2020 Toyota Yaris review
Our independent 2020 Toyota Yaris review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
Let’s not muck around. The new Yaris is expensive. Not “not cheap” – expensive. Starting at $22,130 for the SX manual, Toyota has tossed a hand grenade at Yaris fans who are used to paying $7000 less for their entry level tiddler.
We’ve all had time to digest the Yaris sudden leap upmarket and now I’ve had time to drive two of them – a ZR Hybrid, the pricing of which is subject to the most ardent disbelief at $32,100 – and the mid-spec Yaris SX auto at a still hefty $27,020.
I spent some of that time studying the Yaris and its competition because it may be that Toyota has decided to throw the kitchen sink at the smallest Toyota in an effort to provide buyers in a shrinking market sector a more plush offering while asking a few more bucks in return.
How much does it cost?
A lot. Let’s get things into perspective. The basic Ascent Sport starts at a knee-weakening $22,100, $6100 higher than the outgoing car. That was pretty basic, but so is the Ascent Sport. A further $1500 gets you in the SX CVT auto.
Stepping up to the SX, the petrol is $27,020 and the Hybrid $29,020. The ZR starts at $30,100 for the petrol and then a staggering $32,100 for the Hybrid. More on that later.
We drove the SX petrol and ZR Hybrid. You can read our full pricing rundown here.
The pricing isn’t all bad news because Toyota has at least thrown in some premium bits and pieces. The SX has 15-inch alloys, active cruise control, auto wipers, keyless entry and start, climate control, fake leather steering wheel, auto LED headlights and wipers and sat nav.
The ZR replaces the wheels with 16-inch alloys and you also get sports front seats, head-up display, paddle shifters for the non-hybrid and interior and exterior trim bits.
The dreadful 7.0-inch Toyota head unit has been transplanted from Corolla and C-HR. Dreadful because it’s not very good (albeit improved from the shocking older head unit) but also because Toyota has the resources to do a vastly better job. At least it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The resolution is a bit low and so looks stretched across the screen real estate while the colours look washed out. It looks low quality but it does respond well to finger prods.
What does it cost to own?
The Yaris comes with Toyota’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is better than the old three-year warranty.
There is one absurdly cheap part of the Yaris package – the servicing. The first five services will only cost you $170 which is a dead-set bargain and the 12 months/15,000km means that most owners will get the full five year benefit. If you stick with Toyota for servicing (who wouldn’t for these prices), the powertrain warranty extends for two further years.
The battery on the hybrid powertrain is also covered for ten years.
What’s the exterior like?
Toyota’s braver approach to exterior styling has yielded an interesting mix of styles. The front is buck-toothed and aggressive. The LED headlights shout about themselves – which is a good thing – as do some of the exterior colours. That naff lipstick pink has survived the transition to the new model.
The profile is strongly reminiscent of a car we never got here, the Toyota Aygo, a co-production with Citroen and Peugeot for the European market and the rear’s big bold headlights continues the C-HR’s Honda Civic-inspired bloat in the lights.
It’s a bit of a pastiche, really, but it’s hard to get really small cars right when you’re hanging on to the past and trying to set a future. Passers-by complimented it as “a nice looking car” when I took photos of it and the panel fit and paint finish is predictably top-notch.
What’s the interior like?
I hated the old Yaris. It felt like it came from another century, with hard plastics and less innovative interior than the Echo that came before it. It bordered on unpleasant, perhaps saved by Toyota’s inerrant ability to be utterly inoffensive.
The hard plastics are still here – which starts to chip away at the premium pricing justification – but it’s a much more thoughtful cabin. The seats are much more comfortable, something Toyota is doing really well at these days. The slightly 80s vibe of the pattern on the ZR’s seats is not that attractive but the light colours help make the space feel bigger than it is.
The new dash cluster is cool with a series of three screens, two of them in circular housings. The screens aren’t high-res you-beaut stuff like you find in an Audi, but they’re funky enough. The ZR’s head-up display is very well laid-out and easy to look at and comprehend.
Rear seating is fine for short people on short trips, although the upward sweep of the windowline cuts into your view out.
What is the storage like?
Storage is pretty good for such a small car, with a tray at the top of the centre stack as well as another one over glove box. Good start, but unlike the RAV4 and Kluger’s, the bigger one is not rubber-lined, so whatever you put in there will slide around and scratch the plastic. So that’s not great. The middle tray and the lower tray under the climate controls are both lined and good for sunglasses and phones.
Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders while the rear seats passengers get one at the rear of the console to share, with all four doors sporting a bottle holder for 750ml-type bottles.
The boot works out at 270 litres but it does have false floor for easy loading and/or hiding valuables.
What engines are available?
All 2020 Yaris carry a 1.5-litre three-cylinder. That base engine makes 88kW and 145Nm, hooked up with a six-speed manual (Ascent Sport only) or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The base Ascent Sport manual has just 1000kg to shift, so is probably a reasonable amount of fun.
If you spend the extra $2000 on the SX or ZR to upgrade to the hybrid drivetrain, the three-cylinder delivers 67kW and 120Nm while an electric motor buried in the transmission has 59kW and 141Nm on offer. The combined power output comes out at a slightly suspicious 85kW and Toyota, for reasons that continue to escape me, refuse to put a number on the combined torque figure.
The new hybrid powertrain is backed by a lithium-ion battery rather than the old nickel-metal hydride of earlier hybrids.
More understandably, Toyota does not offer an EV-only range for its series hybrids (Toyota cheekily calls them self-charging), partly because it wouldn’t make any sense because of all the caveats and it would also be more appropriate to quote that range in metres.
The point of series hybrids is to save fuel in all conditions – the quoted Hybrid combined cycle figure is 3.3L/100km while the auto figure is 4.9L/100km. In reality, the difference between the two is somewhat wider, with my time in the ZR Hybrid telling me it used 4.0L/100km and the SX auto 7.2L/100km. That Hybrid figure is truly very good indeed, no matter how small the car.
What’s it like to drive?
Like the Yaris’ interior, driving the old Yaris was a bit of a chore. Noisy engine, old-school four-speed auto and a vertebrae-crushing ride. Oh, and it was painfully slow.
The new car has a much more agreeable vibe. Based on the impressive TNGA platform on which all good Toyotas ride one – Camry, RAV4, Corolla and C-HR – I was sure it would be good before I got in. The small steering wheel is quite sporty for the Toyota, perhaps promising a little more than is actually available.
The base petrol engine is a big jump on either of the old engines. Three-cylinders doesn’t sound like much, but the triple outguns the old fours for power and eclipses the old 1.5 for torque. While I don’t like CVTs, they work well in these small car/low torque applications. A decent example of the breed, it does flare a little bit but that’s the same as any other Toyota with the same transmission. Most Yaris buyers won’t mind, so I’m not going to get upset about it.
Stepping up the Hybrid introduces you to a whole new world of clicks and whirrs. I was vaguely annoyed by how long it takes to start up when you punch the Start-Stop button but once underway delivers the classic Toyota hybrid experience. While I think series hybrids are a bit weak on the value for money front, there’s a clear fuel-saving benefit.
I quite liked the hybrid. A light throttle from standstill makes you feel like you’re in an honest-to-goodness EV and you can stay on EV power for almost a kilometre if you don’t go over 40km/h and/or don’t mind everyone screaming at you. The three-cylinder cuts in when you want more power or the battery is getting low.
The Hybrid is a little more sprightly than the standard petrol engine given the instant torque from the electric motor, too.
The ride is much improved over the old car and it’s even fun to drive, which is not what you could say about the old Yaris. You can also cruise at speed without needing a lifetime supply of Panadol or earplugs. It’s a much more precise-feeling car than the old. It’s still not sporty, but the overall feeling is far more of quality because it’s more refined and much quieter. The engine is still vocal but the noise dies off once you get off the accelerator.
What are the alternatives?
This is a tricky bit to write. The Yaris is a light car and there are few options within its price range. If you start with the entry-level manual, you’re not far from a Mazda2 Pure auto, a far better-looking car and better-equipped while it’s at it. The mid-spec Yaris goes up against the top-spec 2 GT which is properly loaded. I still maintain that the 2 is the best light car when all things are considered.
The Kia Picanto is far cheaper, has a longer warranty and its range tops out at the GT which retails for $17,990 with a seven-year warranty. Its safety package might be a little more modest, but it has a terrific engine if only a manual transmission. Or you could go slightly bigger and look at the Kia Rio GT with the same engine and dual-clutch transmission and lots more stuff.
At the Hybrid end of the Yaris range – a bewildering $32,100 for the ZR Hybrid – Toyota is punching on with the similarly over-priced VW Polo. And I say they’re over-priced because you can have a very nice Audi A1 1.5-litre three-cylinder or a similarly-powered Mini Cooper, both with twin-clutch autos (you can buy a cheaper manual Mini but hardly anybody does).
While the Ford Fiesta ST is a bit of a sporty diversion, it’s the only Fiesta you can buy these days and it’s an absolute belter at $31,990.
I’ve just stuck to the light car class here. There are numerous compact SUVs (all a size up) and, er, perhaps most baffling, you can buy a mid-spec SX Corolla Hybrid for $27,935, $1000 cheaper than the correspondingly mid-spec Yaris SX.
Toyota says it’s not pushing the Yaris upmarket but the pricing says otherwise. It has some premium inclusions but really, is that what Yaris buyers are looking for?
THE BOTTOM LINE
I am and will remain baffled by the Yaris’ sudden shift to premium pricing. Toyota has spent years building a brand on honest transport with a Toyota badge on the front. A base model Yaris weighing in with a $22,000 price tag is one thing, but $32,100 for the ZR Hybrid is…well. It’s madness. The old Yaris was cheap. This one has gone to the other end of the market without warning.
Setting the pricing aside – which is almost impossible in a value-conscious part of the market – the Yaris is a very accomplished small hatchback. While it is very much middle-of-the-road in all the usual senses, it’s much better to drive than the old car and has a lot more technology. On that alone it’s worth considering. It’s up to you to decide if you want to drop a great deal of money on a car that its maker somehow thinks is worth so much more than larger cars from even its own stable.