The hybrid Yaris
Posted on: 31st May 2012
Why is it that some cars manage to capture the public's imagination and others don't? It's often very little to do with how good a car is and often comes down to something a bit more nebulous; smart marketing, or gelling with economic conditions of the time, that sort of thing.
When Toyota's Yaris first appeared in 1999, it hit that lucrative nerve. People loved the idea of a low cost but well built supermini with the bonus of Toyota's peerless reliability record. That car was replaced in 2005 but six years is a long time and although the second generation car was undoubtedly better, its moment in the sun had passed.
Still a group of loyal buyers kept sales respectable right through to that car's replacement in 2012. In the meantime Toyota had been forging ahead with hybrid technology, primarily in its massively successful Prius but also increasingly in 'core' models such as the Auris hatch. It was only a matter of time before they figured out how to make hybrid work in a Yaris. That time has arrived.
Toyota certainly hasn't cut any corners in engineering the Yaris Hybrid. If you were expecting an electrically assisted version of the 1.33-litre petrol engine that powers the usual higher range Yaris models, think again. The hybrid gets a 98bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder powerplant mated to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive.
This system has been downsized for the Yaris, combining the internal combustion engine with a more compact electric motor, transaxle, inverter and battery pack. The result is a system that is 20 per cent lighter than that used in Auris Hybrid.
An e-CVT gearbox takes care of cog-swapping which is a boon in city traffic, meaning drivers can rest their left legs. As with the Prius and the Auris hybrids, the Yaris can run on electrical power alone for short distances, helping to reduce noise in town centres. You will need to watch out for pedestrians who step into the road in front of the car.
Design and Build
If they didn't check the badging, most observers would be hard pressed to tell this was a hybrid model at standstill. It looks much like a 'conventional' Yaris model which, I guess, is part of the appeal. It's the same story inside.
It would be reasonable to expect the battery packs to impinge upon interior space, with either the rear seats or the luggage bay being a little more pinched than in a petrol or diesel Yaris, but thanks to all the key Hybrid Synergy Drive components being reduced in size, and the co-location of the fuel tank and hybrid battery under the rear seat, the Yaris Hybrid offers the same occupant space and 286-litre luggage capacity as conventional petrol and diesel Yaris models.
The cabin feels solidly screwed together. That said, with the new multi-function steering wheel and the clever Touch & Go multi-media system, the interior remains much as before - which is to say unadventurous in its styling with the exception of some heavily grained dash top plastics.
The controls are sensibly positioned and the dash features an eco gauge to help you drive more economically but with rival superminis offering some highly intelligent and charismatic interior designs, the Yaris falls a little short. It's a shame because the car does the hard work so effectively and may lose sales due to that last one per cent of interior tinsel that's often all that's needed to swing a buying decision. Perhaps after seeing the price tag, customers will already be sold on the idea.
Market and Model
Toyota makes quite some play of the fact that, upon launch, the Yaris Hybrid is the most affordable hybrid car on the market. It's true, and the Yaris undercuts its nearest priced hybrid rival, the Honda Insight, by a clear £2,000 and offers a good 10bhp more power in the process. Getting the price down to under £15,000 is quite an achievement, especially when you consider that Prius prices have crept up inexorably over the years, with entry level versions of that car costing more than £21,000 now.
The Yaris Hybrid is offered in T3, T4 and T Spirit trims and even the entry level model gets electric front windows and mirrors, a height-adjustable driver's seat, 'follow-me-home' headlights and an MP3-compatible CD stereo. The mid-range T4 model gives you 15-inch alloy wheels, colour-keyed door handles and mirrors and a leather-trimmed gearshift knob. Better still, you get the 'Toyota Touch' multimedia system that, via a 6.1-inch colour touchscreen, enables you to control a 6-speaker CD stereo system and Bluetooth link your mobile 'phone and offers a USB port for MP3 player and iPod connection as well as giving a rear camera view for parking.
Moreover, you can affordably upgrade to 'Touch&Go' status, which adds full function satnav, information services like live parking and weather reports and can be upgraded with various apps. The T Spirit range topper is unashamedly well-stuffed with the sort of features you just don't expect on a supermini. You'll find cruise control, smart wipers, lights and mirrors, part leather seats, 16-inch alloys and a rear spoiler. With no fewer than seven airbags, isofix child seat fastenings, anti-whiplash head restraints, Brake Assist, VSA stability control and TRC traction control, safety can be taken as read.
Cost of Ownership
Now for the crunch. Does the Yaris Hybrid stack up on the balance sheet? In one instance, it's an absolute no-brainer. If your daily commute takes you into London's congestion charging zone, the exempt Yaris Hybrid will save you thousands of pounds a year over a conventionally powered rival. For the sake of argument, let's assume you aren't London-bound. Does the Hybrid still make the numbers?
We'll compare it with a Yaris 1.33 Multidrive, in broadly equivalent trims, T4 for the Hybrids and TR for the petrol car. These sort of cars don't do big mileages so we'll base our figures around 7500 miles a year. In the petrol car you'll manage 55.4mpg combined whereas the Yaris Hybrid will see 80.7mpg. That works out at a saving of £295 per year in fuel costs alone. Over a three year period that's half of the Hybrid's premium taken care of right away.
Another £90 comes as a saving in VED taxation but that still leaves a shortfall of £650 to account for. Much of this can be clawed back via improved residual value but the financials between a hybrid and a petrol model aren't that far apart. In other words, you've got to be taken with the idea of the Hybrid to buy one. Only a few business users and London residents will be quids in.
There's a lot to like about the latest Toyota Yaris Hybrid. It's keenly priced, the technology is tried and trusted and it pitches into a vacant part of the market. It won't stay vacant for long as many rival manufacturers are eyeing it with envy, but Toyota is the first and it'll take quite a package to wrest its lead away. If you live in London or need a low tax company car, it's an absolute no-brainer.
For the rest of us who maybe aren't 100% sold on the environmental message and merely fancy a well-built car that will cost buttons to run, it's not quite such a slam dunk of a deal.
In fact, it doesn't work out much different in cost to buying and running a cheaper petrol-powered model over three years.
That pricing decision is probably deliberate on Toyota's part, as they need to maximise their profits without making the Hybrid a financial non-starter, but look beyond the billboard ads and you have an interesting car.
Maybe not a conspicuous bargain, but it's a car that's respectable value for money. You can ask no more of it.