The supermini segment is crowded with talented contenders, but only the Toyota Yaris offers a hybrid model, and it accounts for more than a quarter of all Yaris sales. The new, facelifted Yaris Hybrid, which is available only with five doors, aims to maintain its economy and tax edge over conventionally powered rivals while tackling some of its weaknesses: namely refinement, handling and interior quality.
There are mild tweaks to the car’s exterior, including a reshaped nose with new lights, revised door mouldings and a fresh rear bumper design. Inside the materials have been improved to complement a revised design, and additional sound-deadening measures have been introduced.
Changes to the chassis and suspension are intended to improve the responsiveness of the steering, increase body stability and make the ride more comfortable. Meanwhile, a shake-up of the trim levels adds new equipment and introduces all-new Design specification in place of the old Sport model. Special features of Design spec include part-painted alloys, a gloss black honeycomb grille, rear spoiler, chrome fog light trims and the option of two-tone paintwork, as applied to our test car.
What’s the 2016 Toyota Yaris Hybrid like to drive?
Urban areas form the Yaris Hybrid’s preferred environment, as its 73bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine and 59bhp electric motor combine via a CVT automatic gearbox to allow quiet and fuel-efficient progress around busy streets. While there is an electric-only mode that works below 40mph, you’ll struggle to stop the petrol engine chiming in, even when you’re gentle with the throttle.
That’s not much of a problem, though, because moderate-paced urban traffic won’t send the petrol engine’s revs shooting up. Instead, the drivetrain remains very much in the background, and there’s no intrusive stop-start system that you’ll find in many conventional competitors. The only disturbance you’re likely to experience is from the suspension, which borders on crashy when crossing transverse ridges and jostles over pockmarks, while the brakes tend to grab when coming to a halt.
The steering, though on the heavy side for its class, lightens up nicely during really tight, low-speed manoeuvres. On the motorway, however, you feel like you need a lot of small steering inputs to stop the Yaris from wandering a bit. While engine noise remains limited to a distant groan in most situations, there is still significant road noise that seems to echo around the cabin, and there’s also some wind noise from the A-pillars.
The Yaris Hybrid feels least at home on winding roads, especially when pushed. The CVT gearbox sends engine revs skyward, bringing a high-pitched moan into the cabin despite delivering only gentle acceleration.
Although it weighs little more than its classmates, the car shows a fair bit of roll in this environment, too, and those too-sensitive brakes become difficult to modulate, although the front end grips surprisingly well. Rivals such as the Ford Fiesta thrive on this kind of drives, but despite its updated suspension, the Yaris Hybrid still lacks that fun factor.
What’s the 2016 Toyota Yaris Hybrid like inside?
An increase in soft-touch surfaces and new finishes has successfully raised the perceived quality of the Yaris’s cabin. There are still lots of hard plastics, but they’re neatly fitted and cleverly interspersed with a variety of materials and shades to lift the overall ambience.
There are enlarged contrasting soft-touch door panel inserts, a newly textured dash top and stitched leather on the steering wheel and gearknob. Most plastics in the rear cabin are hard, but at least they continue the smart design theme.
The manually adjustable driver’s seat is firm but well-bolstered and offers a fairly high seating position. There’s good visibility all-round, but when it rains you’ll find the small rear wiper doesn’t clear enough of the glass, and the steering wheel is thinner at the top and bottom, which feels odd when feeding the wheel. Two six-foot occupants can sit behind two more with a couple of inches of headroom to spare and just enough knee room, but a fifth adult will find their head, knees and shoulders squeezed.
The hybrid’s boot isn’t affected by its batteries, offering the same 286 litres (with the rear seats up) and 768 litres (seats down) as other Yaris models. However, that’s still on the low side for this class: the Skoda Fabia, for example, offers 44- and 382-litres more respectively.
The Yaris also isn’t as practical as some rivals in that the rear seats leave a big step up in the boot floor, and there’s quite a deep lip from the bottom of the boot opening to the floor. There is, at least, a wide opening and the boot is a good shape.
The hybrid is available with all Yaris trims: Active, Icon, Design and Excel. Equipment is limited in Active specification, but all others get a generous selection of kit including a rear-view camera, DAB radio, Toyota’s Touch 2 touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth and climate control, plus the soft-touch cabin inserts and leather accents.
Highlights of Excel trim include part-leather upholstery, auto lights and wipers and powered rear windows. Touch 2 is fairly user-friendly but can prove hesitant, and the rear camera is prone to picking up dirt easily, but they’re welcome features nonetheless.
Should I buy one?
Despite its dynamic limitations, the Yaris Hybrid fulfils its remit by offering low fuel costs, good practicality, a decent cabin finish and generally good urban refinement, and the five-year, 100,000-mile warranty is attractive, too.
The choice of wheel size is important, though, especially for Londoners. Go for 15-inch alloys and the Yaris Hybrid’s 75g/km of CO2 means you won’t pay the capital’s congestion charge, and the official combined economy is rated at an excellent 85.6mpg. On 16-inch wheels, it still achieves 78.5mpg, but is liable for the congestion charge with 82g/km of CO2.
The wheels make a big difference to company car users, too: the smaller ones attract just 9% benefit-in-kind tax, and the larger ones 13%. Even the diesel-sipping Renault Clio 1.5dCi 90 Eco2 – which actually beats the Yaris Hybrid for combined economy at 88.3mpg – can’t get near it for company car tax, attracting a 16% rating.
For company car drivers or private buyers who do most of their driving in town, the Yaris Hybrid, in Icon trim or above, is a supermini that’s definitely worth considering. However, for the majority of other users, there are plenty of more refined and more enjoyable alternatives available.
What Car? says…