My drive on the Toyota Yaris was not meant to happen. At least not this soon anyway as the Bengaluru based company invited us all down to its home city for the first press drive. It was a frantic call from one of my colleagues (who's now enjoying the company of some fantastic electric cars), informing me that I was to now go on this drive. Typically I would have received that news with pleasure, only this time jealousy got the better of me. That said I am still getting to drive the Yaris - one of the most hotly anticipated cars of this year. I first saw the Toyota Yaris in flesh at the Auto Expo 2018 and it did look like a promising compact sedan; right for its segment. There are several players in that space and most have seen a steady rise in sales. Leading that pile are the new Hyundai Verna, Honda City and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz. The Verna has been selling at an average of 4500 units per month since its launch in August 2017. The sales of Honda City might have taken a hit, but it remains a strong contender. And the big surprise remains the now ageing Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, running strong after many years without any proper generation change. So you'd think it was a no-brainer for Toyota to enter the compact sedan segment with the Yaris. Well, it still took it long enough! In fact even after the decision was finally taken, it's taken three years of planning, designing and implementation to make the Yaris sedan a reality for India.
The instant first impression of the Yaris is that it's a baby Corolla and you're not wrong. The sleek body and the subtlety in design screams Toyota and there's no aggression whatsoever. The wider lower grille could have given the Yaris a bit of an 'in your face' look; but frankly, it looks calm, collected and very sure of itself. The bonnet gets some musculature, but that's about it. On the side though, there are lovely character lines, which make the car look elegant and also serve as a major differentiator from its rivals - a very good thing. Toyota has been working tirelessly, to make Yaris stand apart from the crowd; and in getting there, has studied the market thoroughly. It will be offered in 4 variants - J, G, V, VX and the company says that the target audience of the Yaris is the upper middle class. That's one reason why you see tons of features on the car. Projector headlamps are standard, so is keyless-entry. LED DRLs are only available on the top-of-the-line VX trim - a bit of a miss in our opinion and could have been made available from second variant up.
Where the car does impress is on safety - something Toyota seems to be playing up as a USP on the Yaris. The Yaris will be the safety benchmark with 7 Airbags (this includes dual airbags up front, 2 curtain airbags, 2 front side airbags and a driver knee airbag), ABS with EBD and Brake Assist as standard, The top-spec VX also gets Hill Start Assist Control as well as Vehicle Stability Control. The cabin is well laid out and the 'Waterfall Design' on the dashboard looks attractive. The 7-inch touchscreen system is available from the G (second) variant onwards and gives you access to Wi-Fi, navigation and Mirrorlink (which sadly did not work when we tried with both Android and iOS devices).
There's gesture control too which works very well, but can be distracting. The Air Gesture feature is a segment first but its operation takes a little getting used to. The Yaris also has features like a Start/Stop button, audio controls on the steering wheel, and climate control. A unique addition are the roof mounted air vents, for the rear passengers that incorporate ambient lighting. This feature is not standard though and is available only from the G variant and up.
There's a good amount of space at the rear, but primarily for two people. While the claim is that the rear seat can comfortably seat 3, it just doesn't seem wide enough to do so comfortably. But the seats are comfortable and that's thanks to the seatback angle. The use of leather makes it plush; though that is only available on the VX trim. The flat floor frees up a lot of space though, and there's good knee room too. But headroom for taller people could be an issue because of the sloping roofline. There's a rear armrest with two cup holders, and two 12-volt charging points for passengers. Honestly, one charging point and one USB slot would've been way nicer.
The Yaris is petrol-only and there's no diesel engine variant on the way either. The car's 15-inch wheels help in two departments - reducing road noise from seeping into the cabin and fuel efficiency. Toyota claims that the manual transmission variant returns a fuel efficiency figure of 17.1 kmpl, while the CVT returns 17.8 kmpl - and that's pretty good. But it does affect the way the Yaris drives because the engine has been tuned to churn out better efficiency. The 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine is pretty silent. Even at 3000 rpm, there's very little sound that enters the cabin; so yes, the NVH levels are pretty good. The engine comes mated to a 6-speed manual transmission or a 7-speed CVT. Now, the CVT is available right from the base variant and this makes automatic more accessible to buyers. Toyota is simply catering to the growing need for automatics in the segment, and unlike its rivals' will not provide it only on the top or medium spec.
Feed the accelerator and the gearbox starts to react. It doesn't respond quickly though and hence there's a lot of rumble from the engine that you hear before the gearbox starts playing catch up. It suffers from the typical rubber band effect that we see on CVTs. The gears start changing post 3500-4000 rpm and you can hear the engine whirring away. Not much of that noise translates into any action - and this gets a bit annoying. On the CVT's 'manual mode', things do get better; but you still miss that urgent burst of power that you need at times. Toyota has brought paddle shift to the CVT party, but only on the top-spec VX. The paddles see a delay in response too, but it still beats leaving the car in 'drive' to do its own bidding. Another huge let down is the lack of a dead pedal on the automatic.
The 6-speed manual is the better variant to drive as the gear changes prompt some quick action. You have power at your disposal and the Yaris boasts a strong mid-range too, making the drive more enjoyable. However, we do see many buyers opting for the CVT for its smoothness and convenience. The ride is comfortable even though the suspension is stiffer than what we expected. But you don't get thrown around when you take it on rough roads. It's calm and collected and will do well on our broken or potholed roads. So it is a compelling entrant to the segment - with its own very specific character. The strong feature list and great safety options really put the Yaris in a league of its own. All the features though will come at a price and we won't be surprised if the Yaris is priced higher than its rivals.
So expect it to start at around ₹ 8.5-9 lakh and go all the way up to ₹ 13 lakh. The idea is to fit smack in between the Etios and Corolla sedans in Toyota's portfolio. The Yaris sets the bar high, though, for its rivals, when it comes to safety features, as also a few firsts, in segment features. So it will set some benchmarks in terms of features and safety. But it won't be the car for spirited or sporty driving. Now we await the prices, which will help decide how successful it will eventually be, though Toyota's strong brand and popularity will certainly play a part.
Photo Credit: Pawan Dagia