Toyota Yaris 1.3

The new Yaris is a pumped-up version of the old: wider, longer, taller, more roomy and a much better drive. And John Simister still loves that clever instrument pack viewed via a mirror

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: from about £9,500 (range will start at approximately £9,000)
Engine: 1,296cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 87bhp at 6,000rpm, 89lb ft at 4,200rpm
Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 106mph, 0 to 60mph in 11.2 seconds, 47.1mpg official average
CO2: 141g/km

Toyotas were for fuddy-duddies. If you drove one (certain sports models excepted), you had no more interest in cars than you had in your fridge. They were high-quality consumer durables, nothing more. Then Toyota invented the Yaris.

This clever supermini, with cutely rounded details but a shape of substance and cred made Toyota a bit cool. You'd buy one for its style, its originality (check out the centre instrument pack viewed via a mirror), for emotive reasons on top of the obvious rational ones. The Yaris may not have been a great drive (bouncy, clonks and resonances, hard interior plastics) but most buyers didn't mind. Here was a car you could have feelings about.

Mission accomplished, then. But what to do as an encore? Design this car, the second-generation Yaris due for launch here in December in three- and five-door forms. It's different in many ways, not least in being significantly bigger (to distance it from the new Aygo), but the front grille, the huge headlights, the shape of the rear quarters, all say Yaris. Imagine the old car inflated and you'll get the idea.

It's the same story as has been played out by Fiat and Renault, with their bigger Punto and Clio. But here it's more overt: the cabin has been pulled forward so far that the stubby nose is almost that of a little MPV, and there's almost no rear overhang. The body is longer, wider and taller to make the Yaris that unusual thing, a supermini able to take five adults in comfort.

The distance between front and rear occupants' hip points is such that even with the front seats set right back, I - an average height north European human - still have plentiful space ahead of my knees in the back. Subjectively, no supermini is roomier. The rear floor is flat, too, and the claustrophobia that the rising waistline may be thought to inflict on rear passengers doesn't materialise because they sit high.

Space is the theme. The truncated tail looks as if it would lack luggage space, but if you remove the false floor there's depth for viable holiday luggage. Not so good are the rear shelf (cheap, flimsy) and the "hammocks" that link the shelf to the sliding, part-reclinable rear seats via Velcro.

Back to the positives. The rear seats - split 60-40 - are utter simplicity to fold. Pulling on just one, high-mounted handle hinges the backrest forward and makes the cushion move forward and down at the same time. You don't have to remove the headrests.

Then there are the three gloveboxes in the dash and little pockets either side of the centre console. This is a car to be used and lived with. A keyless entry and starting system is optional.

It is disappointing that the new Yaris still majors on hard surfaces in the cabin, but things are better. The window sills are now padded, the leathergrain is replaced by a kind of technical, geometric finish, and everything fits more snugly. In centre-stage is a neat stereo able to play MP3 and WMA files burnt on to a CD, above it is a new version of that all-done-with-mirrors instrument pack.

I love this pack. The digital speedometer seems to float in space, the adjacent clock floats in another plane. The digits are pale blue - so much easier to read than red - and the distance from the digits themselves to the mirror in which you see them is enough to help with focusing on them quickly.

It's easy to see out of the Yaris, too, thanks to a high seating position. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, and there are airbags all over the place.

But what about the view from outside? Designed in Toyota's ED2 studio in Nice, France, the Yaris does look neat, capsular, all-of-a-piece, fun to drive. The convex waistline lends it a pounce-forward look, and the front bumper must be one of the biggest such mouldings ever used on a small car. It, and the components beneath, are designed to be cheap and easy to fix after a bump.

The old Yaris wasn't fun to drive and the warmed-over T-Sport version was even worse. There are no admitted plans yet for a new sporty Yaris, but this time the idea is credible. The whole car feels, and is, much stiffer in its structure and precise in its responses, with improvements to the electric power-steering system so it feels more natural.

That said, there are three engine variants and all feel different to drive, far beyond the obvious attributes of pace and aural output. The range starts with the three-cylinder, 1.0-litre unit already in the Aygo; it's the lightest car engine in production and produces 69bhp. Next is a four-cylinder 1.3 from the previous Yaris but with recalibrated electronics. It makes 87bhp. Finally, there's a 1.4-litre turbodiesel, outputting 90bhp and a hefty 140lb ft of torque. All can be had with either a manual five-speed gearbox or a clutchless, sequential version of it called MMT (multi-mode transmission).

Of course, the diesel is both the fastest and the most economical - 62.8mpg on the official "combined" test cycle, although owners would do well to match that. It's acceptably quiet, too. This is the rational Yaris.

Or should that be the 1.0? It feels little slower than the Aygo/Citroën C1/Peugeot 107 with the same engine, and its three-cylinder hum is very characterful. But the figures show it to be slothful, and with five passengers aboard it would be hard work. Its other problem is its ride over bumps, which is restless and noisy compared to the 1.3.

That's because the lighter engine calls for different front suspension settings, and - say the engineers - to keep the same agility means compromises in the ride. All the stranger, then, that the heaviest Yaris, the D-4D diesel, also rides less well than the 1.3.

All of which means it's the 1.3, smooth and sweet if a bit flat-feeling, that is the most refined and pleasing Yaris. Perhaps with more mileage it would feel keener, in which case it would be a very impressive supermini. The new Clio beats it for quality feel and consistency across the model range, but there's something about the capsular Yaris that's very appealing. Especially that dashboard.

THE RIVALS

FIAT PUNTO 1.4
£9,800 (approximately)
On sale in February, the new Fiat Punto has a long, Maserati-like nose, lots of space and the choice of some vivid interior colourways. The Punto is also quite fun to drive, but this 1.4 has just 77bhp.

HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE
£10,700
The Honda Jazz is the most cleverly-packaged supermini of all, with ingenious seat-folding and petrol tank under the front floor. Looks good, and is good to drive now Honda has softened the ride.

RENAULT CLIO 1.4
From £9,950
It's heavy, but the ride quality and refined feel of the Renault Clio are the benefits. Lushly trimmed, well-equipped and more fun to drive than you might expect, it's an impressive effort.

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