There is no other brand of car in Australia with a reputation to rival Toyota's. Think about it – whenever anyone asks about a car for a youngster, or their aunt who doesn’t really drive much, or an older parent, what’s the first brand that’s invariably brought up?
The Yaris has served as the brand’s smallest passenger entrant in Australia since 2005, and more than 220,000 have found new homes in that time.
Toyota has just updated the local range – comprising the entry level Ascent, the mid-grade SX and the top-shelf ZR - and it’s now only available as a five-door hatch after the four-door sedan was deleted from the line-up.
The top-spec ZR adds LED headlights and tail-lights to the redesign.
It's fair to say that it's motoring at its most basic, but does it represent good value for money?
The Yaris has come a long way from its early days of being, well, a plain old ordinary little hatch. New design tweaks for this update include an overtly sculpted bonnet and bumper treatment and intricate headlight details that help to set it apart from the small-car pack, while the more restrained but tidy rear end brings to mind the brand’s larger Corolla.
The top-spec ZR adds LED headlights and tail-lights to the redesign, while it and the SX also get fog lights.
The multi-layered dashboard treatment is quite contemporary. (ZR shown) Image credit: Tim Robson
Inside it's a similar story, with a heavily sculpted, multi-layered dashboard treatment and flat-faced dash and console. Even the door card design and the seats are quite contemporary.
The only design tweaks for this update are restricted to the use of piano black plastics in place of some silver trim… and that’s it.
The use of 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps on the base Ascent and even on the mid-grade SX model spoils the look a bit, while on the inside it's too easy to find an ocean of hard-touch plastics that reveal the Yaris’s modest price point.
The use of 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps even on the mid-grade SX model spoils the look a bit.
The small Yaris five-door, five-seat hatch is comfortable even for the tallest of drivers, with great visibility, easy-to-read controls, and a steering wheel that's adjustable for both height and reach.
Toyota's ubiquitous small touchscreen multimedia system controls functions like audio, Bluetooth, phone streaming and radio across the three models, with satellite navigation added to the ZR.
The ZR scores satellite navigation.
There are climate control dials instead of buttons for the Ascent and SX, while the ZR gets a digital readout. All three miss out on small, nice-to-have features like one-touch indicators and a digital speedometer.
The steering wheel features controls for audio and phone, while basic cruise control is standard, as well. The exterior mirrors are electric, and the driver's window sports an auto-up function, while the other three are normal. The ZR’s wheel is covered in a thick leather, while the SX makes do with a thinner leather-like cover, and the Ascent is left au naturel.
The ZR’s wheel (pictured) is covered in a thick leather, while the SX makes do with a thinner leather-like cover.
While the central speedometer is large and easy enough to read, the switches for the Toyota 'Safety Sense' gear – standard on the ZR and a $650 option on Ascent and SX, comprising AEB, lane departure warning and auto headlights - are randomly scattered across the length of the dash.
Speaking of the auto headlights, they just don't work very well at all, unfortunately. In high beam mode, they are unable to pick up oncoming headlights in time to dim quickly enough, and they won't even switch on if there is the merest hint of reflected light alongside even a darkened road.
For rear seat passengers, it’s a pretty basic story, with reasonable headroom but not a lot of knee and toe room if taller people are in the front. The middle sash belt retracts into the roof, too, making it a bit difficult to use.
In the back there isreasonable headroom but not a lot of knee and toe room. (SX shown)
There are two ISOFIX points on the back seats, but no cupholders or bottle holders in any form for rear seat passengers - they can share a single cupholder between the front seats, though.
There’s a pair of side-by-side cupholders in the front, along with a couple of small slots in between the front seats, thanks to the lack of a centre console bin.
There are a couple of pockets moulded into the plastic of the centre console between the seats, but they are not very deep and don't hold items particularly securely. The front doors do have bottle holders, along with small pockets.
The rear hatch measures 286 litres across all three variants, and there’s also a false floor that that allows you to hide smaller belongings out of sight. It also makes for a level loading area when the 60/40 split fold seats are dropped.
The boot space is 286 litres with the rear seats up.
There is a space-saver spare underneath the floor.
Size-wise, rivals like the Kia Picanto, which offers 255 litres, and the Mitsubishi Mirage, which can carry 235 litres, outgun the Yaris for space.
All three variants also score a space-saver spare under the floor.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
It costs $15,290 RRP for the 1.3-litre four-cylinder Ascent manual and $17,330 for the 1.5-litre SX self-shifter, with the optional four-speed automatic transmission needing $1530 more. The auto-only 1.5-litre ZR costs $22,470, an increase of $650 that’s reflected in the addition of the safety gear.
Options are limited to metallic paint at $450, and colours include blue, orange, white, grey, black, red and silver.
On average, the Yaris is priced relatively well in a class that contains cars like the Mazda2 and the Honda Jazz, but new entrants like the updated Suzuki Swift do highlight the fact the Yaris’s mechanical package, in particular, is ageing.
The Ascent comes with a 1.3-litre four cylinder petrol engine, auto headlights but not auto wipers, standard cruise control, steering wheel with controls for stereo and phone, electric windows, manual air, a single USB port and a 12 volt socket.
The SX gets a bigger 1.5-litre engine, fog lights, tinted glass and upgraded cloth trim over the 1.3-litre entry-level Ascent model.
The ZR, meanwhile, gets the 'Safety Sense' system, LED headlights and tail-lights, 16-inch alloys, two-tone cloth trim and automatic single-zone climate control.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The Yaris uses a naturally aspirated 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine for the base Ascent, which makes 63kW/120Nm, or a 1.5-litre all-alloy four-cylinder petrol engine that’s good for 80kW/141Nm in the SX and ZR.
A 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that’s good for 80kW/141Nm sits in the SX and ZR.
The little (2NZ-FE) unit is basically a short-stroke version of the larger engine, and also features all-alloy construction.
Fitted with Toyota’s variable valve timing system and a steel timing chain, meanwhile, the (1NZ-FE) 1.5-litre isn’t the last word in refinement, but it delivers a surprisingly spritely mid-range despite a modest torque figure.
Both engines are backed by either a four-speed auto, or five-speed manual (in Ascent and SX, at least - ZR is auto only). Both transmissions are lacking at least one gear to make highway cruising more bearable, while the listless, unweighted feel of the clutch pedal in the manual is quite dispiriting.
Toyota claims a fuel consumption figure of 6.4 litres per 100km on the combined fuel economy cycle across the 1.3-litre and 1.5 litre auto-equipped engines, 5.8L/100km for the 1.3-litre manual, and 5.9L/100km for the 1.5-litre manual.
Over a test period of approximately 200 kilometres on average, we recorded a dash-indicated figure of 7.7L/100km for the 1.3-litre auto, 7.3L/100km for the manual SX and 7.2L/100km for the ZR.
The Yaris will drink 91RON without a drama and uses a 42-litre tank, which equates to a range of about 700km between fills.
The Yaris is really basic motoring 101. A five-speed gearbox sounds like a throwback to the past, but the performance of the 80kW 1.5 litre 4-cylinder petrol engine in the SX is actually quite sprightly.
The 1.3-litre auto is a bit more breathless, and is really hobbled when bolted to the four-speed auto – it struggles more to get up to speed.
Things are nicer in the 1.5-litre auto, but that lack of an overdrive gear cruels the car when taking off from rest, or leaning on it to get up to speed, or crest an incline; it just has to work too hard in the lower gears.
A lot of noise from the engine gets back into the cabin, though, and both the manual and the auto Yaris are compromised when it comes to highway cruising, thanks to that lack of a taller gear.
While the ride is comfortable, it can be quite noisy thanks to tyre roar, and it’s not really conducive at all to inter-city touring. The ZR’s larger 16-inch, better quality tyres improve noise and ride comfort, though.
Around town the manual is pretty handy, especially when using third gear, with just enough torque available to pull you around quite comfortably.
The clutch action is pretty average, with no real discernible bite point, which makes it a bit of a chore to use.
The steering is good, though, and its ride and handling is more than acceptable for the class.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
ANCAP safety rating
Even the basic Yaris has seven airbags and a reversing camera as standard, which are good additions to the range and help it to a maximum five-star ANCAP rating.
The 'Smart Sense' kit, which adds forward collision prevention (but not AEB) and lane departure warning as well as auto high beam, is a $650 option on Ascent and SX, but standard on the ZR.
As mentioned, buttons to control the optional safety system are scattered at random around the cabin, which makes them less easy to use.
For example, the lane departure warning system uses beeps instead of vibrations or light indications, which is quite irritating, and with the switch within easy reach, it's too tempting to just turn it off.
Likewise, the addition of the automatic high beam headlights really isn't worth the price of admission, given their poor performance in our testing.
Regardless, the addition of AEB in the ZR is worth the price of admission.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
A three-year/100,000km warranty comes with the Yaris, which is shorter in time and distance than many of its competitors.
Its six-month/10,000km service intervals are also quite short, offset by a relatively low fixed price servicing scheme. The service interval, though, does reflect the typical usage cycle of a city car.
Over three years, the Yaris should cost around $840 to maintain through a dealer across all variants.
The light car market continues to be decimated by the intrusion of small crossovers, making it harder for car companies to move metal without adding loads of extras – and bumping up prices.
With items like steel wheels and the lack of basic functions like auto wipers, one-touch indicators, six speed autos and the like, though, has the contemporary looking Yaris missed the mark against newer, better-equipped rivals?
Toyota's reputation for longevity and resale, especially in the smaller cars, is unrivalled in the category, though, and that will play in its favour.
Overall, the Yaris is a solid little city car with an enviable reputation, but maybe just priced a little out of its league.