CAR REVIEWS

2003 Toyota Vios

2003 Toyota Vios image

Text: Benj Ngo / Photos: Brent Co | posted May 10, 2003 00:00

Toyota's City Challenger

Recently launched, the Vios is certainly making waves as Toyota's answer to the subcompact segment which was dominated by the Honda City for years. The answer comes in three words 'Veni, Vidi Vios' and three variants, each with its own character.

Toyota recently held a media test drive for it's Vios line of vehicles at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig. All three variants of the vehicle were on hand; including the 1.5 AT and MT, and the 1.3 MT. Toyota designed and put together a test track to bring to light the car's capabilities in the areas of acceleration, handling, and braking. There was quite a long straightaway, some hard turns, and a few chicanes/slalom portions.

The 1.5 variants, were of course more popular during the first few rounds because of the obvious power advantage over their 1.3 counterparts. However as the day wore on, each person had developed his/her own preference.

Immediately striking when you first sit down on the front seat of the 1.5 Vios is the instrument cluster. Neatly placed in the center part of the dashboard, the digital instrumentation gives the illusion of depth. This seems to be a very effective solution as the driver no longer has to stare at the cluster for a long time before being able to take in the readings. One quick glance is all it takes to monitor speed, engine revolution, water temperature and other vital information.

Driving the car through the test track, power seems to be sufficient enough for modest acceleration and general city driving. Body roll is quit noticeable, as can be expected for a car that prioritizes economy and comfort before performance. But that is not to say that this car cannot handle. In the test track, it was able to go through the slalom portions in second gear, at relatively high speeds. However mild understeer during hard cornering can quickly turn into severe understeer when the car is pushed to the absolute limit. The automatic transmission is definitely more fun to drive. As is the case with most Toyota ATs, the shifting is smooth and consistent with only a very mild hint of shift shock.

The 1.3 variant of the Toyota Vios lacks the digital instrumentation of the 1.5 unit. It also has less power, 85hp as compared to the 1.5's 107hp. But whatever it lacks, it makes up for with stability and driveability. Running the car through the test track, it is immediately apparent that understeer is much much less as compared to the more front-heavy 1.5 unit. Both cars share the same suspension, brakes, wheels, and tires. But even with less power on tap, the 1.3 unit feels more versatile around the corners. And it doesn't understeer as much when pushed to the limit. The 22hp difference doesn't feel like much, at least at low speeds and at low gears. Granted, when getting up to highway speed, the extra grunt of the 1.5 engine will prove to be the meatier of the two.

Overall both cars performed extremely well; surprising even, for a car more at home at city streets than at test tracks and circuit courses. The inherent understeering problem can be due to the soft suspension, and the narrow 175 tires on 14 inch rims. But the combination of a short turning radius (4.9m), a potent engine, lightweight chassis, good suspension geometry, and powerful brakes ensure that the Vios can outperform most compact economy cars in the market today.

At the end of the day, this author had the chance to ride shotgun in two Vios units driven by veteran racecar driver Mike Potenciano. His left-foot braking and race-style driving almost completely eliminated the understeer. There were even several instances where he was able to mildly kick the rear end of the car out. This is just another testament to the competency of the Vios, and the platform it was built on. This car may have been developed for the young adolescent market (with Britney Spears providing the marketing), but it certainly is no wimp when it comes to performance. I guess the tagline sums it all, Toyota Vios, It's Everything.