New car review

Toyota Yaris Hybrid test drive

The Yaris Hybrid is in a class of one when it comes to hybrid superminis

What is it?

The Yaris Hybrid isn’t exactly new – in fact, it’s been around since 2011, pre-dating the recent rush manufacturers have made towards hybridisation and proving that Toyota may not have been the first, but it’s certainly one of the most committed.

Perhaps strangely, the Yaris Hybrid sits virtually in a class of one, with most manufacturers favouring larger cars and crossovers when it comes to hybrid models. The Yaris is more compact and easier to park and drive, while it also retains a more conventional look than even in-house siblings such as the Prius.

We’re testing it here in its latest form, which received a heavy facelift over the outgoing car.

What’s new?

The facelifted Yaris range – introduced in 2014 – gained Toyota’s latest family ‘face’ – a bold, X-shaped grille with a prominent badge front and centre. For 2017, along with a price hike, the entire range received a Safety Sense system containing autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and automatic high beam.

There are new lights front and rear, and a selection of two-tone paint finishes, which the interior gets some new soft-touch plastics. The old Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system remains though.

How does it look?

Image will likely always be a problem for the Toyota Yaris – ever since the first model, it’s become a go-to car for retirees. Even jazzing it up with posh paint schemes and bold exterior design touches can’t fix that. However, it does look genuinely smart, and there are some great colours on offer.

The car’s overall silhouette is relatively bulky and upright, but it’s slimmed out by side rubbing strips and that pinched front ‘face’. Bi-Tone models also improve matters, with a black roof disguising the car’s practical silhouette.

What’s the spec like?

The Hybrid powertrain is available across all Yaris trim levels, which comprise Active, Icon, Icon Tech, Design, Excel and Bi-Tone. Entry-level cars do miss out on alloy wheels but still get the full suite of safety tech plus front electric windows, dual-zone climate control and USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Step up a grade and Icon brings alloys, keyless start, cruise control, a rear-view camera and the Touch 2 Infotainment system. Our Icon Tech model added satnav and front parking sensors.

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Missing from the range are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though – a shame, as the Touch 2 infotainment system is pretty poor to use and would be improved by the addition of either of these systems.

What’s it like inside?

The Yaris’ interior is poor. Though everything is well screwed together, the switchgear is outdated and the materials, for the most part, feel cheap and nasty.

The facelift did at least add a swathe of soft-touch material across the dash – but if anything, that serves to highlight the plasticky glovebox and dash top even more. Items such as the USB port look hastily tacked on, while the automatic gear selector is enormous and ugly.

Things improve as you move rearwards, though. Yaris has a large boot and tonnes of room for rear-seat passengers. Headroom abounds throughout, and the big windows and characterful single wiper ensure good visibility.

What’s under the bonnet?

The Yaris engine range is offered in three flavours. There are 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre petrol units, plus the 1.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid we have here. The hybrid model makes up nearly half of Yaris sales in the UK, and on paper looks quite attractive, offering a decent level of power, average performance for the class and stellar economy.

We can vouch for the latter, having achieved over 60mpg on more than one occasion during our time with the car.

As with most hybrids, it’s best around town. Here, the punch of silent electric power pushes you away from the line before the petrol engine kicks in. It’s rather good fun. There’s very little electric-only range, though – this isn’t a plug-in hybrid.

Out on the open road, things are less convincing, and the Yaris Hybrid isn’t a great motorway cruiser. Best to stick within the city limits where this car makes most sense.

What’s it like to drive?

Toyota has proved it can make the Yaris fun to drive with the incredible GRMN. Unfortunately, none of that car’s DNA makes its way into the hybrid. It’s definitely lacking a fun streak – though it is at least reasonably comfortable and remains composed in corners. The steering, however, is just too light and remote.

The hybrid drivetrain is quiet around town, but on the motorway the CVT gearbox it’s paired to drones and makes for a rather unpleasant voyage. The seats are also pretty flat – we missed having some lateral support – and the steering wheel didn’t adjust out far enough for us.

Summary

The Yaris Hybrid remains a car without rivals even seven years on from its debut, but being the best in a class of one is easy. The real problem is its narrow range of ability – this is a car that’s wonderful in town but rather poor on the open road.

Those who do high mileage would be better served by another diesel supermini, and anyone who regularly drives out of the city should probably choose a turbocharged petrol. As a second car or town runabout then, the Yaris makes sense – but it’s too compromised to recommend elsewhere.

Key specifications

Model as tested: Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Price: £20,875
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol hybrid
Power: 100 hp
Torque: 111 Nm
Max speed: 103 mph
0-60mph: 11.8 seconds
Fuel consumption (combined): 78.5 mpg
CO2 emissions: 82 g/km

Tom Wiltshire
Tom Wiltshire
Articles by Tom Wiltshire are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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