ALTHOUGH previous generations of the Yaris sold extremely well in a number of countries – including South Africa – the current iteration failed to attract the same fiscal attention.

The Japanese firm knew it had to change tack, as newer rivals had the Toyota beaten in terms of overall refinement, standard specification and perceived interior quality. Proof of this was its wretched performance in a nine-car comparative test in the November 2012 issue – it placed a disappointing eighth. It was time for the Japanese giant to play catch-up…

While the Yaris was doing battle against its B-segment brethren, at the budget end of the market the second-generation Aygo – unconfirmed for the South African market – saw the introduction of the new X-face styling, while the Corolla and Auris models also incorporated some of the brand’s new styling cues.

The visual update to the Yaris brings it in line with these vehicles. Most notably, it shares the Aygo’s X-motif at the front, where a narrow upper grille complements a dominant lower airdam. The Yaris has also gained daytime-running lamps in the new headlamp clusters (LED versions of the Hybrid), while in profile it’s easy to spot the 15-inch alloy wheels (standard fitment across the range). At the rear, the lamp clusters are new and the revised bumper gains a faux diffuser.

But it’s in the cabin where the most noticeable changes are evident. The driver and front passenger peer at a two-tone facia that’s gone under the knife (a somewhat unusual addition to a facelift) – it’s slightly slimmer, the instrument binnacle is new and the gearshift lever has a stubbier appearance thanks to the floor console being raised by 23 mm.

Standard on local Yaris models is Toyota’s Touch infotainment system that features Bluetooth and USB functionality. Its display is classy and further lifts the ambience of the new interior. Aiding this newfound level of perceived quality are soft-touch surfaces throughout the interior, which along with contrasting brushed plastic trim helps to lend the cabin a more sophisticated air. Occupants are perched on the same seats as before, but they have been upholstered in cloth that boasts a new design. Space-wise, the Yaris is on par with its rivals, even though it’s a slightly smaller vehicle than is the norm in this segment.

Turning the key in the ignition switch starts the familiar 1,3-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder motor that produces peak power of 73 kW at 6 000 r/min and 125 N.m of torque at 4 000 r/min as before. It hasn’t been left completely untouched, though; Toyota’s engineers have reduced noise and vibration through a few tweaks, including attention to the exhaust manifold.

The improved NVH levels can also be attributed to new noise-absorbing material between the engine-bay bulkhead, floor and facia (double the amount over the pre-facelifted model in certain places), as well as exterior enhancements such as a louvre at the base of the windscreen, new sealing strips that line the doors and more absorbing material inside the doors.

Where the Yaris did fall behind its rivals two years ago is the manner in which the engine needs to be worked hard through the gears to maintain decent momentum. However, if you’re not afraid to hunt the redline – and you wouldn’t mind it too much after the latest round of revisions – the 1,3-litre is a decent performer. Luckily, the clutch and transmission are game – both are light and direct. Fuel consumption, likewise, is really good.

Interestingly, our test vehicle was marginally quicker from zero to 100 km/h than the previous Yaris 1,3 we tested, despite the added weight of the noise-reduction materials.

Dynamically, the Yaris has benefited from adjustments to the suspension system through the use of softer springs up front, a stiffer torsion beam at the rear with softer coil springs, as well as 36 additional spot welds. The Yaris’ overall setup, which is approximately 20% more rigid than before, allows for increased nimbleness when driven a little more enthusiastically. The real gain is in ride comfort; where the previous version telegraphed too much chop and crash to the cabin, the revised version irons out road imperfections noticeably better.

Test Summary

Bar the obvious upgrades to its exterior and what can be seen and touched in the cabin, the major improvements to the Yaris are under the skin – it’s now far more pleasurable to drive in town and on longer stretches.

What’s more, the product appears better priced than ever in its segment, its safety specification is fair and its sophistication beyond anything the previous version could achieve. In fact, it is one of the best facelifts we’ve experienced – and it is therefore a pity Toyota didn’t introduce a Yaris this good in the first place…



TEST SUMMARY

Bar the obvious upgrades to its exterior and what can be seen and touched in the cabin, the major improvements to the Yaris are under the skin - it's now far more pleasurable to drive in town and on longer stretches.