Toyota Yaris Hybrid review

28 May 2012

Toyota Yaris Hybrid front view

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Good: Refined, well equipped and very economical
Bad: A little pricey and can be noisy when accelerating
Price: from £14,995
I’m in Holland, and today is a public holiday called Tweede Pinksterdag, which seems to be the day when every cyclist in Amsterdam gets out and throngs the roads. This is making it very easy to test the new Yaris Hybrid’s all-round visibility and brakes. I’ve also belatedly discovered that cycle lanes have priority over cars at junctions, or at least I assume they do due to all the shouting and shaken fists.

The Netherlands’ flat and pristine roads do make a normally exhausting pushbike seem like a tolerable means of transport. Plus, many rural and suburban roads feature lines painted to create a narrow single lane for cars, flanked on either side by generous cycle paths. It’s a not very subtle way of encouraging motorists to slow down and share the carriageway, but it works.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid side view

The Yaris Hybrid feels quite at home in this genteel world of canals, windmills, speed-humps and three-abreast cycling. It couldn’t really be calmer or less stressful to drive.

Aside from a fairly typical case of thick-pillar blind-spot, visibility is good. The transmission needs little attention as it’s automatic. The brakes are initially soft but quickly firm up and become surprisingly powerful if, say, you’ve misjudged who is supposed to stop at a junction.

Similarly, the steering feels almost too light as I zip along arrow-straight canal-side roads but weights up and feels better in the tight, right-angled corners. Throttle response feels surprisingly linear and predictable considering all the non-linear stuff actually happening under the bonnet.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid front interior

At speeds below about 18mph, the Yaris Hybrid tends to rely on its 59bhp electric motor alone, powered by the nickel-metal-hydride battery lurking under the rear seats. This makes urban pootling a virtually silent and stealthy business, sufficient to sneak up behind unwary pedestrians.

At faster speeds or when brisk acceleration is summoned, the 1.5-litre petrol engine joins in. It’s a four-cylinder unit developing 73bhp, which combines with the motor to yield an overall peak of 98bhp. That’s less than the 132bhp maximum that arithmetic might suggest, but of course electric motors and engines both vary their output with speed, and it’s actually a good thing that the peaks don’t align because it makes for a more complementary pairing.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid instrument pane

The battery gets its power entirely from regenerative braking, which is another surprisingly seamless experience. There’s a handy dial to the left of the speedometer that shows when I’m braking too firmly for regeneration to work effectively, or accelerating too briskly for economy.

Refinement appears superb, although the freshly ironed Dutch asphalt is undoubtedly flattering. Over stretches of old-town cobbles, the suspension seems competent at soaking up rumbles but it’s hard to predict how the car might cope with a typical British street and its 57 varieties of surface.

Front-wing Hybrid badge of Yaris

The French-built Yaris Hybrid shares its powertrain with the US-market Prius C and Japanese Prius Aqua, both of which arguably look a little sleeker and prettier than the upright and uptight Yaris, even with the hybrid’s unique nose and smart LED tail lamps. But we shouldn’t hanker after those foreign cars because Hirofumi Yamamoto, chief engineer for the Yaris Hybrid, says the European car is measurably better, particularly in terms of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).

You certainly won’t coax any vibration out of the hybrid Yaris unless you drive over a cattle-grid, but it’s easy to summon up some noise. A deep industrial hum emerges from behind the firewall as I floor the throttle. In familiar CVT-gearbox style, the engine is happy to sit revving at its torque peak while the wheels slowly catch up. From rest to 62mph takes 11.8 seconds, but it feels slower due to the lack of any aural suggestion that things are speeding up.

I have no idea how fast the engine likes to rev when pressed – perhaps 4,000rpm – because there’s no tachometer. Since the engine is just one component in a complex powertrain, and rarely feels under the control of the driver, a rev counter would be as appropriate as a big brass-and-rubber horn.

Rear lamp and Toyota badge of Yaris Hybrid

Three versions of the Yaris Hybrid will be sold in the UK, labelled T3, T4 and TSpirit. All sit at the top of the Yaris range in terms of price, costing £14,995, £15,895 and £16,995 respectively.

All come very well equipped, although the T4 offers the best balance of cost and equipment and looks set to be the best seller. It offers the essential alloy wheels at 15-inch diameter, a touch of blue-stitched leather on the steering wheel, Bluetooth, a modern stereo with DAB and music player inputs, plus other welcome bits and bobs like a reversing camera and height adjustable driver’s seat.

TSpirit gains 16-inch wheels, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, keyless entry, part-leather upholstery and various other fripperies.

2012 Toyota Yaris Hybrid interior

All Yaris Hybrids get dual-zone air conditioning, front electric windows, a six-speaker stereo, and a dyslexic collection of ABS, EBD, EBA, ESP, etc. And if all the acronyms fail to prevent a moment of speed-over-sense panic, there are seven airbags and a five-star EuroNCAP result to hopefully keep everything intact.

The Yaris Hybrid promises outstanding economy, with the T4 and T3 scoring 80.7mpg and 79g/km on the combined cycle, while the TSpirit does marginally worse at 76.3mpg and 85g/km due to its bigger wheels – a 15-inch downgrade is an option on the TSpirit.

Toyota rightly observes that the 79g/km score is a good insurance policy for drivers intent on avoiding the London Congestion Charge, as any looming shift in the 100g/km exemption threshold is unlikely to drop below 80g/km for a good while yet.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid gearlever and mode buttons

In the real world – or at least the Dutch part of it – I find it reasonably easy to achieve an indicated economy of 3.8 litres per 100km, or about 74mpg, across a couple of hours in the TSpirit car. Economy-minded drivers can select an optional Eco mode via a button down by the handbrake, which helps frugality by smoothing out throttle inputs and moderating the aircon. There’s also an EV mode, which keeps the engine offline as long as you creep around slowly, but it’s not really a practical option.

Driven without much care for economy in ordinary mode, the Yaris Hybrid T4 still gave me a very impressive 4.2l/100km, or about 67mpg, after a day behind the wheel.

Toyota is unique in fitting such a complex hybrid system to a supermini – the Honda Jazz Hybrid is similarly priced but not nearly as sophisticated nor anything like as economical.

Toyota Yaris hybrid rear side view

And Toyota has squeezed all the components in without visible compromise – the 286-litre boot is unaffected, although the fuel tank has shrunk from 42 to 36 litres, to make way for the hybrid battery. But the excellent economy should still see as much as 500 miles between fill-ups.

The Yaris Hybrid isn’t cheap, but it is clever. If you want a relaxing, economical and refined hybrid supermini there really is no other choice.

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