Model: Toyota Yaris 1.0 T3
Engine: 1.0 litre petrol
Performance: 0-62 mph in 15.7 seconds, 52.3 mpg
Worth considering: Fiat Punto, Nissan Micra, Renault Clio
If you look closely at the photograph of our reader Paul Jones with this week's test car, you will notice that he is standing in front of a rather nondescript factory building. Not, perhaps, the obvious choice of backdrop considering that the town where Paul lives - Broughton, just over the border from Chester, in Wales - is surrounded by some very pleasant countryside.
But the building in the picture has a particular bearing on this week's test car, the new second-generation Toyota Yaris. That's because the building in question is Toyota's Deeside engine factory, and a good example of the Japanese company's efforts to make cars in Europe designed for European tastes. The Yaris is the Toyota product that best exemplifies this approach, and the engine that powers the version of the Yaris that was tested here is central to its character and appeal.
That engine is the one-litre unit that first appeared in the smaller Aygo and, certainly, its three-cylinder configuration gives it a dollop of character that is absent from most fours of similar size; under hard acceleration, it can sound like a bad-tempered sewing machine, but mostly it has an agreeably throbby note.
Considering its small capacity, it offers a surprising amount of mid-range punch, and it complements the cheerful, basic Aygo perfectly. The Yaris is a more plushly trimmed car, making it less of a natural partner for this engine, although the three's essential eagerness and appeal still shine through.
The Yaris's cabin also displays a good deal of flair, or, at least, the dashboard, with its centrally mounted instrument pod, does. This sort of arrangement sometimes looks impressive, but rarely works as well as a set of conventional dials positioned directly in front of the driver.
In this case, though, Toyota's implementation is excellent. The display is very clear, and there seems to be some sort of optical trick involved; both driver and front-seat passenger have the impression that the digital mph readout is angled towards them.
A few weeks ago, we made the hardly original observation that, with the Mazda MX-5, the Japanese had succeeded in making a better British sports car than the British. The Yaris is actually assembled in France. Just as Peugeots, Citroëns and Renaults are losing their quirks, along comes another capable baby Toyota with a characterful engine, cute styling and a wacky dashboard.
Perhaps the Japanese are now also making better small French cars than the French.
Jason Hindmoor, 34, human resources adviser from Carlisle
USUAL CAR: FORD FOCUS 1.6 ZETEC
The "bigsmall" Toyota advertising for the Yaris is difficult to refute in this case. The new Yaris does look small and cute externally, yet provides decent passenger space that belies it's city car status. Interior room is certainly an improvement on it's predecessor with unexpectedly good space in the front, and excellent head-room. The three-cylinder, 1.0 litre engine is surprisingly able and only starts to get vocal when pushed. The positive gear change and sporty, direct steering all add to the fun. The central electronic digital display does take some getting used to. But all-in-all a funky little runabout that's pleasant to drive and no doubt hugely reliable.
Gavin Astin, 43, risk management consultant from Stockport
USUAL CAR: ALFA ROMEO 156 GTA
The Yaris and my car are like chalk and cheese and I was expecting to be disappointed by this 1.0 litre super-mini - but I ended the test pleasantly surprised. The Yaris isn't fast but is fine for town driving, although it runs out of steam at motorway speed. The firm-ish suspension and lack of understeer made for confident cornering. Inside it has a quality, spacious feel helped by the high driving position. I didn't like the digital dash as I had to refocus from the road to read it. Good as it is, the Yaris is expensive. For £10,000 I would want more than a 1.0 litre super-mini, despite the high feature-count of this model.
Paul Jones, 35, gym franchisee from Broughton, near Chester
USUAL CARS: MAZDA 5, TOYOTA RAV4
My first impression was of a small car that looked like most other small cars. In fact I got confused between a Yaris and a Citroën C2 in a car park. The interior is well laid out and stylish, with well-positioned controls. There seemed plenty of room for both front and rear passengers, but I was disappointed by the lack of boot space. The Yaris was equally at home around town and for short bursts on the motorway, with excellent steering and balance. I did find the breaking rather spongy, though. Overall quite a pleasant car, but try mentioning the word Yaris to people with out them smirking back at you!
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