Matt Hubbard reviews the face-lifted Toyota Yaris in Icon trim with the 1.33 litre petrol engine and manual gearbox
Small cars, cheap cars, cheap small cars. They're everywhere, from the Jazz to the Fiesta via the Koreans, the Polo, Fabia, Citigo, the ADAM and all sorts in between. There's no other sector with so much choice.
Right in the mix is Toyota's range of hatchbacks. The Yaris is one of those cars you don't notice until you take a good look at one, and then every other car you see seems to be one.
It's quiet, unassuming, anonymous. Well it was. The Yaris has been refreshed and relaunched and now has a ruddy great X running across its bows, just like its younger sibling, the Aygo.
On the brightly painted Yarises you see in press photos this makes it look funky and fun but on the test car, which was tastefully painted all in black, the X melts into the background so the eye is drawn to the basic shape rather than the shiny new conk. Pity.
Lesson one - don't order your Yaris in black.
You can spec your Yaris with various different engines, a 1.0 petrol, 1.4 diesel, 1.5 petrol hybrid or this, the 1.33 litre petrol. All are manual except the 1.33 which comes with a CVT automatic option. The test car was a manual.
Now for the trim levels - Active (basic), Icon (a few options thrown in), Sport (erm, sporty?) and Excel (top of the range). The test car was an Icon.
It's a small car on the outside that's quite spacious on the inside. There's plenty of room in the front, the back and the boot. The driver sits slightly on top of the pedals but even with the seat pushed back the rear seat occupants have a decent amount of leg room.
The rear seats fold, but not flat, and create a large space when in van mode.
The interior looks pretty good, the materials are generally of half decent quality and those areas you're likely to touch regularly, such as the steering wheel, get upgraded materials. It's all arranged in such a way that it doesn't look cheap, even if it is.
Mind you the seat material is designed more for durability than comfort. Toyota have made efforts to 'Europeanise' its cars but the fabric you sit on feels more British Rail than anything else. Also, the rear windows have manual winders, which are a bit 1970s.
There are a few spaces in the front to put things in, although the door pockets narrow towards the rear which means your sunglasses case doesn't fit in them.
The £650 optional Touch and Go infotainment system is a worthwhile addition. It's essentially satnav (a good one too) with touchscreen, Bluetooth streaming (through the powerful and clear sound system) and AM/FM radio. No DAB digital though, which is remiss.
The other controls are simple and easy to use. Climate controls are three dials on the dash - simple, clear, uncluttered. Very Toyota.
If you are my height (5"10') or above you'll push the driver's seat back so your feet sit comfortably on the pedals, and then find that the steering wheel's reach adjustment is minuscule. This is a bit of a pain.
Turn the key and note the crisp, clear note of a petrol engine that has a lovely balance and no turbo to interrupt the torque map. Both power and torque are delivered in a linear fashion right to the 6,000rpm redline. Very old school, much fun.
The gearbox is rather sweet too, light and easy with no annoying notches or gears too close together.
The steering and pedals are also light - the Yaris' customer base is more easy driver than boy racer - but this, along with the delightfully fluid drive-train, makes it a fun car to drive.
Open the bonnet and you'll see the engine is pushed right back in the bay. At 1,000kg it's a light car and the chassis set up is perfect for pootling along to the library or for hooning around the lanes.
The suspension is neither firm nor soft but it rides speed bumps well and keeps the Yaris in line when cornering.
As more a fan of speedy driving than just using a car to get to the community centre I found the Yaris, especially with the 1.33 engine and manual gearbox, a great back road slicer. Throw out the back seats, install a roll cage and it's 95% on its way to being a rally car.
Having said that I did cover some miles in it and found myself getting a bit weary after a couple of hours behind the wheel. It's fine for most journeys but if you regularly travel distances the slight lack of refinement, those seats and that lack of steering adjustment add up to a tiresome experience. Lack of digital radio doesn't help either.
But don't let that put you off. None of its competitors are particularly accomplished grand tourers either.
In essence the Yaris is a normal, reliable, sensible, spacious, practical, not too expensive hatchback that's trying to shed its dull image and, with this latest version, is succeeding.
I liked it, if you buy one I'm sure you will too.
Price - £14,095 (£14,745 as tested)
Engine - 1.33 litre petrol, inline-4
Transmission - 6-speed manual
0-62mph - 11.7 seconds
Top Speed - 109mph
Power - 98bhp
Torque - 92lb ft
Economy - 57.6mpg
CO2 - 114g/km
Kerb weight - 1,000kg