First drive: Toyota Yaris

The third-generation Yaris is designed to build on this model's core values, of being compact on the outside but big on the inside. However, this time, it's even roomier, has more technology and has apparently more masculine looks.

So with all these changes, can the new Yaris make its mark on a constantly changing supermini market? I headed to Middlesex for the first UK drive to find out.
The latest Yaris is designed to appeal to younger buyers and one of the ways Toyota believe they will attract them is with the more dynamic, sharper exterior design.

At the front, the new Yaris is the first model to debut the new Toyota face, with its double-concave front grille and distinctive horizontal headlights.

While the new look maintains the classic Yaris 'Y' front styling, one of the biggest changes is the proportions of the upper and lower grilles, with the lower front grille giving a more ground-hugging appearance.

Move to the side and with the steeply sloped beltline and larger quarterlights, you could almost mistake the new car for a shrunken version of its hardly youthful, bigger brother, the Auris. Still, despite the extra 100m, the 3,885mm Yaris is now the most slippery in its class, with a Cd of 0.287.

At the back of the latest Yaris, the design highlight has to be the way the tailgate is inset to the rear bumper and how the rear bumper follows the front with its own 'Y' graphic.

Overall, there's no doubt the new Yaris has more visual imapct than the old one, but I don't think it's distinctive enough and perhaps looks too similar to other models in the Toyota range.

Move inside the new Yaris and if you know the old car, you'll notice that the instruments have moved from their previously central position to being conventionally in front of the driver. This should make it easier for owners of bigger cars to downsize to the new Yaris.

The dashboard design itself, with its horizontal lines, is designed to create a feeling of width and I think it works, as from the front it feels much bigger than it is. I like the soft-padded textured section which stretches on to the doors too. The dials with their gun metal finish and the controls with their chrome-plated detailing look classy too.

Dominating the soft-padded section of the Yaris is Toyota's latest version of its Touch system, which offers advanced connectivity for audio, telephones and Bluetooth which debuted on the Verso-S.

Move up to the optional Touch and Go system (offered as a free upgrade for a limited launch period), and the system includes a full satellite navigation system, speed and safety camera alerts, Google local search function and the ability to connect with local information such as lpetrol prices. It can be updated via its own portal too.

Toyota are making great claims about the Yaris's quality and finish, but the new dash-top material is shiny and has a finish that looks cheap. The same finish carries on to cover most of the door trims and lacks finesse.

The driving position is comfortable, with the amount of adjustment increased. The seats themselves are nothing particularly special, but are supportive and the TR and SR I tried were trimmed in fancy fabrics.

It's roomy in the back of the Yaris too; I'm over six-foot and there was enough head- and legroom with the hollowed out front seats to get comfortable. A 286 litre boot is smaller than rivals such as the new Kia Rio; fold the rear seats forward and this increases to 768 litres.

Three proven engines will be available in the new Yaris, including one diesel and two petrols. The latest version of the diesel engine includes a two-stage oil pressure control system and long-life coolant by-pass system that work together to improve warm-up performance and of course fuel efficiency. It's capable of 72.4mpg and produces just 104g/km of CO2.

There's also Toyota's three-cylinder 1.0-litre VVTi petrol that returns 58.9mpg and 111g/km.

I tried TR and sportier SR versions, both fitted with what's expected to be the best-selling petrol engine, the 98bhp 1.33-litre that emits 123g/km emmissions with a combined consumption figure of 52.3mpg; mated to a slick six-speed manual transmission on the TR and priced at £13,260 and the sportier £14,385 SR with Multidrive S CVT transmission.

Both of the cars I drove felt very tight, but I don't think its willing if thrashy nature, which is amplified with the CVT auto, will improve with miles. Still, this engine feels more at home in the Yaris than it did in the Verso S that I tried it in earlier this year, but I think this could be down to Toyota's work on the wind, road and engine noise.

Toyota claim the new Yaris is more agile, it's also 20kg lighter despite the extra kit. However, whilst the steering is well-weighted and precise, there's no pleasure to be found in attacking twisty corners, as there's too much body roll. This surprisingly isn't improved in the supposedly Sporty SR, with its bigger 16-inch alloy wheels and lowered suspension either.

Still, on the plus side, the turning circle is best in class, which along with the rear view camera that's fitted to all Yaris models from TR trim and above, makes it the perfect town car.

The ride is refined on motorways, but doesn't work so well on country roads where road scars unsettle it. You won't drive the Yaris for fun as it lacks the dynamic polish of a Ford Fiesta.

Still, the latest Yaris is a big improvement over the outgoing car. If driving thrills aren't at the top of your buying list, but if Toyota's reputation for reliability, a five-year 100,000 mile warranty and a free sat-nav upgrade are, then the new Yaris could be just the car for you.
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