Fifteen years ago, if someone told me that the Vios would outsell the Corolla as Toyota's best selling nameplate locally, I'd say they were crazy. Three generations later and it's safe to say the Vios has ultimately taken the crown from the Corolla and never looked back.
Essentially the bread and butter of the brand, the Vios became Toyota's perennial seller simply because of its affordability, 'bullet-proof' reliability and ease of maintenance. With the Corolla Altis continuing to move upmarket, it was inevitable that the B-segment sedan would have a bigger share of the market.
The third-generation Vios has been with us for four years now. While there was nothing wrong with its design and interior packaging, it badly needed a more frugal powertrain. Toyota finally gave the Vios (as well as the Yaris) the update it needed late last year when they introduced new engines and transmission options. After getting to drive the bigger 1.5-liter variant, it was time to check out the what could be the bigger seller, the smaller 1.3-liter model.
Its design may already be four-years old but the third-gen model is still, by far, the most handsome looking Vios to date. The sleek headlights, eye-catching taillights still look fresh on the Vios, along with the 15-inch alloy wheels. Still, I would have liked it more if Toyota somehow made subtle changes on the car's exterior, particularly on the front and rear fascias.
New, on the other hand are two new color options, Alumina Jade Metallic (used on the 1.5 G) and Blackish Red Mica, which this test unit has. The particularly dark hue does hide some of the Vios' lines. However, it does give the humble sedan a more upscale finish which I liked.
Serving as the mid-range offering, this particular Vios also gets a different set of standard equipment. While the more expensive G comes with projector halogens and a full chrome grill, this model gets the simpler two-beam headlights along with the body-colored grille with chrome inlays. It also lacks the subtle bodykit, decklid spoiler and chrome trim on the trunklid. While it's not as flashy, I do like the subtleness of the mid-range E Vios. Lastly, it gets rear drum brakes instead of discs.
Much like the exterior, the interior of the 2017 Vios practically remains the same as well. The hooded gauges, threes-spoke steering wheel, round aircon gauges and faux metal trim on the dashboard provide an air of sportiness in the rather conservative cabin. The only changes introduced in the recent update are the new fabric upholstery and touchscreen infotainment system which supports AM/FM radio, CD, USB, Aux and Bluetooth.
The front seats are comfortable and provide good support on long drives, but I do wish it had more lumbar support. There is generous legroom at the back still but I do find the rear bench too low for my liking. Still, the rear seats are quite comfortable as some of my passengers fell asleep on the way back from Subic. Plus, all three passengers at the back have seatbelts as standard.
In typical mid-range fashion, the 1.3-liter Vios has less in-car features and trim than the top-of-the-range 1.5-liter. It only gets four speakers instead of six, no power folding mirrors, urethane finish (instead of leather) on both the steering wheel and gear shifter, and black plastic trim on the entertainment system, HVAC controls and center console. Kept, however are the steering wheel-mounted audio controls and 12V charging socket.
A new 1.3-liter powerplant drives the refreshed Vios. Internally known as the 1NR-FE, it replaces the previous 2NZ-FE and has slightly more power. The new inline-four puts out 99 PS (+13) at 6000 rpm along with 123 (+1) Nm of torque at 4200 rpm. Also gone is the four-speed automatic as it has been replaced with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that comes with seven 'simulated' gear ratios to play with on manual mode.
With more pep, one might expect that the new 1.3 will have more get-up and go. There is an increase in performance but only just. Out on the highway, one will still have to time overtaking the other cars, due to the engine's small displacement. But the moderate increase in horsepower means it picks up the pace quicker in case one needs an instant burst of speed. The seven-speed manual mode, coupled with the revvy engine means drivers can make the most out of the small four-cylinder. This becomes particularly useful in spirited driving.
In the city, the sedan was well behaved and the revs stayed well below 2000 rpm. In fact, when cruising at a steady 40 km/h, the engine was practically idling. On the flipside, the new powertrain is less responsive than before. But on an econobox such as this, it does make sense. With the new CVT, fuel economy was also better compared to the previous four-speed automatic. On the highway, the Vios will return 15.0 km/l. In city driving, on the other hand, the sedan will average around 9.0 km/l.
Over to ride quality, the Vios performed admirably. Its soft damping meant it was able to absorb most of the metro's rutted streets. It's no Camry by any means but it is surprisingly comfortable nonetheless. Handling is pretty average on the Vios though I do like the electronic power steering (EPS). While other EPS systems deliver numb steering, the one on the Vios felt just right.
What still needs improvement? Noise, Vibration and Harshness deadening. The Vios may be a budget sedan but it needs to have thicker door jambs and better sound insulation to keep wind and outside noise to a minimum. Also, a bigger fuel tank won't hurt. Sure it's more frugal now but a bigger tank can gradually extend the range of the both the 1.5- and 1.3-liter Vioses.
Retailing for PhP 812,000, the 1.3 E Vios with the CVT is a sound bargain. If you're the kind that wants a decent sedan that can seat five with just enough equipment, this mid-range Vios comes with all the necessary fitments. With the range-topping 1.5 G CVT selling for PhP 934,000, this particular model is the more practical choice.