Hip, hip, hybrid hooray for high-flying Toyota

Toyota Yaris gets a smart new look as part of a range of measures to give it more emotional appeal.

Toyota Yaris gets a smart new look as part of a range of measures to give it more emotional appeal. - Credit: Toyota

Toyota has given its Yaris the X factor in a bid to win over the heart as well as the head, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Talk about Toyota and it's difficult not to talk about hybrids because it has been a leading player in this green field of motoring since the end of the last century – and that means it has a lot of experience.

It all started with Prius, now in its third generation, and grew to include the Auris hatchback and Touring Sports estate, seven-seater Prius+ people-carrier and the Yaris.

The Yaris may be a compact supermini but it's a big player for Toyota with the hybrid version accounting for more than a quarter of UK Yaris sales and 30% across Europe – now the world's fastest-growing hybrid market with sales 43% up year on year.

Toyota has just updated the Yaris line-up, which also includes conventional petrol and diesel models, to give it more of an emotional choice with a new look and driving experience which aims to appeal to the heart as much as the head.

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It's easy to spot the new model with the new X factor face with that distinctive cross, first seen on the smaller second-generation Aygo city car earlier this year, created by strong styling elements running from the headlamps to the bottom of the bumper on the opposite side. At the back it gets a redesigned bumper and LED light clusters.

The Yaris is the only Toyota in the UK to get a 73bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine – all the others have a 1.8-litre unit – mated to a 59bhp electric motor to give a combined output of 98bhp.

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This is a car that likes a light foot and heavy traffic so you can make the most of battery power alone driving the electric motor. It's in its element in urban driving – capable of running in electric vehicle mode alone up to 30mph before the engine cuts in seamlessly to take over while also trickling charge back into the battery.

The Yaris Hybrid can travel a mile or so purely in electric vehicle mode but whenever you lift off the throttle or brake it converts the wasted energy into charge for the battery, so the reality is you keep switching between battery and engine as conditions dictate.

After driving several full hybrid cars I have found the best way is to use the engine to get up to speed and, at up to about 40mph, lift off the throttle and then gently rest your foot on it to maintain momentum on the battery. The results were impressive – on the open road I never saw less than 60mpg, and generally averaged 65mpg, while low-speed urban driving regularly saw fuel economy in the 80s or even 90s.

Despite being biased towards urban driving, this little hybrid makes decent progress on the open road, keeping up with the traffic flow and cruising at 70mph but overtaking needs serious planning. While the automatic continously-variable transmission (CVT) is great in traffic, when you kick it down the engine noise outweighs the extra performance but that kind of performance is not the priority when buying a hybrid.

As part of the Yaris update, Toyota has also tweaked the suspension with softer springs but a stiffer set-up overall to make it better to drive. It makes for a finely-balanced driving experience – bumps and lumps on poor urban roads are comfortably cushioned while body roll is kept in check when cornering at speed, making it more rewarding and reassuring.

For a supermini the Yaris is surprisingly spacious inside – always one of its big attractions – and big enough for four adults and five at a push with decent leg and headroom. With the drive batteries under the rear seats, there has been no intrusion into the supermini's deep, shapely 286-litre boot. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat to increase cargo space to 710 litres but there is a big step up from the boot floor unless you opt for the removable sill height floor panel.

Interior noise levels have been reduced and cabin ambience enhanced with higher quality materials where you see and touch them. The fascia is simple to use and take in and I like the intuitive touchscreen for audio, media, phone and navigation where fitted.

Yaris Hybrid is offered in Icon and Excel trim levels, both of which feature attractive equipment levels.

It's easy to tell a Toyota hybrid by the blue inner edging to the Toyota badge front and back. Look out for them and you'll realise how popular they are.

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