Durban - As we reported last week, Toyota has reassessed its angle of attack on the South African B-sized hatch segment and withdrawn the European-sourced Yaris we’ve known since 2011 to replace it with a completely different Thai-built version. But is it  up to scratch? Jesse Adams gets behind the wheel..

Billed as the “new” Yaris, this one is actually a recently facelifted version of one that’s sold in Asian markets since 2013. It’s five years old maybe, but it’s still decidedly modern in appearance, if perhaps a bit generic in its overall look.

It’s quite a lot bigger than the outgoing model, and while its 5mm wider body is hardly noteworthy, the extra 165mm tacked onto its length is immediately noticeable. Boot space grows marginally from 286 litres to 310, so it’s in the rear legroom department where the upsizing shows most.

The range has been significantly simplified and although the line up still comprises five derivatives, the base 1-litre and range-topping hybrid give way to a single engine choice - a naturally aspirated 1.5 similar in spec to that in the smaller and cheaper Etios but up-tuned to 79kW and 140Nm. All versions come with five-speed manual gearboxes, but there is a CVT available in the mid-spec model to accommodate those with aversions to clutch pedals.

At last week’s media launch in Durban I drove the Xs auto and Sport derivatives, and came away rather unimpressed. The biggest foible here is an electric power steering system which struggles to self centre at the dead-ahead position, and while I know feel and feedback aren’t of utmost importance at this level, it’s short of both compared to some rival brands.

The 1.5 engine does its thing reasonably well at commuting pace but it does need to be wrung quite hard to extract any sort of performance. It gets a bit vocal in the upper reaches of its rev range, and the harsh tone is exacerbated by the slippy-feeling CVT transmission in the auto model. Toyota quotes average consumption of 5.8 litres per 100km for the auto and 5.9 for the manual, but our trip computer showed figures in the high 8s in both.

It handles tidily for a car with basic Mcpherson front and torsion beam rear suspension, and to be fair it’s refreshing that Toyota hasn’t gone too firm with spring settings. The Yaris was unflustered by KZN’s pockmarked road surfaces, and it felt solid over rough sections without any squeaks or rattles from the cabin.

The interior is rather disappointing in quality though, with a dashboard and door panels made from some of the hardest black plastic we’ve seen for quite some time. There’s some neat detailed etching in the silver trim panels surrounding the centre fascia, and the Xs’s cloth upholstery is relatively classy with a dark blue grain-effect in the seat centres, but for the most part there’s a feeling of cheapness in most touchable surfaces.

Sadly Toyota’s swap-over strategy also sees a price increase, with the base Yaris Xi coming in at a whopping R29 800 over the previous entry-level model, at R230 800. The range is still competitive with Polo and (soon to be replaced) Fiesta pricing, but an old school powerplant and questionable interior quality might be a hindrance for the “new” Yaris.

A walk through the range:

The line up kicks off with a base Xi which includes 15” steel rims with hubcaps, electric windows (at the front only), standard air-conditioning, and a simpler four-speaker sound system with Bluetooth and USB compatibility. Keyless entry and ignition is available for the first time in a Yaris, and comes in all models including this bottom trim level.

Move up to the Xs grade and a locally-fitted touchscreen infotainment system is thrown into the mix. It’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, and comes with navigation as standard. The Xs also gets 16” alloys, rear electric windows, auto headlights, LED running lights, and a leather covered steering wheel with satellite controls.

Third up is a now-obligatory-in- the-segment Cross model which is identical to the Xs in specification, but adds some black wheel arch trims, non-functional roof rails and some metal-look aprons on the front and rear bumpers. Unlike other so-called Cross models from competitor brands, the Yaris doesn’t gain any extra ground clearance in the aesthetics-only conversion.

Sitting at the top is a Yaris Sport, but don’t read too much into the name. It’s mechanically identical to the others but includes a body kit, projector headlights, some red pinstriping at the front end and a shark fin antenna. It does, however, gain some features like a fancier-looking blue-backlit Optitron instrument cluster, pushbutton climate control, two extra speakers and leather seats.

All versions come with ABS brakes and stability control, but only the Sport comes with six airbags. The rest have two only.

Also included across the board are three-year/100 000km warranties and three-year/45 000km service plans.


1.5 Xi MTR230 800
1.5 Xs MTR253 400
1.5 Xs CVTR268 500
1.5 CrossR268 500
1.5 SportR286 000