubber-band effect.
Turns out the Yaris is quite adept at hustling down these roads at a fair clip. Sure the engine needs to be worked hard to get up to speed but the chassis and suspension does an excellent job of keeping the body flat and planted over bumpy roads. The ride quality and bump absorption is very good as are the NVH levels with nary a shock or nasty jolt creeping into the cabin. We even flew over a few unmarked speedbreakers and none of my passengers whacked me on the head. And, I remind you, there were four fully-grown journos in the car – despite which the suspension did not bottom out and the car didn’t weave or wallow. Even the steering, lifeless as it is, didn’t feel overtly assisted or flighty. Out on the open highway the Yaris feels stable and planted and doesn’t get buffeted by cross winds. And the refinement remains very good with minimal wind and tyre noise seeping into the cabin.
I did not expect Toyota to undercut the Honda City and Hyundai Verna on pricing but they have come close. The base variant of the Toyota Yaris starts at Rs 8.75 lakh and the variant tested here with the CVT automatic transmission is Rs 14.07 lakh. That compares very favourably with its rivals though it does not get some features like a sun roof. Then again you are getting the Toyota promise of quality, reliability and longevity – three things that have made for a legion of fans who, eyes closed, will happily stump up for another Toyota to compliment the Innova or Fortuner in their garage. That the Yaris feels like a baby Toyota Corolla is no bad thing either and, though by no stretch a sporty car, it really delivers on comfort, refinement and a generally relaxed ambience. The Honda City now has yet another rival to worry about, no question about it.