The practical Yaris lacks X factor

Ryan Borroff
Design ***
Performance ***
Practicality ***
Value for money ***

SURE, the Toyota Yaris has sold well. It has never been offensive to look at. And I’m certain it has happily transported the majority of its owners around in the quiet satisfaction that they had purchased a reliable, reasonably economical and completely adequate, possibly cheery little car. It has seemed, since the beginning, that the people that drive the Toyota Yaris have done so because it was a sensible purchase decision, above all else. The kind of people who choose which toaster to buy depending on how well it’s scored in the latest issue of Which? magazine.

A fair stereotype? Perhaps not. Regardless, Toyota is chasing a younger buyer with its new Yaris. This is immediately apparent from its styling. It’s less cutesy, with a new, edgier face and little stubby nose, less Mogwai and more Gremlin. As if the old Yaris had discovered its dark side. Is it better-looking than its predecessor? I think not, but it has tapped in to some of that magic character that defines the iQ.

Inside comes as a bit of a shock. I haven’t sat in a car with this much hard plastic in it for years. Opening the glovebox has exactly the same feeling to the hand as opening the lid of my daughter’s outdoor sand box (a frog). It is unusual, even in this class of car, and it makes the interior seem dated. Which is a shame because actually, I like the way the interior looks. It is pragmatic and functional and the dashboard has an upright feel with an inset large display touch screen that is intuitive, cartoon-simple to read and fantastically simple to operate.

The leather steering wheel – and other elements of the interior – are lifted by red stitching, the go-to interior trim element to define “sportiness”, particularly in Japanese cars, it seems. But the interior feels spacious and using the Toyota “Touch and Go” multimedia system – which connects with my aged iPhone in an instant, allowing me to stream music through the car’s decent sounding audio – is a dream. As is the reversing camera, which is just as useful on a small car like this as it is on a big land-yacht of an SUV.

Driving the Yaris 1.33 SR is comfortable at speed, but the ride feels a little too firm around London town with some clunks in the gutters thanks to the sportier suspension setup on this SR model. It isn’t quick, even in this iteration (the biggest of the available petrol engines), but it is rarely flustered. It is easy to drive and my only gripes are that there seemed a lot of wind noise on the motorway and neither the accelerator nor gear change felt particularly good. I can only assume it’s been set up for those over-revving gear-snatchers hurtling around Kentish lanes.

Is it a great car? No, but it’s good. I found that I liked it more over the course of a week. I have driven better cars that I have liked less, so the new Yaris must have some personality, it’s just difficult to pin it down. Which is a shame because it could have been a little belter like its smaller sibling, the iQ.