FIRST DRIVE: 2016 Toyota Yaris Sedan gets zoom-zoom

Mazda roots and borrowed bits give the Yaris a new vibe and a sporty flair

2916 Toyota Yaris Sedan

QUEBEC CITY, QC – Toyota’s Yaris Sedan has a new vibe for 2016, with a more stylish design and an amped-up level of dynamic performance. The boost in drivability is due to this premium subcompact’s new roots – the Mazda 2. This Yaris is the first product of a joint venture between the two Japanese automakers and the impact of the zoom-zoom brand is readily apparent.

The all-new Yaris is built on Mazda’s subcompact platform and borrows most of its components from its new partner. The 106-horsepower, 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine is pure Mazda, right down to the engine cover.

The fuel-efficient SkyActiv technologies developed by Mazda, including the high (12.0:1) compression ratio and variable valve timing with intelligence, have been carried over to this Toyota, resulting in impressive fuel consumption ratings for the Yaris – 6.4 litres/100 km when combined with the six-speed automatic transmission with lock-up torque converter and 6.7 when paired with the new six-speed manual gearbox. Both transmissions are from the Mazda parts bin.

Mazda influence everywhere

Inside the cabin, the Mazda influence is apparent – the entire instrument panel, controls and steering wheel have been lifted from the Japanese partner. In fact, the Yaris is pretty much pure Mazda from the front seats forward, except for the Toyota badges on the steering wheel and new front end. Even the key fob for the keyless entry system is identical to the Mazda remote.

The Toyota faithful will be surprised to discover the controls for the cruise control are imbedded in the steering wheel, rather than the traditional third-stalk arrangement common to the brand’s products. The three-spoke wheel also has control buttons for the audio system and the driver information display.

Toyota designers have created a new front-end look that sets the Yaris apart. It features a large, chrome-trimmed, hexagon-shaped grille opening and reflector-type halogen headlamps. The long hood and short rear deck combine with a high belt line and sculpted panels on the side of the body to give the Yaris a new degree of flair.

The standard wheels are 16-inch steel rims fitted with wheel covers, while 16-inch alloy rims are offered on the upgraded Premium trim package. Both types of rims are fitted with P185/60R16 tires. (The spare tire is the temporary type.)

Softened interior

Inside the cabin, the black instrument panel with LCD instrumentation has some chrome accent pieces to brighten up the look. Toyota says the interior trim pieces are the soft-touch variety, but they still felt pretty hard to me.

The fabric covering on the seats is a two-tone theme in black and blue – there’s no leather or vinyl upgrade offered. The seats themselves were comfortable, providing good support. The front seats have a manual recline feature, while the height of the driver’s seat can also be adjusted manually.

The rear seatbacks are split 60/40 and can be folded flat to increase cargo-carrying capacity. They are designed to accommodate three persons, but if those occupants are adults, it would be tight squeeze. Two in the back, however, should be just fine.

Legroom, even in the rear seat, is surprisingly decent and rear headroom is acceptable for most – my noggin just grazed the headliner. Overall, the cabin is roomy enough for four adults and the accommodations are decent.

Just two models

While just two models are being offered – with the manual transmission or the automatic – an upgrade package is available with the automatic version. It adds such enhancements as a six-speaker audio system (the base model has four speakers), a couple USB ports, heated front seats (not available as an option on the base model), the alloy wheels, fog lamps, a backup camera and a seven-inch touch screen with navigation.

Features such as dual power-adjustable heated mirrors, air conditioning, power door locks and windows, hands-free Bluetooth connectivity and push-button start are standard on all models.

Safety features abound, including six airbags and Toyota’s bundle of safety technologies: dynamic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brake system with electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and a brake override system for the standard front disc/rear drum configuration. Hill-start assist is also standard.

Excellent road manners

The area where I felt the new Yaris truly excelled was its road manners. It handled well on all types fo road surfaces and continued to feel stable even when I encountered some rain that made the rural Quebec roads on our media drive a tad greasy.

The sport-tuned steering, with electric power assist, has a good feel and the car sets nicely when turned into a curve. True, the design of the suspension, with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam in back, was developed by Mazda, which has a reputation for making products that are fun to drive.

Toyota's engineers, however, did tweak the settings to fit the expectations of their buyers, but they didn’t spoil the original sporty attributes. The ride seems a slight less harsh than the Mazda counterpart, but not so soft that the car lost its edge in the handling department. The new Yaris was, quite simply, a lot of fun to drive.

Responsive powertrain

Adding to the driving pleasure was a responsive powertrain. While not delivering neck-snapping acceleration, the potent little four-banger had sufficient grunt to move the Yaris out smartly when merging onto multi-lane highways and when making passing moves.

The manual gearbox shifted smoothly and the throws between gears were relatively short. Likewise, the automatic changed gears without hesitation. It has a Sport mode, which alters throttle response and the transmission’s shift points. I found it held the selected gear too long, allowing the engine to buzz at revs that were unnecessarily high.

The new Yaris, which is being built in Mazda’s Mexico assembly plant, is a package featuring high style, good value and plenty of fun-to-drive flair – all solid reasons to make it a true contender in the subcompact segment.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2016 Toyota Yaris Sedan

Price: $16,995 base manual; $18,200 base automatic; $20,200 premium package

Engine: 1.5 litre, 16-valve four-cylinder, 106 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 103 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, electronically controlled with intelligence

Fuel consumption (city/highway): Manual – 7.6/5.7 L/100 km; Automatic – 7.2/5.6 L/100 km

Length: 4,361 mm

Width: 1,695 mm

Wheelbase: 2,570 mm

Competitors: Mazda2, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta

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