Toyota South Africa was very defensive when asked whether or not the recently-launched Yaris TS is an attempt to re-enter the forays of hot hatch-dom, of which the Japanese manufacturer was once a regular fixture. The official word is that its not, but here’s why I think it is …
Upon hearing of the halo model TS, I instantly thought back to the iconic Conquest RSi “twin cam” and Corolla Rsi. Released in separate periods during the 1990’s, these models possessed a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing character that made them a hit with the go-faster set. On one hand, they had a solid reputation of being reliable family runabouts and on the other, they were capable of producing considerable shove while screaming on the far side of 6 000 r/min.
While those cars brought fond memories to mind, I was in serious doubt that the Yaris TS could match that kind of impression – I mean, it’s still a Yaris right?
Although the entire Yaris range has benefited from a minor facelift, The TS receives different foglamp surrounds and a wider bumper air scoop up front to distinguish it from lesser models, as well as larger side skirts, 17-inch alloys, a roof-spoiler neatly-integrated into the tailgate, TS-specific LED rear tail-lamps, a sports-style rear bumper and 100 mm exhaust tailpipe.
I didn’t expect the 1,8-litre Dual VVT-i engine to haul the lightweight Yaris body around with any great urgency, because it ‘only’ produces 98 kW at 6 000 r/min and 173 N.m of torque at 4 400 r/min, but the driving route, through the Du Toitskloof and Bainskloof passes clearly demonstrated the Yaris TS’ best quality – its handling capability.
Toyota claims the Yaris’ suspension has only been slightly tuned to suit the TS’ sportier nature, but I felt the minor upgrade has endowed the Yaris with outstanding ride quality and great body control – a good compromise between sporty and comfortable. The electric power steering system (EPS) also allows the committed driver a good deal of steering feedback through its stiffer setup.
Ninety-percent of the maximum grunt is available from a low as 2 000 r/min, so the Yaris TS gleefully tackled bends in third gear. The centrally-mounted instrument pod doesn’t agree with enthusiastic driving though. Concentrating on the narrow blacktop ahead of me, and not the middle of the facia, meant that my forward progress was often frustratingly stunted by the rev limiter which kicks in just over 6 000 r/min.
My only real dislike is the limited amount of front seat adjustment, which would have added that extra touch of sportiness had the lower cushion been able to drop a little further, but my surprise at hearing the premium-sounding, six-speaker, MP3-compatible audio system at full blast more than made up for that.
All of the above and a full complement of safety specification like seven airbags and ABS supplemented by EBD, Emergency Brake Assist and Vehicle Stability Control make the Yaris quite a competent package and, at the very least, one of the best ‘junior’ hot hatches available today. Pity about the steep (R198 900) asking price though…