►Small, hybrid hatch is back, set to broaden appeal
►New hybrid tech plans to dominate sales
►It’s more fun to drive too… in town
We've been for an early drive of the all-new Mk4 Toyota Yaris Hybrid in Portugal, in pre-production form, before they reach a showroom near you in September 2020.
There’s a more aggressive nose up front, a slightly-inflated Aygo look down the side and a lower, more conventional supermini-like stance all-round.
UK-specific spec details for the engine and trim levels are yet to be finalised, but as with all its competitors, barring the Ford Fiesta, the Mk4 Yaris will only be available as a five-door. The only way to get a three-door version is to opt for the sporty GR Yaris – how’s that for a deciding factor?
Toyota’s been building hybrids since 1997, so when most manufacturers are only just releasing Now That’s What I Call a Hybrid! 01, the latest Yaris debuts the Japanese brand’s fourth compilation of petrol-electric drive system.
We can cringe at the 'self-charging' campaign, indicating that it doesn’t need to be plugged in, but what matters more is that this is set to be an exceptionally fuel-efficient system, even if precise mpg figures are yet to be confirmed.
Let's face it, you can see why this has been prioritised to be available from launch, given that 60% of buyers who bought the outgoing version went for the hybrid model.
This time, it’s set to account for an even higher percentage, making up over three-quarters of Mk4 Yaris sales.
There will still be a conventional version of the 1.5-litre petrol engine sold without electrical assistance, available with a choice of six-speed manual and optional CVT transmissions. A 1.0-litre derivative paired with a five-speed manual transmission is yet to be confirmed.
Shorter, lower, wider… and actually more fun
The latest Yaris is supported by the smallest adaptable platform yet, known internally as GA-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 feet 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, plus, the added width means they also sit 20mm further apart.
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.
We’ll know for sure when we drive it in the UK later this year, but our early drive in Portugal shows a positive sign of improvement over the outgoing model - provided you reside in the Hybrid's natural habitat.
Sooo… what have we got here?
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 compression ratio of 14:1.
It’s linked to a new electrical motor producing 79hp and 141Nm 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 100hp to 116hp, with a 0-62mph time of 10.3secs - 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 8.1secs.
Remember the two words ‘rubber band’?
Those who remember driving Toyota hybrids of old will most likely remember the tedious experience of getting one to acclerate 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.
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.
Once you venture out of town though, it starts to deteriorate. Toyota spent a lot of time explaining how they set out to improve vehicle dynamics, but once you start pushing on down country roads, the front of the Yaris easily loses interest and just surrenders to understeer. We suspect it’s more to do with the tyres, as the car doesn’t feel flustered or cumbersome at that point, but it’s clearly not the car to buy if you want to drive it like a Ford Fiesta and save money on running costs - you’d otherwise just buy a Fiesta.
You can choose from three drive modes: EV only, Power and Eco. Power makes the steering feel a little heavier, but you still don’t have any indication of what the front wheels are doing in terms of grip level. Eco simply dulls everything down and coasts at every opportunity. 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 as such - but useful enough in town without being too violent on the brakes.
Our biggest reservation with the 2020 Yaris so far concentrates on the ride quality of the Hybrid model we drove. It absorbed the majority of what the nicer roads of Portugal could throw at it, but we’ll have to reserve judgement until we try it in the UK. The ride is comfortable enough, dealing with bigger bumps well, but a little on the firm side; sending the occaisonal thump into the cabin. It's when the ride becomes a bit jittery on rougher road surfaces where it might start to annoy.
This also applies to road noise, which never intruded into the cabin too much, but we suspect our UK roads will generate far more resonance in the cabin. Luckily, the largest wheels you can have here is 17-inches in size, unlike some rivals and their 18s.
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 accelerating 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
The pictures of our pre-production model don’t show the final finishing touches yet, as some of the trim finishes are yet to be decided. The steering wheel buttons and surrounds were decidedly flimsy and nasty to use, but we’re confident this isn’t typical of what the firm produces.
The plastics otherwise 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 have 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?
It’s too soon to speculate on this given deliveries won’t begin until September 2020, but it’s likely that order books will open at late spring, at which point prices will be announced.
Two-tone bodywork will be available, along with wheels ranging in size from 15 to 17 inches on the earliest models.
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 occaisonal jittery ride might spoil the overall driving experience. What also remains to be seen is whether the Hybrid will only be reserved as a top-of-the-range model, as this may price out those on a budget.