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Toyota Yaris 2021 review: SX petrol


Daily driver score

3.7/5

Urban score

3.8/5

The Toyota Yaris is one of those cars which, alongside many other Toyotas, has gradually become an icon of Australia’s motoring landscape. 

Toyota says it has sold more than 250,000 of them Down Under. But in an era where profitably selling small cars in Australia is an increasingly difficult proposition, thanks to tightening safety standards and the global forces at play when it comes to emissions and logistics, can the more-expensive-than-ever Yaris regain its small car crown?

I took a controversially priced mid-grade SX for a week to find out.

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

Um. No. No matter which way you add it up the new Yaris is not good value. Do you get a lot more stuff in the Yaris than you generally do in this class? Yes. Does it have new drivetrains and technology? Yes. Does this mean you should be paying a whopping $27,020 MSRP for a mid-grade small car? Probably not.

To put it in perspective: You can have an entry-level Corolla for pretty much the same money, but not any entry-level Corolla, you can even have the fuel-sippin’ hybrid version at $27,395. 

Really, would you rather this little Yaris or a very good base Corolla? I know which car I’d pick.

No matter which way you add it up the new Yaris is not good value. No matter which way you add it up the new Yaris is not good value.

It also puts the Yaris in an awkward position in its own size category, placing it in the void between a VW Polo Style ($25,960) and GTI ($32,890), Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo ($25,290) and Sport ($29,990), and well above the top-spec Kia Rio (GT-Line - $23,590).

Toyota does try to level the playing field a little, by offering the Yaris very well equipped. Standard items include a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and built-in navigation with live traffic, single-zone climate control, full LED exterior lighting, keyless entry and push-start ignition, a digitized instrument cluster (but not a fully-digital instrument screen), leather accented wheel, and 15-inch alloys. 

Standard items include a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and built-in navigation. Standard items include a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and built-in navigation.

The safety suite, which we’ll touch on later in this review, is also excellent for the segment.

It all feels and looks good compared to rivals, too, but to make the Yaris really stand out in this segment you’ll still need to spend almost $30 grand to get the hybrid version of this SX ($29,020).

Toyota says the tall pricing is partially due to “new powertrains, driving experience and cutting edge safety” but this new Yaris also faces the production cost challenge of being built in Japan.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The Yaris, historically, has not been a good-looker, but I think that finally changes with this new car. It looks and feels great from pretty much every angle. 

I think the simple design of the 15-inch alloys, specific to this SX grade, are a bit mid-2000s, but the LED lights and subtle detailing throughout the body give it a more deliberately sculpted and slick appearance.

The Yaris looks and feels great from pretty much every angle.  The Yaris looks and feels great from pretty much every angle. 

Hopping inside and you’d be forgiven for feeling a tad disappointed given the tall price tag. The Yaris, even at this mid-grade, is still a cloth and plastics show, but look a little closer and there are a lot of neat details (which will be overlooked in dealerships, no doubt).

The screen is a nice unit, dropped directly out of the Yaris’ Corolla big brother with the same functionality, the wheel is an excellent touchpoint (don’t you think there’s a bit of a Mazda influence here?), and the layered dash design is far from the wall of plastic of small cars past.

I also like the funky instrument cluster which is unlike anything else on the market, and the SX grade gets an interesting plastic door insert which looks like some kind of recycled plastic texture (al la BMW's i3). 

I also like the funky instrument cluster which is unlike anything else on the market. I also like the funky instrument cluster which is unlike anything else on the market.

There are more subtle touches, too, like the white pinstripe which works its way across the dash into the doors, and the ergonomic and textured design of the door handles themselves.

So, it might not look or feel like $30,000 worth of car, but it still has a unique design-led appeal and, in terms of quality, feels a cut above most in the segment, bar maybe the Volkswagen Polo.

How practical is the space inside?

For a small car the new Yaris isn’t bad so long as you ignore the fact you could get a car in the segment above with much more space, like a Hyundai i30 or Toyota’s own Corolla for the same money.

Regardless, the Yaris compares well to even good cars for its own segment like the Kia Rio. 

The cabin does manage to feel roomy through a neat space-increasing design, and there’s an abundance of headroom for a car in this class. 

It doesn’t quite have the comfort of its larger Corolla sibling, but that’s to be expected.

There’s an abundance of headroom for a car in this class. There’s an abundance of headroom for a car in this class.

Front passengers benefit from a very adjustable seating position, ergonomic switchgear for the multimedia and climate functions, the aforementioned tall roofline, plus large binnacles in the doors and console, dual cupholders, and some odd binnacles cut out of the textured dash. 

These have the cool textured pattern in them in a thematic reference to other TNGA platformed Toyota cars, but as they are shallow and not rubberized I fail to see how useful they can be as storage areas given they’ll simply disgorge their contents at the suggestion of a corner or brisk acceleration.

A downside, there’s no top box console, which always detracts from cars in this segment.

The rear seat is a less interesting story. It’s quite claustrophobic in the SX with dark textures and small window apertures, and while headroom is good, legroom behind my own (182cm / 6.0') seating position is less impressive. 

The rear seat is quite claustrophobic in the SX with dark textures and small window apertures. The rear seat is quite claustrophobic in the SX with dark textures and small window apertures.

I had my legs hard up against the front seat, and I wouldn’t want to be an adult sitting in the middle position.

There are also no amenities for rear passengers, with no charging ports or directional air vents. This isn’t unusual for the segment, but still a letdown in a car costing this much.

The boot serves up 270 litres of space (VDA) which easily consumes our largest 124L CarsGuide travel case with a little room to spare. It’s not the best in the segment, still weighing in at lower than its key Kia Rio rival, and is in fact down from the previous Yaris (286L). 

  • The boot serves up 270 litres of space. The boot serves up 270 litres of space.
  • It easily consumes our largest 124L CarsGuide travel case with a little room to spare. It easily consumes our largest 124L CarsGuide travel case with a little room to spare.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Yaris is powered by a new 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, non-turbo petrol engine producing 88kW/145Nm in this non-hybrid guise. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot but performs better than the numbers would suggest. Check out the driving section for more on this.

All new-generation Yaris variants have a continuously variable transmission that drives the front wheels only.

How much fuel does it consume?

The new Yaris is pitched as being much more efficient, with fuel consumption for non-hybrid variants like the SX tested here at 5.4L/100km, down from the outgoing car by 23 per cent, according to Toyota.

In the real world though, after a week of driving in what I would consider reasonably combined conditions, with a decent stretch of freeway thrown in for good measure, our SX returned a dash-indicated 7.1L/100km. 

I’m hoping to get at least a week-long test of the hybrid at some point, because to give you a bit of perspective, my Corolla hybrid long-termer is currently doing 4.9L/100km.

The Yaris can consume base-grade 91RON unleaded petrol, and has a 40-litre fuel tank.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Much of what you pay for goes here, into what Toyota calls “the world’s safest compact car.” Let’s have a look what that means.

For a start, the Yaris, even at this SX grade, gets a very healthy active safety suite. Standard is auto emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection (even in intersections and while reversing), adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, auto high beam, and traffic sign recognition. It's a shame only the top-grade ZR is equipped with blind spot monitoring.

Much of what you pay for goes here, into what Toyota calls “the world’s safest compact car.” Much of what you pay for goes here, into what Toyota calls “the world’s safest compact car.”

Other safety innovations unexpected for a car in this segment include a front centre airbag (for a total of eight!) and torque vectoring. The Yaris also has two ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat mounting points across the rear seats.

Unsurprisingly then, this little car performed very well when assessed by ANCAP, scoring highly across all categories for the class and securing a maximum five-star rating.

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

Toyota has built a reputation on reliability, and backs it with a industry-standard five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty (extendable up to seven years) and importantly, very cheap capped price servicing.

Toyota has built a reputation on reliability. Toyota has built a reputation on reliability.

The Yaris will need to be serviced once a year or every 15,000km, with each of the first five services costing an absurdly low $195. Excellent.

What's it like to drive around town?

I’m pleased to report the Yaris not only feels a cut above its small car rivals, but drives like it, too.

It seems every car to which Toyota applies its TNGA platform philosophy takes a huge jump in terms of ride, handling, and comfort behind the wheel, and the Yaris is no exception.

Steering and chassis feel are superb for the class, now rivalling the somewhat unchallenged-to-this-point Volkswagen Polo.

This is particularly evident over bumps and in corners, where this car’s underpinnings come to life, granting the driver a genuine connection to the road. 

The Yaris not only feels a cut above its small car rivals, but drives like it, too. The Yaris not only feels a cut above its small car rivals, but drives like it, too.

It’s a trait more often displayed by hot hatches, but the Yaris pulls it off in a subtle way. It’s comfortable but lets you know it’s capable.

All this having been said, it’s not quite as impressive as its one-size-up Corolla stablemate, which I’m also connecting with in a big way. 

The ride approaches its limits more quickly, and the steering isn’t as fine. Regardless, it out-does most other cars in this segment for its balance and ride quality.

I also like its new engine, but it has a drawback or two. Responsiveness is good off-the mark, lending the Yaris a gruff, mountain-goat like attitude. 

It’s comfortable but lets you know it’s capable. It’s comfortable but lets you know it’s capable.

That's largely because the three-cylinder engine’s note (under load) is relatively rough and unrefined. Some may enjoy this, but by the time you’re in the mid-section of the rev range it’s creating a racket in the cabin.

It’s a bit of a problem because the CVT auto will sometimes have it hang around in this noise-band for a while to make up for this car’s relative lack of power. 

It’s no athlete, then, but still fun to steer within its own sensible limits, and the combination is a good package for putting around town in relative comfort. 

It's not even bad on the freeway with decent levels of road noise and a well-calibrated adaptive cruise system. Just don’t push the accelerator too hard if you want to be able to listen to the radio.

There’s no getting around the Yaris’ uncomfortably high price. But the good news is, if you’re looking for something specifically in this size-category the Yaris is now one of the best feeling options. It really earns its place as a next-generation product.

It will face tough competition from the suddenly-affordable-looking VW Polo, but the Yaris’ safety suite and cheap ownership prospects will let it retain a competitive appeal for buyers a little less conscious of up-front price.

$27,020

Based on new car retail price

Daily driver score

3.7/5

Urban score

3.8/5
Price Guide

$27,020

Based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data