CAPE TOWN – In a bid to make it a little more competitive in the light hatchback segment, Toyota has upsized the flagship engine in the Yaris to 1,5 litres. At first glance, it may appear an odd decision considering that almost all other players in the industry are downsizing and turbocharging. But it’s a welcome one nonetheless.
One of our main criticisms of the 1,3-litre variant of the Yaris was the sort of strain one often had to put on the engine to make good progress. So, does the bigger engine with more torque and power improve matters?
First, the visuals
Seeing that this is a facelift, there are a few obvious changes made to the exterior and interior designs. This includes some revisions to the front apron, which now features a new headlamp and trapezoidal grille design (the Pulse Plus trim adds projector headlamps as standard). Round back, you’ll find a new taillamp design that extends into the tailgate.
There have also been some changes made to the cabin, with the most notable additions being the revised touchscreen infotainment system and the three-spoke multi-function steering wheel. The air vents now adopt a propeller style design, while the seats make use of new upholstery.
The new engine
The revised Yaris is fitted with the 2NR-FKE naturally aspirated 1,5-litre four-cylinder VVT-iE engine, which directs 82 kW and 136 N.m to the front wheels via a seven-step continuously variable transmission (CVT). This new plant is 9 kW and 11 N.m stronger than before, which has resulted some 0,8 seconds being lopped off the claimed a 0-100 km/h time, along with a claimed 12% improvement in fuel consumption. Good and well on paper, but how does it fare on the road?
Bigger is better?
While mated to the CVT, the new engine undoubtedly makes the Yaris feel more responsive. In fact, in some instances it’s even fun to drive. The problem, however, comes when you approach an incline. The peak torque figure, although improved over the previous model, still isn’t enough to propel the Yaris up a relatively steep hill with ease.
Ascending an aggressive incline involves the CVT moving to a shorter ratio to access more power above the 4 400 r/min mark. This reminds us of the concerns we had regarding the 1,3-litre variant we tested in 2014 in terms of how hard the engine has to be worked to maintain decent momentum. Still, at least this issue arises only on steep slopes.
Given that the chassis remains unchanged, only really enthusiastic cornering will result in a loss of composure, while little feedback is provided through the steering wheel. The ride, while jittery in some instances, is mostly well-damped and comfortable.
The naturally aspirated engine’s relative lack of torque, which will be even more noticeable at higher altitudes, does dent its appeal when one considers it against similarly priced turbocharged competitors.
Having driven the six-speed manual as well, the CVT comes across as a better fit for this vehicle, which isn’t something we say very often. While the manual is admittedly more engaging to drive, the engine’s low torque figure means this model requires frequent cog-swapping. In short, though, the CVT found in the Yaris performs well in an urban driving environment, where it is likely to spend much of its life.
Overall, the new engine is a welcome addition to the Yaris range. Some may argue that a turbocharged mill – such as the 1,2-litre currently found in the C-HR – would be better received, but there’s no doubt that using this engine would have driven up the price considerably.
Ultimately, the adoption of a larger engine makes the Yaris – which happens to be fairly well equipped as standard – a little more appealing than before. For buyers not yet ready to go the forced induction route, it still represents a solid choice.