Toyota Yaris Hybrid review
by Tom Stewart (1 June 2012)
When the third-generation Yaris was introduced to the press during the summer of last year, some dared to criticise for there not being a hybrid version available at launch, even though it was common knowledge that a full hybrid would join the petrol and diesel Yaris line-up this year.
I'm not aware of similar criticism being levelled at any other manufacturer - well, not since some makers were slow to market with diesels in the 1990s – even though, for whatever reason, there are still very few who do offer hybrids of any kind. But I suppose that's a small price Toyota has to pay for being at the vanguard of hybrid powertrain production.
A quick first glance reveals that the Hybrid is still very much a Yaris, ie. well-proportioned and not at all bad looking if you cast any brand preconceptions aside. This flagship model boasts a few exterior tweaks which include a significantly larger lower front grille with a slimmer upper air intake, reshaped driving lamp nacelles in a 20mm longer front overhang, Hybrid-specific alloy wheels and front/rear lights, as well as a generous sprinkling of blue Hybrid badges.
Inside it's also largely the same as the existing Yaris, but with a few distinguishing Hybrid touches including instrument dials with chromed rings and blue backlighting, a hybrid system indicator (charge/eco/power), a CVT auto transmission stick with a fancy blue gearknob and, not least, a fuel gauge that barely moves.
From start-up and up to 31mph, this Yaris automatically drives on electric power alone (EV mode can also be selected manually). Helped by regenerative braking, in urban driving it's likely that the petrol engine won’t be running for at least half of the time - which leads to that most burning question, "What'll it do, mister?"
Well, if the officially combined figures are to be believed, 76.3mpg on the T Spirit version's 16" alloys, or a whopping 80.7mpg on the 15-inchers of the lower-spec T3 and T4 versions.
Based on what I and others achieved over the recent press launch routes in Holland – where there are no hills, and cyclists and traffic calming measures aplenty - those combined figures, like so many others, are more fantasy than reality.
However, according to the trip computer, on day one my Yaris hybrid returned 62.8mpg, without trying, and with some lead-footed behaviour. Trying a bit but not much, day two yielded an even more impressive 65.7mpg. One or two other journos even claimed figures in the low-to-mid 70s, but by their own admission they were driving exceptionally carefully, and with some skill.
The Hybrid's official CO2 emissions are correspondingly low: 79g/km (15" wheels) or 85g/km (16s), and this in turn means £0 annual road tax with London congestion charge exemption, at least for the time being. With on-the-road prices ranging from £14,995 for the T3 to £16,995 for the T Spirit the Hybrids are initially costlier than conventional Yarises, but when you factor in class-leading residual values (according to CAP) and the lowest-in-class three-year running costs (according to KWIKcarcost), not to mention Toyota's five-year/100,000-mile warranty, the Hybrid becomes more tempting.
That said, it's no hot hatch. With the throttle pedal depressed, automatic CVT transmissions require the engine (the petrol rather than the electric one in this case) to rev highly before gathering speed, much as though the clutch is slipping, thus giving the distinct impression that you're going nowhere fast.
However, the 1.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor give a combined maximum output of 98bhp, which allows for 0-31mph in 4 seconds, 0-62mph in 11.8 secs and a 103mph top speed. No, it's not fast, but it's peppy enough for most of us most of the time, especially in traffic, in town.
I drove petrol and diesel Yarises on the launch last year in Denmark and now the Hybrid version in Holland, and the roads are better surfaced in both those countries than many here in the UK, but taking that into consideration the Hybrid really does ride very smoothly, comfortably and quietly. For a small car it also feels exceptionally refined and well-built, while its class-leading 4.7-metre turning circle is handy.
The low centre of gravity certainly helps the handling and steering. It feels light and nimble, and, despite all the traffic calming and forests of roadside Gatso cameras (their inventor, Maurice Gatsonedes, was Dutch) a few moments of hooliganism demonstrated that the Hybrid has good body control with more than adequate grip in corners.
Unlike the Auris Hybrid with reduced boot space, the 2011 Yaris was designed from the outset to be either petrol, diesel or hybrid. The Yaris Hybrid's battery sits neatly under the rear bench seat and so interior/boot space hasn't been compromised. That said, supermini load space is never vast, and with a 286-litre luggage capacity, seats up, this new Hybrid is no exception. (Apparently rear-seat passengers are well insulated from any heat the battery may generate, although I didn't put this to the test.)
All three trim levels come as standard with a six-speaker CD/MP3 audio system, a trip computer and dual-zone climate control, while the T Spirit version also has electric rear windows, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, smart push-button starting, Bluetooth, a ventilated glovebox and a whole lot else. Toyota's intuitive Touch & Go multimedia and satnav system remains on the options list.
In his launch report of the third-generation Yaris last year, David Finlay signed off by suggesting that the "single cleverest thing" about the then new model was the T Spirit's twin-blind panoramic glass roof. This roof is an option on all three Hybrid versions, but there's now much, much cleverer stuff under the bonnet, and under the rear seat.