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Toyota Yaris is a hit - first drive!

2005-11-03 12:30

John Oxley

Wheels24 was in fact the only website to drive all the cars at their launch in Cape Town, and we must say we were impressed by their design, the excellent build quality, and the high standards of ride and handling.

The range currently comprises five models, each of them powered by the same advanced 1.3-litre engine, but more-powerful versions will be rolled out next year.

The possibility of a diesel version depends on the quality and availability of local fuel.

Toyota makes no bones about the fact that it's targeting the Yaris head-on against the VW Polo, the current leader in the B-segment of the market.

This is now the biggest and fastest growing segment in SA, and Toyota's marketing will hang on a number of elements, not least of which is that Yaris has more interior space than its German opponent, as well as more modern looks and a 5-star Euro N-CAP safety rating.

More features

On top of that, price for price the Yaris has more features.

At introduction the Yaris range consists of three specification levels: T3; T3+ and T3 Spirit.

Within this range of three specification levels a total of five versions are offered.

All are powered by Toyota's new generation 16-valve DOHC all aluminium 2NZ-FE petrol engine with VVT-i that produces 63 kW at 6 000 r/min and has a maximum torque of 121 Nm at 4 400 r/min.

Top speed is a claimed 175 km/h, with 0-100 km/h in 11.5 seconds. Expect overall fuel economy of the region of 6 litres/100 km.

Major specification items featured in the Yaris T3 are:

  • ABS anti-lock brake system.
  • EBD - Electronic Brake Force Distribution.
  • Emergency Brake Assist (BAS.
  • Dual stage driver and front passenger airbags.
  • Three point seat belts for all five seats.
  • ISOFIX rear child seat anchors and top tethers.
  • Safety belt warning buzzer and lamp for front seats.
  • Automatic headlight levelling system.
  • Rear fog lights.
  • 5JX14 steel rims with wheel covers. Full size spare wheel.
  • 175/65 R14 radial tyres.
  • Colour coded grille
  • Electric power steering.
  • Digital instrumentation with time and outside temperature displays.
  • Integrated radio with RDS and four-speaker system.
  • Front loading CD player.
  • Intermittent and mist setting for windscreen wipers.
  • Rear windscreen wiper/wash and demister.
  • Toyota "Easy Flat" one-handed fold down function for the rear seats provides a flat loading area.
  • Remote fuel filler opener.
  • Headlamp on warning buzzer.
  • Map reading and dome lamps.
  • Luggage compartment lamp.
  • Tilt adjustment for the steering wheel.
  • Tinted windows all round.
  • Height adjustable front seats.
  • 60:40 split rear seat with independent fore and aft adjustment and recline.
  • Cloth seat trim.
  • Two cup holders in the front and one in the rear.
  • Transponder type immobiliser system.
  • VIN parts marking.

    Price: R108 320

    The Yaris T3 Aircon adds a factory fitted air conditioner as well as an illuminated entry feature.

    Price: R115 920

    Additional features added to the T3+

  • Remote control central locking with answerback and 30 second auto-lock delay.
  • Colour coded side mirrors, door handles and rocker panel.
  • Factory fitted air conditioner.
  • Power adjustment for the side mirrors.
  • Power front and rear windows.

    Price: R123 520

    The T3 Spirit specification level includes the features of the T3 and T3+ models, plus the following:

  • Driver side knee airbag.
  • Side airbags for driver and passenger.
  • Curtain shield side airbags.
  • 5JX15 alloy wheels.
  • 185/60 R15 radial tyres.
  • Full size alloy spare wheel.
  • Front fog lights.
  • Tilt and telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel.
  • Leather covered steering wheel with satellite controls for the radio.
  • Luxury cloth trim.
  • Driver and passenger side seat back pockets.
  • Storage tray under the front passenger seat.

    Price: R137 320

    Also available in the T3 Spirit specification is the Yaris T3 Spirit A/T (Automatic).

    Features include:

  • Uphill/downhill shift control.
  • Digital gear shift position indicator.
  • Shift lock and key interlock.

    Price: R147 320

    Service intervals are 15 000 km across the range. A 4 years/60 000 km service plan is included, while the warranty is 3 years/100 000 km, including AA Roadside Assistance.


    The Yaris offers stylish design that is bang up-to-date - in fact SA is the second country outside Japan to get the car after the Aussies moved their launch date forward so they could beat us by a day!

    Styling sees a big one-piece integrated bumper/grille for better aerodynamics, with a neat honeycomb grille and big lower intake flanked by built-in fog lamps.

    The headlamps are big and bold.

    From the side the chunky shape has a touch of wedge from front to rear, and this view also accentuates the fact that the wheels are set right at the four corners of the vehicle, with small overhangs front and rear.

    Rear styling is neat - perhaps unassumingly so - with easy access to the luggage space via a large lift-up fifth door.

    The Yaris is not the longest car in its class on the outside, at 3.75m, but it still offers more rear seat legroom than its main competitor, as well as more luggage space.

    Some interior dimensions in fact challenge those found in larger C segment cars.

    Cab forward

    Key to this is the 'cab-forward' concept that places the front windscreen and the instrument panel well forward to increase available interior space.

    For instance, the front to rear 'hip point' distance (centre of the hip point in the front seat to the same point at the rear) is 880 mm, which puts it in the same league as many larger cars in the next class up.

    The body height and driver's seat adjustment of the Yaris are designed to accommodate passengers of 1.92 metres and over - which covers more than 95% of the population.

    Rear seat passengers benefit from 60/40 split rear seats each having 150mm of adjustment for forward or rearward movement - independently - and they can recline independently through a 10 degree angle.

    Seats feature a sporty, clean look and offer good support and comfort.

    Nominally a four seater, with five at a pinch, the Yaris has a virtually flat floor pan in front of the rear seats, improving rear seat legroom, especially for a centre rear seat passenger.

    Boot capacity

    Boot space is normally 272 litres, but if the rear seats are moved forward luggage space is increased to 363 litres.

    This can be further expanded to a maximum of 737 litres (loaded up to the top edge of the front seats) depending on the seating configuration..

    More than 18 litres of storage space is provided for oddments and documents within the dashboard.

    This includes a driver's side glove compartment in the top of the dashboard and a matching one for the front passenger.

    These are in addition to the traditional lower dash mounted glove box on the passenger side. Two drinks holders are available in the front and one at the rear.

    A digital instrument cluster is mounted in the middle of the dashboard.

    Main instruments are a linear revcounter, a digital speedo, and a fuel gauge, as well as a digital clock.

    A vertical centre console hangs down from the dashboard below the instrument cluster.

    This is a slim design with controls stacked vertically, allowing more knee room for those in front; it also houses the integrated radio/CD combination.

    On the road

    The Yaris is one of those cars you get into and feel immediately at home.

    It's easy to get a comfy driving position with tilt steering and seat height adjustment, and the positioning of the instrument cluster is easy on the eye.

    The controls are neat and logical, and I especially liked the soft-touch materials used on the dashboard.

    The engine is a smooth free-revving unit, and the electrical power steering made getting out of tight parking underneath the new Lagoon Beach Hotel in Milnerton, Cape Town, a piece of cake.

    With lots of low-down torque the engine is not one which needs a lot of revs to get going, but if you want to increase your pace it doesn't mind being pushed to the red zone.

    One of the big features of the Yaris is that NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) has received a lot of attention.

    Ride is good for the segment, and the car feels very taut and responsive.

    Comfort features

    Take away the different comfort features and there's little between the five cars we drove.

    At the bottom of the range the non-aircon model offers a low-priced alternative, but I bet most people will opt for aircon, especially since it's of the latest design which doesn't take away much power from the engine.

    Of course the Spirit versions are the most tasty, with lots of features that make one wonder why anyone would want to pay more for a Corolla or Golf.

    The 5-speed manual versions are light and easy to drive, but for those who spend a lot of time in traffic the 4-speed auto has a lot going for it.

    It's an electronically-controlled unit that offers features not seen before in a small automatic Toyota, including uphill/downhill control which prevents the gearbox "hunting" in hilly country, and also provides engine braking when descending.

    There's also a manual shift option which is particularly useful when the going gets twisty.

    I found the auto version very satisfying to drive, especially in thick traffic, with barely discernible gear changing and good ratios.


    Toyota has a lot riding on the Yaris. It's a brand-new and additional model in the lineup, and it's set to turn the market segment upside down.

    The car is mainly aimed at people between 20 and 35 - Toyota calls them "29-ers" and advertising will be funky and "cool".

    But my bet is that the car will appeal to a much broader range of people, as well as a lot of companies and fleet buyers.

    Toyota plans to flood dealers with 5 000 new cars between now and Christmas, and I expect most of them will have gone out to customers by the New Year.

    After that Toyota SA plans to sell around 1 200 a month - but I'll stick my neck out and suggest 1 500 will be a more likely number.

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