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Driven: Toyota Yaris Pulse 1.5 CVT

2017-06-02 13:30

Alexander Parker

RAISING THE PULSE: Toyota has fitted its 2017 Yaris model with a new suffix: Pulse. Image: Motorpress


2017 Toyota Yaris Pulse

2017-05-31 12:07

Toyota launches its facelifted Yaris Pulse in South Africa.

Cape Town - The Toyota Yaris Pulse made a brief foray into politics in 2016 when Fikile Mbalula was still the minister of sport. Handing out prizes to SA’s successful Olympians (R3.5-million out of his R1-billion budget), he opined that Caster Semenya should drive a Lamborghini, not a Toyota Yaris.

It was interesting to me at the time that Mbalula chose the Yaris as an exemplar of an unacceptably cheap car. It was a pretty glaring let-them-eat-cake  moment. Financed new with a 10% deposit over five years at the prime lending rate, the Yaris costs between approximately R3850 a month for an entry-level car to R5930 for the range-topping hybrid. I’m not sure that really counts as cheap for most South Africans. 

Sophisticated and polished

Given the inflation of new-car prices, cars such as the Yaris and its competitors – principally the Volkswagen Polo, Hyundai i20 and Ford Fiesta – are no longer really entry-level cars. For that we’ve got vehicles very much designed for emerging markets – the Datsun Go for example. Built to a cost, they’re cheap, lack safety kit, have low-tech engines favoured for toughness over emissions, and lack any pretence of high-quality gloss you get with a car considered entry-level in Europe.

Fortunately, the quality of these Europe-designed small cars has been on the rise dramatically over the past 10 years or so, offering levels of sophistication and polish formerly the domain of smart badges and long wheelbases. This goes some way to lessening the blow to middle-class wallets that these cars represent.

Image: Motorpress

The other day I drove a VW Polo 1.0 R-Line. It had a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, a clever, enthusiastic one-litre turbo motor, a reversing camera and natty interface for my phone. The seats adjusted in every direction and the steering wheel (with all the cruise control buttons in place) adjusted for rake and reach. There were airbags everywhere.  It also came with an R-Line body kit, giving it a snarly demeanour and snazzy wheels.

Toyota’s refreshed Yaris arrives in SA: Feel the Pulse

All in, it’s a damn fine modern car, and as a result, with all the boxes ticked for the toys it came with, a car that would set you back as much as R320 000.

'Everything you touch has a heft to it' 

It is with this level of refinement that the refreshed Yaris has to contend, and they’ve done so with an entirely different approach, fitting the new Yaris with a larger 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that puts out 82kW (a lone kilowatt more than the Polo’s one-litre, three-cylinder TSi). Toyota have also avoided the complexity and expense of a dual-clutch automatic, opting instead for a CVT arrangement instead. 

As is always the case here, the better solution depends on how you use the car. In city traffic a CVT is efficient, smooth and goes about its business in a very unobtrusive way, whereas a dual-clutch box can still be jerky in traffic. On the open road, however, the Volkswagen’s DSG ‘box, when combined with 200Nm of low-rpm torque available for from the turbo-charged motor, makes for a more satisfying, big-car style of drive, and where the CVT can irritate. 

Image: Motorpress

However, when it comes to the manual cars, the Toyota has a progressive and easy clutch and six snickety-snick ratios that are easy to use. It also has nicely weighted steering and the seat accommodated my 1.95-metre frame. Toyota have come a long way in terms of interior plastics and perceived quality, and the Yaris certainly feels like a quality product. Everything you touch has a heft to it. 

The new engine is a good improvement. The Yaris is light, just tipping the scales over a ton, so the under-stressed 1.5 manages to feel sprightly and keen to accelerate. With just 136Nm on tap the little 1.5 does need to rev to find the shunt, whereas the VW makes progress in a less ruffled manner.

Frugal engine

To drive, the Yaris is better than you might think. It doesn’t quite have the poise of the VW or the Ford but it makes up for it in ride and comfort, where it really excels. Road and wind noise at the national speed limit is nicely abated for such a small car, and road-holding is stable and secure.

Steering feedback is good. It will quite do a long road trip despite its diminutive size, happily keeping up with the traffic and using only about 5.5l/100km on an extra-urban run. 

It’s also got a good infotainment display and strong air-conditioning, and comes with a Euro-NCAP rating of five stars.

The Yaris’s real power-play is to offer all of this sophistication at a reasonable price and with legendary reliability and resale values. The manual 1.5 Pulse is yours for just under R230000, with the CVT model coming in at R241 000. 

For the committed greenie there’s a hybrid model too, which comes in at a rather steep R307 000. But, like with the Polo, if you want all the really good stuff, that’s what these things cost. 

The new Yaris Pulse is a pretty hard car to criticise. It’s a perfect expression of what Toyota is about, and, like I’ve written before in these pages about the new C-HR, surprising on the upside with quality and class. It’s worth a test-drive, for sure, before you pop for what might seem like a more obvious candidate. 

Read more on:    toyota  |  south africa  |  new models

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