Toyota Yaris Hybrid Toyota's new supermini hybrid fails to convince

Wed, Jan 23, 2013, 00:00

ROAD TEST:While Toyota didn’t invent the hybrid format – Honda claims that title with its Insight – it has stolen a march on its rivals to such an extent that the technology is now instinctively linked with the brand.

So it’s surprising that it has taken so long – nearly 15 years after the launch of the original Prius – for it to bring it to market in a supermini format.

This a natural home for technology that works best in urban environments and on busy commuter runs. And when you consider the popularity of the Yaris over the years in a segment where diesel hasn’t really made as much of an impact as it has in larger cars, a hybrid supermini seems the most logical fit.

The delay in getting this to the road is all the more surprising given that much of the technology underpinning this Yaris Hybrid has been taken from the second-generation Prius. Admittedly Toyota says that 70 per cent of the engine parts are either new or re-engineered, but the 1.5-litre 100bhp petrol engine up front is still a reworking of the powertrain from the earlier Prius.

All this matters no a jot, however, to the fact the car is now here and on sale. The most eye-catching claims made about this supermini clearly revolve around fuel consumption. Toyota reckons you manage 1,000km on a single tank of petrol in this hybrid, average 3.5-litres per 100km, and for 66 per cent of the average commute – and 58 per cent of a normal total journey – it will be powered solely by the battery. Those are very impressive claims and a big draw to a model range that otherwise has failed to sparkle since the latest Yaris design was unveiled last year to lukewarm reviews.

Spacious cabin

The Yaris fan base is a relatively conservative lot and the look and feel of the hybrid model reflects this, with only a splash of blue trim, a rejigged cluster of dials and LED lights distinguishing this version from the rest. The interior trim still seems a little too plastic and hard but the new Yaris does benefit from a relatively spacious cabin and the engineers have managed to retain this despite the additional technological requirements for hybrid. The boot retains its 286-litres, for example, by housing the battery pack under the rear seat. It boasts the boons and drawbacks of the regular Yaris range.

So to the powertrain and those all-important figures. I never managed to achieve the claimed 3.5L/100km (80.7mpg) fuel economy over the week, but I did spend most of the first days commuting around town in electric mode.

The engine automatically kicks in above 50km/h but in heavy traffic the average speed was usually somewhere in the region of 15km to 20km so there was plenty of silent motoring. A few days of this and I was really starting to fall for the Yaris hybrid. You could see how the petrol station could be a distant memory if you happen to spend most of your time commuting in town.

Performance around town wasn’t especially sharp, even though the electric motor does put out an impressive 169Nm of torque. But I spent most of the time in eco mode, which dampens down acceleration response and promises 10 per cent better fuel economy than running on normal mode. This Hybrid was starting to make a lot of sense for urban motoring. The problem is that when you take it on to the open road its limitations quickly become apparent. It starts with the electric continuously variable transmission (e-CVT), an automatic that’s clearly tuned with economy in mind.

At 70km/h then engine is making a bit of a racket, particularly noticeable since I’d spent so much time in the car with only the sound of rubber tyre on tarmac to disturb the piece. But it’s the CVT that annoys the most, never seeming to be in tune with your needs. Either it’s not getting the most out of the engine on overtaking or it’s revving too high when cruising.

Fuel economy

Take it out at motorway speeds and the problems magnify. Officially the Yaris hybrid can achieve a top speed of 165km/h but I had to work the car pretty hard to get to the 120km/h limit and hold it there. When you get there, the benefits in terms of fuel economy seem to evaporate, with averages on the motorway closer to 6.5 L/100km (43.5mpg).

While I never had the time to test whether you could actually get 1,000km from a tank, I think it’s possible for some buyers who don’t leave town, but I doubt it could be achieved on a longer commute.

The ride quality and handling are decent and the car is comfortable even on rougher Irish roads. Yet the benefits are so dependent on urban motoring that you have to consider if most buyers would be better off in a Yaris diesel. The 1.4-litre D-4D version manages 104g/km compared to 79g/km for the most efficient hybrid version. That means only an extra €20 a year in motor tax for a more versatile – and powerful – Yaris. The diesel also claims a fuel economy figure of 3.9 L/100km (72.4mpg), compared to the 3.5-litre (80.7mpg) of the hybrid. If you need your Yaris for national roads then the diesel version is the better buy.

Priced at €18,950 for the regular version (€1,000 more for the Luxury specification that adds cruise control and alloys) it’s at the upper end of the supermini price bracket and several hundred euros more than the Yaris diesel. To recoup the extra spend you would have to spend a good deal of time in town driving in electric mode.

The Yaris Hybrid will however suit those who potter around town. I could see how as a second car the Yaris Hybrid could work, being roomy enough for school runs etc. But I couldn’t live with its lacklustre performance on the open road and for most rural motorists the diesel still seems a better buy.

The lowdown

ENGINE:1,497cc 16-valve DOHC petrol engine, putting out 74bhp @ 4,800rpm and 111Nm of torque, combined with a 45Kw electric motor with 169Nm of torque

0-100km/h:11.8 secs

Official L/100km (mpg):3.5 (80.7)

EMISSIONS:(motor tax): 79 g/km (€170) (Luxury version 85g/km with tax of €180)

FEATURES:Main features include: vehicle stability control; traction control; hill assist control; double front, side curtain airbags and a driver’s knee air bag; emergency brake assist; LED rear combination lights and front daytime running lights; 15-wheels; dual climate control aircon; Hybrid system monitor on the Toyota Touch system

PRICE:€18,950 (€19,950 for luxury version)

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