► Small, hybrid hatch is all-new
► Up to 68.9mpg
► More fun to drive... but harsh ride
Since first hitting the UK's high streets in 1999, the Yaris has morphed from a small and anonymous runaround to hybrid supermini royalty.
In fact, it's so synonymous with hybrid powertrains that this latest model isn't available without battery assistance.
Power comes from a 'self-charging' style system with 114bhp, CO2 emissions as low as 92g/km, and mpg in the 60s.
Think of the savings that would make for typical supermini buyers. And that's before we get on to residual pricing – the latest data predicts the Yaris Icon will retain 51.4% of its price after three years. This means rock-bottom financing.
We might be getting ahead of ourselves. On the surface, the Yaris is squarer, lower, and altogether more chiselled than the outgoing model.
Dynamically it's not bad either. Not quite up there with the Ford Fiesta, but it's still pretty decent, and has a surprising turn of pace thanks to its electrical assistance.
It only comes with five-doors and an automatic gearbox. If you want a three-door manual you'll just have to go with the latest darling of the hot-hatchback scene, the GR Yaris.
Let's talk trim levels. Four standard trims will be available, plus, a Launch Edition to kick things off. Launch Edition specs have become de rigueur for car makers. You know the formula. Take car. Add everything car maker has in parts bin. Throw on special edition colour. Set astronomical price.
The Yaris is no different. Launch Edition spec cars cost £24,005. Or £1730 more than a Ford Fiesta ST-2...
Still, the regular grades are a lot more on the money. Icon is your basic spec. But it still gets a seven-inch infotainment screen, reversing camera, and alloy wheels.
Design spec adds different alloys, a bigger infotainment screen, and wait for it, electric rear windows.
Dynamic models get 17-inch alloys, a JBL infotainment system, and a pushbutton start.
Excel is regular top-spec. This gets blind spot monitoring, auto braking, and a panoramic roof.
Shorter, lower, wider… and actually more fun
The latest Yaris is supported by the smallest adaptable platform yet, known internally as TNGA-B.
Adopting this platform allows the Mk4 Yaris to be 5mm shorter, 50mm wider and 40mm lower than the Mk3, with a 50mm longer wheelbase to generate additional interior space.
It's certainly an improvement for taller passengers sat in the rear, with foot space beneath the front seats and a sensible amount of kneeroom that simply doesn't exist in, say, a Renault Clio.
Those up front also sit lower to the ground by 21mm, and the added width means they also sit 20mm further apart. That extra girth is unique to models sold outside of Japan: the flexibility of the platform means Japan-spec Yarises are narrower to better suit local needs.
This new structure is around 20kg lighter than the outgoing Yaris, but also 37% stiffer, with more of the weight concentrated lower down in the car's structure. This same architecture can also house a compact four-wheel drive system – reserved specifically for the GR Yaris hot hatch, in Europe, at least.
Our test cars had the 17-inch wheels on them. These cars are set up with a firmer ride than smaller-wheeled cars. This includes the firmest springs and dampers and the lowest-profile tyres.
This set-up is aimed at satiating European tastes. The ride is firm. Not Fiesta ST firm. But too firm for your average Yaris driver. The main ways this can be felt is at low speeds through rough surfaces. There are just enough reverberations through the seat and steering wheel to become an annoyance.
This is the only set-up we've tested, and we found the little Yaris really holds on round corners. Dial in some more lock mid bend and you'll be met with acres of grip, and then maybe a bit of safe understeer.
Cars with 16-inch wheels will have more compliant springs and dampers, plus higher profile tyres. We imagine this will solve a bit of the uncomfortableness associated with the 17s.
So… what firepower have we got here?
Toyota's been building hybrids since 1997, and you know what? It's pretty good at it.
The old Yaris left a lot to be desired, but this latest 'self-charging' drive system is brilliant. Quiet, smooth, and of course, hugely economical. Official WLTP is 68.9mpg (up from 48.7mpg of the old car), and we reckon mpg in the 60s is achievable for an awful lot of people who mainly crawl around in stop-start town traffic.
The Yaris is an all e-CVT affair. It ain't half bad either (more on that later). While Toyota reckons that a 1.0-litre non-hybrid might come to the UK in the next two to three years.
The 1.5-litre engine used here is a three-cylinder version of the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder found in the Corolla, utilising the Atkinson cycle and running a high compression ratio of 14:1.
It’s linked to a new electrical motor producing 80bhp and 104lb ft of torque, along with a lighter lithium-ion battery pack and drives the front wheels via a CVT automatic gearbox.
This Mk4 Yaris is the first to use this new type of battery pack, allowing double the recharge capacity and 50% more output. Locating it beneath the rear seats not only prevents it from eating up boot space, but also allows for the battery pack to remain cool through the use of the cabin’s air temperature – negating the need for a stand-alone liquid cooling system, hence resulting in a 12kg weight saving over the old version.
The beefier battery helps the Yaris operate in pure EV mode for around 80% of the time in typical urban journeys and can be driven up to 80mph before the petrol engine kicks into life – that’s 55mph higher than the previous version.
All in all, there’s 16% more power than the outgoing Mk3 Yaris Hybrid, and yet a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions – win-win.
Power from the petrol engine is up from 101bhp to 118bhp, with a 0-62mph time of 10.3sec - a claimed two seconds quicker than the previous version. CO2 emissions see a 26g/km drop over the previous model, rated at 86g/km under WLTP conditions.
The other headline figure Toyota is keen to point out relates to the improved torque delivery during overtaking speeds of 49-74mph, with a reduction in time of two seconds, down to 8.1sec.
Remember the term ‘rubber band’?
Those who remember driving Toyota hybrids of old will most likely remember the tedious experience of getting one to accelerate up to any desired speed. Just like the latest Corolla though, the Yaris performs with a noticeable step-up in response in stop-start traffic.
You can set off from stationary with little hesitation now, leaving BMW 320d drivers fumbling behind as they wait for their start-stop system to finish cranking their engine back to life. It’s genuinely entertaining.
This is one of the best CVTs around. It's a huge step up from the outgoing model. There's very little of that elasticity feeling, where it sounds like the revs are rising but you're not actually going any faster. This is mainly due to the battery. It's 50% more powerful, meaning it can be used more, for more of the time.
The 1.5-litre engine is remarkably quiet too, which goes some way in explaining why acceleration is less tortuous on your eardrums. In fact, you really need to be caning it to notice that it's a CVT.
Double points for not putting useless paddles behind the steering wheel too.
Combining this energetic response with its sharper steering and stiffened up chassis, and you have a Yaris that feels agile enough for you to dart around and have some fun around town – or at the very least, feel like you’re making effective progress.
You can choose from three drive modes: EV only, Power and Eco. Power makes the steering feel a little heavier, although doesn't really offer much more in the way of communication. Eco simply dulls everything down and coasts at every opportunity. EV attempts to keep things using just electricity for as long as possible.
Shift the gearlever down to B mode for regenerative braking and it’s not too abrupt at trimming off speed – so it’s not like a BMW i3 – but useful enough in town without being too violent on the brakes.
Our biggest reservation with the Yaris is the ride quality. The cars we tested had 17-inch wheels. These cars get a firmer ride than smaller wheeled cars. This includes the firmest springs and dampers and the lowest profile tyres. Each wheel size has bespoke suspension settings attached to them.
One thing we can be certain is the engine being far more hushed than it used to be, even when working hard. Its deeper-sounding, thrummy three-cylinder tone doesn't sound like it's in pain, and there’s little vibration coming through into the cabin, making for a relaxed place to spend time in when tackling city traffic.
The most noticeable noises filtering through into the cabin typically stem from the electrical hardware, whining away under acceleration and during braking at low speeds. Drive around in B mode and the regenerative braking system makes it worse, sounding like a generator kicking in every time you lift off the accelerator. That said, it’s mainly noticeable when you don’t have the radio on and if you opt for the JBL sound system, there'll be plenty of speakers willing to help sort that out.
Functional cabin that’s now up to date
Functional is really the best word to describe the interior. It works. Everything is where you'd imagine it being. There's very little to actually annoy you. The plastics feel sturdy, the use of textures on the door cards are pleasant to touch and the diamond-patterned seats are more akin of something from a DS product.
The dash itself is dark and monotone though, but you can choose two silver colour schemes for the seats and door inserts to contrast against this. The Renault Clio still possesses the ability to have the brightest cabin, the Peugeot 208 feels the most futuristic, while the Yaris remains a more colourful place to spend time in compared with a Ford Fiesta, while leaving the Suzuki Swift far behind in the previous decade.
Sit in the driver’s seat and the instrument panel consists of two circular, digital screens sitting either side of a trip computer. They're easy enough to read, but not bright enough and we wouldn’t be surprised if entry-level models come with traditional dials though.
How much will the new Yaris cost?
The range starts from £19,910 with the Icon and works its way up to £24,005 for the Launch Edition.
Interestingly, Toyota's going full on with PCP savings – offering 0% APR across the entire range. This means Design cars start from £189 per month.
Base spec cars look a bit dour in comparison with tartirer versions. But sub £200 for a car with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a five-year 100,000-mile warranty, and a hybrid engine capable of 68.9mpg seems like good value to us.
If the last Yaris never made it onto your radar, it certainly has a chance of doing so now. There's added performance, driving fun and style thrown into the mix, while keeping those headline running costs down. If you already liked the Yaris, this is better than ever, except now you'll have fun driving it around town and not solely ride the feel-good factor of being a little more environmentally responsible.
What would stop you from getting one? Those who want the driving fun of a Ford Fiesta down a country road will continue to look elsewhere, and that occasional jittery ride might spoil the overall driving experience.