I MUST ADMIT to being a little surprised to learn that Toyota was about to showcase its all-new Yaris hatch to the motoring press at the companyâ€™s radical proving grounds near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
After all, this is â€˜justâ€™ an entry-level model, thought I, so what would be the point of the exercise? At the end of the day, at the debriefing, all was revealed: this is definitely one accomplished hatch perfectly capable of sprinting along quite merrily; performing rapid lane changes, and maybe even tackling gravel tracks fully laden without bottoming out â€” should the occasion ever arise during everyday ownership.
A full import from Europe, Toyotaâ€™s revised Yaris arrives in no less than 13 derivatives: six three-door/five-door 1.0-litre powered hatches and seven 1.3-litre models â€“ also in three- or five-door guise.
The tried and tested, baseline, three-cylinder 1.0-litre motor continues to perform sterling service, but its bigger sibling now boasts an all-new dual VVT-i (variable valve timing â€” intelligent) motor that develops 73kW at 6â€‰000rpm, along with 125Nm at 4â€‰000rpm, to offer some real street cred.
â€˜No plans are in the pipeline about restyling the Yaris sedan range anytime soon,â€™ I was told by Toyota product communications manager, Clynton Yon. Though he did tell me that back in 2005, when Yaris first arrived in showrooms up and down the country, the sub-B segment in the SA marketplace consisted just 10 models from different manufacturers. â€˜Today, more than 20 brands are out there trying to tempt you with their wheels, so the competition is particularly fierce right now,â€™ he said.
And yet the record books show that Yaris sales in the first six months commanded 11â€‰000 new customers â€” a trend the company hopes will continue. First impressions of the new external styling would have it appear bolder and sharper, perhaps even more masculine. With a choice of 10 new colours thereâ€™s also a complete relook to the interior.
The Toyota chief designer back in Japan, Dezi Nagaya, the man responsible for producing the first vehicles to feature the distinctive new face of Toyota was upbeat about his new baby and felt: â€˜The protruding nose features slim, subtly slanted, horizontal headlights, smiley radiator grille treatment, along with deep lower air intakes suggest a healthy first impression of a wide stance to the new-look Yaris. Sheâ€™s a little longer to add more space within, while the overall height has been reduced accordingly to allow for a more purposeful appearance.â€™ I think this newcomer will fit in well, nestling between the entry-level Aygo and upmarket Auris â€” especially on price and specification levels (prices start from R124â€‰000).
Perhaps the most noticeable (and practical) changes though are to be found inside the now â€˜fun-to-driveâ€™ Yaris, because the instrument binnacle has now been repositioned â€˜conventionallyâ€™ back in the driverâ€™s line of sight. Thereâ€™s also copious amounts of new soft-look padding and gunmetal detailing strips that highlight controls and switches to be found in the cockpit â€” along with more than the average amount of cubby holes, cup holders and even a hidden compartment in the dashboard that was so well concealed my co-driver and I couldnâ€™t find it!
Available in three specification levels: XI, XS and XR, itâ€™s pleasing to note that creature comforts even in the basic XI model remain fair value and include electric power steering (tilt and telescopic), a multi-function steering wheel, a good quality audio sound system with USB and iPod compatibility, a CD/MP3 player, a gear shift position indicator, Isofix seat anchors, and the ability to carry lots of gear via 60:40 split-rear seats. An air conditioner, alas, is a R9â€‰200 extra.
Migrate to the XS derivative and electric windows, air conditioning, power mirrors, a touch screen audio system are all available. The flagship XR versions offer the above and more besides such as bluetooth compatibility, leather gear knob/steering wheel, fog lamps, climatic air conditioning, auto headlamps and rain sensors.
Certainly not lacking in any way in the name of safety, Toyota offer up to seven airbags for the Yaris â€” while a whole raft of active safety features that include ABS, Brake Assist and EBD, plus â€˜follow-me homeâ€™ lights have been made available.
With prices starting at R124â€‰000 for the 1.0-litre XI 3-door hatch version, and rising to R157â€‰900 for the five-door XR derivative, the new Yaris comes with a four-year/60â€‰000km service plan included in the purchase price (service intervals are every 15â€‰000km), along with Toyotaâ€™s traditional three-year/100â€‰000km warranty. The bigger-engined 1.3-litre sibling range starts at R157â€‰000, rising to R203â€‰700 for the three-door flagship XR version. ToyotaCare roadside assistance programme entitles customers to 24-hour roadside assistance, ensuring ultimate peace-of-mind motoring.