REVIEW DATE: 11 Feb 2009
Toyota is expecting big things from its Stop & Start Yaris. Steve Walker takes a look.
Not so long ago, if your car's engine conked out every time you pulled up at the traffic lights or came to a standstill in a jam, you'd have found it both inconvenient and annoying. Today, it's a quality that's positively desirable. At least, it is if your vehicle has a stop and start system installed. Toyota's 1.33-litre Yaris supermini is one of a growing number of modern cars that use the technology to cut fuel consumption, emissions and even noise levels in urban areas.
It's a problem that Toyota products have experienced across a range of different market sectors, one of identity. Everyone knows about the lofty standards of build quality and reliability that the world's biggest car manufacturer routinely achieves but beyond that, its vehicles can be tricky for consumers to get a firm handle on in a crowded marketplace. The Toyota Yaris supermini is a prime example. It's yet another competent Toyota but what is it about the Yaris that's going to excite people like you, making you forgo all the other superminis and buy one? It isn't especially stylish, practical, sporty or affordable, it's by no means the bottom of the class but it has been easy to overlook. There are signs, however, that things could be changing. With the advent of Toyota Optimal Drive and the 1.33-litre Stop & Start model, could the Yaris finally be forging a niche for itself as a leading green option?
The decision to call the 1.3-litre petrol engine in the Yaris the '1.33' doesn't signal the start of a more precise engine naming policy at Toyota. It's merely a device to underline the fact that this is a substantially different and more advanced powerplant than the old 1.3-litre lump that served the Yaris in the past. It benefits from Toyota's Dual VVT-i variable valve timing technology and has an extremely high compression ratio for a petrol engine enabling it to extract larger amounts of energy from its fuel than equivalent units. The Stop & Start technology is the highlight though, and comes into play when the Yaris is stationary, the gear lever is in neural and the clutch is released. This gives the driver some control over the engine stopping process. If it's clear that the traffic ahead is about to move, you just keep the clutch in and the Yaris 1.33 behaves like a conventional car.
"Pushing the environmental angle could prove to be a profitable course of action for the Yaris"
As standard, the 1.33-litre engine is mated to a clever 6-speed manual gearbox with a higher than usual 6th gear to boost fuel economy on higher speed runs. Toyota has also paid attention to smoothing out the shifting action, reducing noise and bringing improved feel to the clutch pedal. The other gearbox option is Toyota's MultiMode robotised manual. In terms of performance, the 1.33-litre Yaris doesn't disgrace itself in the manner of some economy-focused models. It has 100bhp on tap and 0-60mph takes a reasonable 11.7s.
The Yaris has never been one of the more striking superminis to look at but its compact curves are easy enough on the eye. The latest models blend the front bumper and bonnet more seamlessly than before while also incorporating protection mouldings designed to take the financial sting out of minor parking knocks. The front spoiler has also been lowered slightly giving a fractionally sportier look and together with a flatter design for the dirty side of the car, this helps aerodynamics, further improving efficiency.
Toyota's exemplary build quality is evident in the Yaris cabin and you'll search in vain for shoddily assembled trim components. The problem is that instances of design flare are similarly hard to come by in the rather bland cabin environment. The controls are sensibly positioned and extremely easy to get to grips with 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.
Interior space is another thorny issue, a product of the Toyota being a noticeably smaller car than the latest crop of super-sized superminis. It's over 16cm shorter than the latest Ford Fiesta and while this has its advantages when parking, it's less beneficial when it comes to fitting four passengers and their luggage inside. The boot is 272-litres compared to 295 in the Ford but Toyota's impressive EasyFlat rear seats split 60:40 and fold and slide, bringing a useful degree of versatility plus up to 477-litres of space.
The Yaris trim level hierarchy currently runs from T2 to TR and T Spirit but the 1.33-litre Stop & Start drivetrain can't be matched to the basic T2 trim level. That makes TR the entry point and at this level buyers get 15" alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo with MP3 compatibility and an AUX port, air-conditioning, body-coloured mirrors and a good line-up of safety kit. All Yaris models have ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist, twin front airbags and side airbags. VSC stability control is only available as an option.
Move up to the T-Spirit model and you also get automatic air-conditioning, keyless entry, keyless start and Bluetooth compatibility. The TR model is predicted to be the most popular with Toyota envisaging that 68% of sales will go its way.
Running costs have always been one of the things the Toyota Yaris did well but not spectacularly so. The 1.33-litre engine certainly helps in this regard, contributing to a modern Yaris range in which every model dips under the 120g/km barrier for CO2 emissions. Combine this factor with Toyota's exemplary reliability record and perky residual values and you'd have to say that cost of ownership is an area where the Yaris can shine. With emissions of 119g/km and fuel economy of 55.4mpg, the 1.33 Yaris turns in a very strong performance for a 100bhp petrol-engined supermini. The 1.4-litre diesel does better but costs £850 more upfront.
Like all Yaris models, the 1.33-litre cars benefit from Toyota's Optimal Drive Technology. This is a series of small technological advances focusing on reducing weight, enhancing combustion efficiency in the engines and improving aerodynamics. The alterations made to the latest Yaris are widespread but rather too intricate to go into here. The thing to take away is the substantial improvements to economy and emissions that Optimal Drive has achieved across the Yaris range.
Stop and start technology is being implemented more and more frequently across the small car market and if all the systems achieve the results of Toyota's Stop & Start in its Yaris 1.33 Dual VVT-i supermini, that's got to be a good thing. There's no doubt that having your engine cut out when your car stops will take some getting used to but there are real efficiency savings to be gained. Along with Toyota's Optimal Drive innovations, Stop & Start is helping put the Yaris ahead of the supermini pack from a green point of view.
Pushing the environmental angle could prove to be a profitable course of action for the Yaris and Toyota generally and the 1.33 VVT-i powertrain is at the forefront of that. In other areas, the Yaris is well-built and neatly packaged but lacks the sheer capacity of larger superminis and doesn't display much obvious zest. If the car's green credentials and low running costs can get the punters through the doors, however, there's every change that the car's sensible virtues and low key charm could do the rest.
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|Toyota Yaris 1.33 VVT-i Trend 5dr hatchback|
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|Toyota Yaris 1.33 VVT-i TR 5dr  hatchback|
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|OVERALL||7.6 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
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