UK Drive: Toyota’s Y20 celebrates 20 years of the Yaris

What is it?

How time flies by. This year marks 20 years since the original Yaris first went on sale – a model that increased the Japanese manufacturer’s European presence significantly, with the French-built hatchback offering buyers a compact and likeable hatchback that also proved to be safe and reliable.

Not a lot has changed in that respect, as the Yaris still frequently ranks near the top of the reliability charts, although further strings have been tied to the car’s bow with a hybrid powertrain that now accounts for the majority of the model’s sales. That’s even more remarkable considering the hybrid costs over £2,000 more than the standard petrol model.

The Y20 gains a contrast roof, as well as other touches
(Toyota)

The Yaris received mild updates in 2017, with revised styling and a bundle of standard safety kit representing the highlights.

But to mark 20 years of the Yaris – we have this, the Y20.

What’s new?

At the release of the Y20 there was a limited-edition model, with Toyota producing 1,998 of these. Just 100 of these were destined for the UK, each painted in a bright gold colour, matching the shade of the original launch car.

However, Toyota then made the Y20 a permanent fixture in the Yaris brochure. Offered in a choice of gold, white, silver or black, the trim is complimented by a bi-tone finish to the roof, grille, side sills and fog light surrounds.

The Y20 is available with two engine choices
(Toyota)

Grey detailing also extends to the cabin, which features a grey centre console and further detailing to the steering wheel. It also receives revised upholstery, and in typical special edition fashion, plenty of badges.

What’s under the bonnet?

With the Y20, buyers have the option of choosing a standard 1.5-litre petrol engine or the hybrid tested here.

Powered by a 110bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine paired to an electric motor, the Yaris Hybrid offers reserved performance, rather than anything sprightly.

Toyota claims a 0-60mph time of 10.8 seconds and a top speed of 109mph, although the lacklustre CVT automatic gearbox does a poor job of offering those figures in the real world.

As well as the hybrid, there's a conventional petrol available
(Toyota)

On the plus side, it will deliver where efficiency is concerned. Toyota’s claimed fuel economy are, oddly, quite underestimated. The firm claims 48mpg and CO2 emissions of 118g/km, but drive the Yaris Hybrid steadily and there’s nothing stopping you seeing fuel economy figures in the 60s around town. Sure, harsher driving will have the opposite effect, and motorway driving will leave you stopping at the pumps more than you would hope.

What’s it like to drive?

The Yaris Y20 is an odd car to drive, largely because it’s capable of so much more but is fundamentally flawed because of its hybrid powertrain.

As evidenced in 2017’s Yaris GRMN hot hatch, the supermini’s chassis is superb. The Y20 is grippy and offers minimal body roll, and once up to speed, can be quite pleasing to drive. The initial shove of torque from the electric motor is also welcome, but it’s short lived and stunted by the CVT transmission, because any attempt at harsh acceleration results in unrefined revving with minimal performance gain.

The Y20 remains relatively unchanged over the standard Yaris at the rear
(Toyota)

But drive it steadily around town, and the Yaris proves to be far more pleasant. It’s nippy, relatively comfortable and providing you are gentle with the accelerator pedal, not too unrefined, either.

How does it look?

The Yaris itself isn’t a bad-looking model, with the X-shaped design signature first seen on the smaller Aygo working its way over to the Yaris. It’s certainly not going to get the heart racing, but is inoffensively styled and not fussy.

LED headlights are a striking feature of the Y20
(Toyota)

The Y20 adds an extra dose of glamour, too, even if it’s no more than a few option boxes being ticked on the standard car.

The bi-tone roof is a nice touch, while the machined 16-inch alloy wheels and grey accents help to differentiate the model from the standard Yaris, too. The swathes of Y20 badges might be a bit unnecessary though, as it’s little more than a glorified trim level.

What’s it like inside?

While past superminis could get away with having cheap-feeling interiors, this is no longer the case, with buyers expecting so much more from their small cars – particularly on the inside.

Sadly, Toyota doesn’t seem to have got this memo, and the Yaris’s interior feels decidedly backward compared to rivals.

The Yaris' interior is quite low-rent
(Toyota)

The layout itself is good, and Toyota has been reserved with the number of interior buttons to leave a fuss-free look, but the quality falls short of the mark. Cheap and scratchy plastics litter the cabin, and little attempt has been made to integrate soft-touch materials to the dash.

The touchscreen is yet another disappointment. Not only can be difficult to use, but it’s lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in the way of smartphone connectivity, and those things are not even offered on the options list.

It’s also not particularly practical, with its 286-litre boot falling behind rivals, and with minimal rear seat space for adults. But then again, it sits in the supermini segment – so you can’t be expecting estate car levels of roominess.

What’s the spec like?

Designed to sit second from the top of the Yaris range, the Y20 does come with plenty of kit for the money – although it should for a model that costs nearly £20,000, and with the optional satellite navigation fitted to our test car, it pushes the price up to £20,470.

Y20 badges are dotted everywhere
(Toyota)

However, the standard equipment list of the Y20 is generous, with features such as front and rear parking sensors with a reversing camera, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, high beam assist and road sign recognition all thrown in from the off.

In short, unless you’re sold on the appeal of the Y20’s special edition nature, models further down the trim list make far more sense.

Verdict

Twenty years since its arrival and the Yaris is still a hugely successful model, and one of the UK’s best-selling models. It’s easy to admire its relaxed nature, credible safety record and, should you opt for the hybrid, impressively low running costs.

However, it’s not short of flaws. The interior is decidedly low rent for a car costing £20,000, and its lack of connectivity and disappointing CVT automatic gearbox model makes the Y20 a tough car to recommend.

Yes, the Y20 aims to celebrate 20 years of the Yaris, but choosing a lower-spec car and saving yourself thousands of pounds feels like a much better cause for celebration than this average effort at reigniting the Yaris’s initial spark.

  • Model: Toyota Yaris Y20
  • Price: £20,470
  • Engine: 1.5-litre petrol engine with hybrid assistance
  • Power (bhp): 98
  • Torque (Nm): 136
  • Max speed (mph): 109
  • 0-60mph: 10.8 seconds
  • MPG: 47.8
  • Emissions (g/km): 118
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