8 Toyota Yaris

4.5 /10

TOYOTA is rich and brilliant, with enough power to alter the course of motoring forever. When it wants to. Witness the impact the Prius hybrid had, and the game-changing potential of the new Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell car. So why is its global supermini so mediocre?

Toyota could point to the Yarisís strong resale value, low servicing costs, rock-solid reliability and driving ease, especially around town. All are compelling reasons to buy one. Plus, the recent facelift brings a stronger five-door body (the three-door has been dropped) for better dynamics and improved refinement, increased specification, updated multimedia functionality, and newly standardised telescopic steering, cruise control, reversing camera and 15-inch wheels on the base Ascent. Thatís about $2000 of extra gear for the same price. Clearly, then, itís better value than before.

But even in a strictly head-over-heart assessment, the least expensive Yaris is patchy at best, and behind the eight-ball (and so in eighth position) at worst.

Consider this. The Ascent auto is lumbered with the oldest, slowest, least powerful, near thirstiest and smallest atmo engine on test, with just four forward gears, equal-worst warranty and six- rather than 12-month service intervals. Priced at $17,290 before on-road costs, itís not even cheapest of the group.

Whatever you might make of last Septemberís Series II makeover, which includes the corporate face, redesigned tail-lights and restyled wheels, at least it goes some way in differentiating a dull and dated design (from 2011) that, incredibly, is newer than some of the others in this group. A single windscreen wiper is as groovy as that gaping grille treatment is, erm, ghastly.

A more cohesive dash design comes with claimed higher quality materials Ė the switch to a big central touchscreen across the range, twin gloveboxes and refreshed fabric trim lift the experience Ė but thereís no escaping Yarisís carryover rental car ambience. Itís just a bit more cheerful.

Flat seats turn out to be surprisingly supportive, and thereís more room in the rear seat area than its diminutive dimensions suggest, but the sheer volume of engine, road and tyre noises Ė especially above 80km/h Ė further undermines all the good stuff carried out elsewhere in the facelifted Yaris.

Geared quite low, the 1999 Echo-era 1.3-litre four-cylinder drivetrain is lively off the mark and agreeably smooth shifting between its limited ratios, but a determined right foot is necessary to keep things moving along at higher speeds, where the engine booms ceaselessly.

Unless you compare it to the Barina, in which case the Yaris sounds heaven-sent.

But itís underpowered in hilly country.

Right foot mashed and fuel gauge on a downward spiral, you have no choice but to simply watch its rivals disappear as the Yaris struggles to maintain speed.

Light and moderately responsive but totally feel-free steering should shock nobody, while on the skinny Ascent-spec rubber, it corners with a predictable, if understeery attitude, backed up by stability and traction nannies that arenít too meddling. Thatís the good news. The bad news is the suspension is restless and noisy.

Which roundly sums up the tiniest Toyota sold in this country. That the Yaris has been a supermini sales leader over the past decade says great things about the marketing muscle behind it and not so great things about the choices Aussies make.

Címon, Toyota, we know you can do better. If ease and reliability matter most, buy a Yaris. For everybody else, please turn the page. Ė BM

A dash of (little) pizzazz

IF YOUíRE familiar with the original Echo or its 2005-2011 replacement, you might lament Toyotaís homogenously timid approach to the current versionís dashboard, which is a snoozy amalgam of every existing fascia that the company offers, and a not very attractive one at that. While the uplift in specification (standard reversing camera) is welcome, the change-for-the-sake-of-change differences that the recent facelift brings is a missed opportunity to return some much-needed pizzazz. At least the interior itself is well built. f ili ith th i i l Eh it

TOYOTA YARIS ASCENT

$17,755* Engine 1299cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Power 63kW @ 6000rpm Torque 121Nm @ 4400rpm Transmission 4-speed automatic Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 3905/1695/1510/2510mm Weight 1035kg Cargo capacity 286 litres Tyres Bridgestone Ecopia EP25 175/65R15 84H Economy 8.1L/100km 0-60km/h 6.0sec 0-100km/h 13.7sec 0-400m 19.3sec @ 116.1km/h 80-120km/h 11.0sec 100km/h-0 40.7m 3yr resale 63% . Reliability, cheap servicing . Slow, noisy, buzzy * Includes metallic paint ($465)