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Toyota Yaris Hybrid 2021 review: SX Hatch

The fourth-gen Toyota Yaris since its 1999 Echo predecessor has grown up in more ways than one.

There are two ways of looking at Toyota’s cheapest new hybrid.

It’s either an expensive Yaris or a reasonably priced replacement for the Prius C. We’re inclined to take the latter point of view. Mostly.

Remember the Prius C? Based on the previous-generation Yaris, it sold up a storm in Japan (as the Aqua) and did OK here as an affordable city-sized alternative to Toyota’s regular petrol-electric icon over an epic eight-year lifespan.

But – pretty as the C was – it felt old, loud, rough and – frankly – cheap, magnifying the myriad issues of the previous Yaris, but in a heavier and costlier package. The clue is in the name: A C minus was as high a mark as that flawed car deserved.

Enter the Yaris SX Hybrid – the latter-day replacement and, once again, Australia’s least-expensive series-parallel hybrid. Let’s see what’s in store.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

A decade ago, no Yaris had the technology or ability to directly compete against super-parsimonious Euro supermini diesels like the Volkswagen Polo TDI or Ford Fiesta Econetic (remember that?).

Now that diesels have fallen from grace, it’s the hybrids that are stepping up, with the Yaris representing a modern-day evolution. That the Toyota supermini has undergone its own revolution for incarnation number four since the Echo surfaced in late 1999 should not be underestimated. Slightly shorter and lower than before, but sitting on a wheelbase that’s some 40mm longer, it switches to the Toyota New Global Architecture with a stronger body, lower seating and a reduced centre of gravity, promising improved packaging as well as dramatically greater safety and dynamic capabilities.

In this context, the $29,020 before on-road costs (ORC) that Toyota charges for the SX Hybrid takes some of the sting out of the series’ unbelievable circa- $7K price hikes when the new-gen version debuted last year – particularly when you realise that there are no other similarly-sized supermini hybrid rivals. In fact, the next cheapest non-Toyota hybrid is the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Elite for $6000 more.

But there is a very conspicuous pricing anomaly here.

The company will sell you the larger and more powerful Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid from $27,395 (before ORC), as well as the longer and roomier Yaris Cross GX 2WD Hybrid light SUV from $28,990 (before ORC), which seems odd until you realise that there is no base Yaris Ascent Sport Hybrid currently available. If there were, we’d assume the $2000 premium that’s charged for adding electrification should apply to the regular entry-level petrol version, meaning that non-existent entity would cost $25,630.

Is Toyota playing games with its faithful-to-a-fault customers?

At least the Yaris is well equipped.

On the safety front, all grades include class-first front-row centre airbags to help protect lateral occupant collision in a side impact, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, secondary collision braking, adaptive cruise control (but without the full stop/go tech offered elsewhere, disappointingly), auto high beam, lane-keep assist, cornering assist, road-sign recognition and a reverse camera.

There’s also a 7.0-inch touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth audio and telephony compatibility, digital radio and voice recognition, a 4.2-inch multi-information display, tilt and reach steering adjustability, electric windows, power folding mirrors and air-conditioning. Stepping up to our SX ushers in digital instrumentation, climate control, keyless entry/start, satellite navigation, more premium trim including a leather-clad steering wheel, LED lights, privacy glass and 15-inch alloy wheels.

The SX Hybrid features a 7.0-inch touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The SX Hybrid features a 7.0-inch touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

Most of that Yaris SX gear, by the way, isn’t on the base Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid or Yaris Cross GX 2WD Hybrid, partly redressing the price gap.

For a blind-spot monitor and front and rear parking sensors you’ll need to find another $3080 for the flagship ZR, which also adds a head-up display, more bolstered front seats, racier upholstery, a spoiler and 16-inch alloys. It’s too bad Toyota doesn’t make this grade’s safety gear available as a separate low-cost option pack on lower-line variants. And no amount of cash will get you a wireless smartphone charger. What is this? 2019?

The SX Hybrid features 15-inch alloy wheels. The SX Hybrid features 15-inch alloy wheels.

The Yaris SX for 2021 is available in the following colours: Cherry Blossom (pink), Glacier White, Ebony Black, Crystal Pearl, Silver Pearl, Atomic Rush (maroon), Scarlet (purple), Lunar Blue, Bronx Bronze, Coral Rose, Electric Blue and Electric Green. Premium paint adds $500.

Inevitably, the SX Hybrid’s biggest ace up its sleeve is under the bonnet and back seats, thanks to an all-new 67kW/120Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine paired with a 59kW/141Nm electric motor and lithium-ion battery. Not only does the combined power total rise to 85kW, it offers startling economy of just 3.3L/100km, to make it the most frugal Toyota ever sold in Australia.

So, yes. The Yaris is far from cheap. But it is also generations ahead of the dated and unrefined model of the same name it replaces. And – Corolla and Yaris Cross aside – it is the least expensive hybrid you can buy right now.

Until Toyota decides to introduce a Yaris Ascent Sport Hybrid, that is. If that happens at all. That would make the brand’s tiniest petrol-electric model a steal.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The previous (XP130) Yaris was a neat but non-descript hatch that simply got messier with subsequent facelifts (don't we all!), and thus a far cry from the bold Renault Twingo Mk1-evoking design of the timeless 1999 XP10 Echo.

Today’s Yaris visually connects with the previous generation visually. Today’s Yaris visually connects with the previous generation visually.

Fun fact: that was the first Toyota ever designed for Europe.

Today’s Yaris visually connects with the previous generation visually, and mostly in the way it suffers from some overly-fussy detailing – especially up front, where it’s all a bit mouthy. But the proportions are much better, with a shorter, squatter stance, while the rear possesses quite a bit of flair.

The rear possesses quite a bit of flair. The rear possesses quite a bit of flair.

Compared to the ever-contracting supermini class, though, it lacks the pert chicness of the Suzuki Swift and solid sobriety of the Polo. This may be a problem given that Toyota has priced its contender right up with the Volkswagen.

Maybe the cabin can cut the premium mustard? Let's see...

How practical is the space inside?

All the progress made by Toyota’s smallest offering has resulted in a city hatch with world-class packaging. Entry/egress is fine, thanks to a gaping big front door aperture and tall ceiling, along with lower seating that allows for unimpeded access for most people.

As with all the post-TNGA models, the Yaris’ cabin is a big step forward from what came before, with a lower-set driving position that’s second-to-none in this class. Considering the type of vehicle this is, it offers sufficient space in all directions, including for head room and despite that roof-height drop.

The dashboard’s design lends itself to lots of shelf storage. The dashboard’s design lends itself to lots of shelf storage.

Occupants can stretch their legs up front if nobody's sat behind, thanks to that significant wheelbase stretch. With their smart appearance, the front seats are shapely and – for the driver’s side at least – height adjustable, though there’s no lumbar support for either front occupant, while the left cushion is set too high for taller passengers.

The Yaris doesn’t feel compact inside like it used to, helped out by excellent forward and side vision. The dashboard’s design lends itself to lots of shelf storage, backed up by a decently-sized glovebox, big door bins, two cupholders and an exposed centre receptacle (meant as the sole cupholder for rear-seat riders). This might be one of the most practical superminis on the market.

It’s also a much more solid, appealing piece of cabin architecture, with both the SX’s fit and finish and ambience easily able to carry off a European label – perhaps Skoda’s if not quite VW’s. We rate the soft cloth seats and their classy patterns; sturdy grey hard plastic components enlivened with piano black and brushed aluminium trim; handsome three-spoke steering wheel and its leather-like grip; and functional yet stylish overall shape of the fascia, including the digital instruments.

Rear-seat access isn’t quite as effortless as up front. Rear-seat access isn’t quite as effortless as up front.

Note that the outboard rear-seat headrests are massive (and very comfy to use as a result), but they hinder the driver’s vision when reversing. They can be removed, though, while the large mirrors and camera do their best to offset the sizeable blind spots.  

Rear-seat access isn’t quite as effortless as up front, but the lofty seat (because of the hybrid battery), deep windows, narrow front seat backs and pleasant trim continue the appealing, airy themes. There’s welcome thigh support, a comfy backrest and space for big boot wearers’ feet, as well as a reading lamp, single map pocket and auto up/down windows that go all the way, but in the place of the AWOL overhead grab handles are coat hooks. For a $30K supermini, we’d also expect at least one USB and/or 12V connector either, as well as a centre armrest. Maybe that’s where the absent cupholders could go too. The door pockets can hold a 500ml bottle and that’s about it.

The boot is not massive, but well-conceived for loading and unloading bulky items. The boot is not massive, but well-conceived for loading and unloading bulky items.Lastly, there’s the boot. Not massive, but well-conceived for loading and unloading bulky items, and complete with a sturdy luggage cover that does a good job of quelling road noise. Of course, dropping those 60/40 split-fold backrests boosts capacity, from 270 litres (VDA) to who-knows-what? Toyota doesn’t publish a maximum load area number. Beneath the flat floor is a space-saver spare wheel - revealing just how more space-efficient hybrid powertrains have become; in the old days, there just wasn't room for anything other than a can of fix-the-puncture goo.

Dropping those 60/40 split-fold backrests boosts boot capacity. Dropping those 60/40 split-fold backrests boosts boot capacity.All-in, then, the Yaris’ roomy, inviting and high-quality cabin proves just how far the little Toyota has come. Time to check under the bonnet.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The series-parallel hybrid-equipped Yaris employs an all-new 1490cc, 1.5-litre, direct-injection, double overhead cam, 12-valve, Atkinson Cycle and in-line three-cylinder petrol engine. What a mouthful. It delivers 67kW of power at 5500rpm and 120Nm of torque between 3800-4800rpm. Among the engine’s many features is a balance module to help cut noise/vibration and harshness properties.

The Yaris employs an all-new 1490cc, 1.5-litre, direct-injection, double overhead cam, 12-valve, Atkinson Cycle and in-line three-cylinder petrol engine. The Yaris employs an all-new 1490cc, 1.5-litre, direct-injection, double overhead cam, 12-valve, Atkinson Cycle and in-line three-cylinder petrol engine.

Inevitably, there's more. Working in conjunction with a 59kW/141Nm AC synchronous/permanent magnet electric motor and drawing 178-volt/4.3Ah lithium-ion battery pack, the hybrid system boosts that power output up to 85kW. Toyota doesn't publish total-system torque numbers, unhelpfully.

Speaking of which, torque is sent to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission dubbed e-CVT, so it's a constant-ratio set-up with no stepped 'fake' ratios to make it sound or feel more like a regular torque-converter auto. But it does come with three driving modes – the default Normal, punchier Power and fuel-saving Eco.

How much fuel does it consume?

Not much, that's for sure.

Over several hundred kilometres of mostly inner-urban and freeway driving, we averaged a stunning 4.0-litres per 100km at the pump – 0.1L/100km under what the trip meter was telling us. And we weren't pussy-footing around. Ever. Not even once. Driving this car like we didn't care about petrol prices.

Toyota claims a (best-ever for the brand in Australia) 3.3L/100km combined average fuel consumption figure, and that equals just 76 grams per kilometre, or 2.8L/100km on the urban run and 3.6L/100km out in the extra-urban tests.

Take that, stinky old diesels and their deadly, scandalous fumes!  

The Yaris’ engine is tuned to take 91 RON standard unleaded petrol, and is also tuned to use the less-expensive 94 RON E10 ethanol/petrol mix. Which is what we did, FYI.

Fitted with a 36-litre tank, nearly 1100km between refills is possible.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

More than you might realise.

Toyota said it set out to make the latest Yaris the safest vehicle in its class in the world. Tested last year, ANCAP awarded it a five-star crash-test rating.

As mentioned earlier, standard safety items include a front-row centre airbag system to help protect lateral occupant collision in a side impact; this takes the airbag count to eight – for driver, front passenger, two front centre, two front side and two curtain shield items. No other supermini on the surface of any planet can match this right now.

There’s also AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, secondary collision braking, adaptive cruise control (but without the full stop/go tech offered elsewhere – including in the Yaris Cross, as it turns out, disappointingly), auto high beam, road-sign recognition, lane-keep assist and cornering assist, along with anti-lock brakes, emergency brake assist, electronic stability control, traction control, Hill-start assist control and a reverse camera.

But, like we said, for blind-spot monitoring and rear parking beepers you'll need to bleed your bank account dry by another $3K or so.

The AEB functions between 10km/h and 180km/h and the lane support systems between 50km/h and 180km/h.

Two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps are fitted.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty – with the option of extending that to seven years – as well as roadside assistance. Service intervals are at 12 months or 15,000km. So far, all pretty good.

Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

The engine and transmission are under a seven-year warranty, while the hybrid battery pack is up to 10 years as long as the owner undertakes an annual inspection “… as part of routine maintenance according to the vehicle logbook.”

And why wouldn't you? The first four scheduled services are capped at $195 each, with the work carried out detailed online. This is one of Toyota's biggest advantages over the competition.

What's it like to drive around town?

The Yaris has been designed as a town car in mind, with the hybrid aiming to be the most economical mode of transport with an internal combustion engine. As a set of goals, Toyota has absolutely smashed it.

We know that even by driving the SX Hybrid like it's been stolen, it's fabulously frugal. And we can tell you that, with its compact proportions, tight steering, quick responses, cushy ride and deep windows for easy placement in traffic as well as parking, the Yaris is right at home in the cut-and-thrust of the urban jungle.

Silent in electric mode for sneaking away, that electricity provides the extra punch for it to oh-so-smoothly zip in and out of tight traffic spots, with not a hint of lag or delay, all while keeping city noises and grime outside. Born for the big smoke, this Toyota is.

The Yaris has been designed as a town car in mind. The Yaris has been designed as a town car in mind.

Being partly electric means engine-free low-speed drivability for a couple of kilometres at speeds of up to about 40km/h, resulting in zero tailpipe-emissions motoring, before the batteries run dry and the 1.5-litre atmo-triple seamlessly kicks in. Toyota describes this as “self-charging”, and in a sense, it is because there is no need to plug the car into a wall to replenish the batteries, but the petrol engine actually generates a good deal of the electricity - along with coasting and braking regeneration.

Our only real bugbear is how wooden and on/off the brake pedal is at low speed, making it difficult to modulate. It’s a throwback to early Priuses, though the stoppers themselves do a great job bringing the 1085kg SX Hybrid to a halt very quickly. You soon get used to it but it’s a rare misstep in a modern, post-TNGA Toyota.

Out on the open road, too, the Yaris hybrid stands out.

Aided by that electric motor, step-off acceleration is brisk, and builds quickly and effortlessly, with a decent wad of torque on tap if you need to perform an instant overtaking manoeuvre. Flooring the throttle does result in that inevitable CVT-derived engine drone, but it is neither harsh or too intrusive, because it’s rarely necessary to have to do so.

The steering is a bit of a revelation for a Yaris, with a natural, measured movement, for terrifically predictable and balanced handling. So flat and neutral is the SX’s handling, it can be driven almost flat out with pedal down to the floor, hanging on gamely. Don't go expecting Ford Fiesta levels of feel, feedback and chassis interaction, but the tiniest Toyota offered in Australia at least now offers something for the enthusiast to enjoy.

And, finally, occupants too. An impressive ride and not much road and tyre noise intrusion are other ways in which the Yaris makes up ground for being so expensive. It's absolutely streets ahead of the old model, and up there for a supermini of this size and nature.

Good one, Toyota.

The Yaris SX Hybrid is not a cheap car at nearly $30K before ORC, but it is a wonderful achievement when you tally up how spacious, refined, spirited, frugal and fun it is. There are enough quality touches and packaging smarts to put this right at the pointy end of the premium supermini class.

That said, we cannot help but wonder how much better value again a base-model Ascent Sport Hybrid would be for around $3K less, opening up an even wider audience to the impressive talents that the petrol-electric Yaris has to offer. Go on, Toyota, don't hold out on Australia by denying us a truly democratised hybrid experience. Remember, the bigger Corolla hybrid is cheaper...

Still, after years in the doldrums, the Yaris has graduated into the supermini A-league and is showing the way. It’s also light years ahead of the cruddy old Prius C it usurps.

From that point of view, the SX Hybrid represents excellent buying.

$29,020

Based on new car retail price

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Score

4/5
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