Make no mistake about it: hatchbacks are on the rise.
In the last couple of years, many of the top brands in the Philippine auto industry have introduced more trunkless models in a market known to have a very sedan-centric mindset. Models like the Mirage, Sonic, Rio, Eon, Grand i10, Wigo, the Mazda3, the Jazz and even the upcoming Brio are some of the hatchbacks that have made their way into showrooms, and more could be on the way.
Unlike some of those models which are entirely new nameplates in the market, the Yaris has been around for a while, as Toyota had offered the previous generation Yaris and even the Echo before that. Both, however, sold in very limited numbers overall especially when compared to the far more popular Toyota Vios, a strange fact given that there was a very minimal price difference between the hatch and 4-door versions.
Could this new generation 2014 Toyota Yaris bridge that wide gap to its trunked brother?
For starters, the 2014 Yaris does not look like anything like a Vios with the trunk simply removed. The front end looks nothing like the Vios apart from the similarity in the trapezoidal motif for the radiator intakes; if anything, the Yaris's fascia resembles that of the current Mitsubishi Lancer EX... or Pai Mei from Kill Bill with that 'mustache'.
Unusually, the Yaris that we are getting is not the same as the ones offered in the United States, Japan or Australia, as those markets get the Vitz (or Vitz-based Yaris). It may seem like we're getting shortchanged by receiving the ASEAN/Chinese Yaris, but our version is actually much larger and more spacious than the Vitz, as the latter is under 3.9 meters long while the Philippine-spec Yaris is already at 4.1 meters.
Either way, the front of the Yaris has a striking look to it, and the hatchback profile with the stylish tailgate does lend the car a character unique from the Vios, even though they're very much related. That fact becomes very obvious when you open the doors.
If the dashboard and interior elements such as the seats, switches, steering wheel and everything else seem familiar, that's because the cabin is essentially the same as the Vios but executed differently; if anything, the Yaris 1.5G leans to the side of sporty by using a predominantly black color scheme inside as opposed to beige in the Vios 1.5G. To contrast with the black, Toyota used orange accents in the backlighting of the A/C dials, the audio unit, the gauge faces and even on the stitch patterns for the fabric seats. The combination just works if you prefer a more stylish and more standout alternative to the Vios.
What's really great about the Yaris 5-door hatchback when compared to it's 4-door sibling is its ability to take on larger cargo with the rear seats folded down; think of things like big balikbayan boxes or even bikes (if you don't want to shell out cash for a bike rack, that is). The flat folding seats and the tailgate make loading an ease, though the current (and previous) Honda Jazz is still the definitive class leaders in terms of versatility and potential cargo volume.
At the heart of the Yaris is -surprise, surprise- a 1.5-liter, twin cam 16-valve four cylinder engine that makes 107 PS and 141 Newton-meters of torque. If those figures sound a bit familiar, it's because the engine is the same 1NZ-FE found in the current and previous Toyota Vios 1.5G as well as the previous generation Toyota Yaris. No surprises there, and the 4-speed automatic transmission is a carryover as well.
In town, the Yaris drives as expected. Toyota's latest hatchback is smooth and easy to maneuver. The suspension does work well to absorb much of the Metro's rough stuff, and the ride on smooth tarmac is quiet and relatively refined. One surprising thing about the Yaris is that it managed to turn a few heads on the sidewalks; that was unexpected from this stylish little hatch.
As expected, this Yaris 1.5G A/T returned similar though slightly lower fuel economy numbers than the Vios 1.5G, as the hatchback yielded 8.3 kilometers per liter, though I suspect it was because of the heavier traffic conditions under which the test was performed (moderate to heavy, 18 km/h average). On the highway the Yaris did a bit better than the Vios by yielding 12.5 km/l.
The car does feel a bit more taut and more enjoyable to drive fast on a twisty bit of road thanks to the lack of a trunk (read: reduced rear overhang). Tossing it from one corner to another can put a smile on your face, and the braking (like the Vios) is surprisingly good. A Yaris One-Make Race, perhaps?
The 2014 Yaris 1.5G definitely came out of the Toyota corner swinging when it was launched earlier this year, but so did the similarly-specced Honda Jazz 1.5V CVT also fresh from its launch a few months back. The tale of the pricing tape is a little unusual too as this Thai-made Yaris 1.5G 4A/T retails for PhP 845,000; to put that in perspective, the Philippine-made Vios 1.5G 4A/T is priced at PhP 847,000 while the Jazz 1.5V CVT is at PhP 808,000.
So what's our verdict then?
The Yaris is a fun little car, and the fact that it shares the same engine, components and spare parts with the Vios, thus making for cheaper, quicker and easier maintenance certainly does it plenty of favors. However I honestly don't think the Yaris can outsell its brother in a country still addicted to sedans despite the arrival of more and more hatchbacks. Therein, however, lies the best selling point of the Toyota Yaris, the more stylish half of the Vios/Yaris XP150 platform.
By not being anywhere near as ubiquitous as the Vios in terms of sales (it's the undisputed number one selling nameplate in the country) seems to elevate the Yaris to a different, more desirable rung on the subcompact car ladder.
The best bit about the 2014 Yaris (unless I missed my guess) is that I wouldn't expect to see one with yellow plates and How's My Driving? on the road anytime soon.