The Yaris has always had a soft spot with us, perhaps even more so than the Vios. That's not to say that the Vios is not as good as the Yaris; they are mechanically the same and drive very similarly, but are just packaged a little differently.
It all boils down to popularity; something of which the Vios has too much of. No, that's not a bad thing at all, but there's just definitely something more special about pulling up next to a Yaris in traffic amidst a sea of Vioses.
Toyota now has a new version of the Yaris hatchback, a comprehensive update that, quite frankly, has us scratching our heads in more ways than one.
Firstly, despite the current generation Vios pre-dating the Yaris when it was launched in the Philippines, the Yaris's major upgrade and update was released ahead of the Vios. The only real reason we can think of is that the Vios is manufactured locally, meaning a revision to the assembly line is required. The Yaris, however, is made in Thailand, and they've already transitioned their line to produce the new model.
The second reason is that the Yaris (as well as the upcoming Vios) puts forth an unusual question: is it a facelift or an all-new model? Toyota defines this Yaris as a facelift, but it seems much more than that, but arguably not enough to be considered a new generation. Given what they did to the Yaris, this is almost a complete redesign.
Generally-speaking, mid-cycle model changes, refreshes, and facelifts involves slapping on a new front end with minor tweaks as well as new taillamps, new bumpers and the like. Car manufacturers typically don't invest in new press dies or molds to stamp out a lot of new metal panels to extend a car's showroom life for 2 to 3 years, but it seems Toyota wasn't reading from the conventional car manufacturer business manual.
If you put a 2014-2017 Yaris 1.3E beside this 2018 Yaris 1.3E (or even just do a side-by-side photo comparison) you'll realize that almost every panel, every piece of sheet metal, detail, light, has been altered somehow. The only exterior pieces we can make out that are probably retained from the pre-2018 model are the side mirrors, the windows and windshields (except for the rear glass and rear quarter glass), and that's it. Everything else looks new.
The interesting note is that the Yaris in Europe and the Yaris we get in Asia are completely different models, but the new Asian model gets many of the styling cues from its European cousins, particularly the Auris and its rear end. The new look is much curvier than the edgy design of the preceding model, using something that Toyota calls “Keen Look”. Honestly, I prefer the 2014-2017 model over this one simply because I like edgier-looking cars rather than more organic/futuristic ones, but maybe this one will grow on me during my time with it.
The convential car manufacturer playbook probably also says that any model upgrade that is less than a full model change means that the interiors are generally the same, save for a few pieces like a new steering wheel, new seat materials, accents and the like. Defying convention again, Toyota decided on a practically new interior for the hatchback.
The dashboard is completely different, as are the interior door panels; all of which feel a bit more modern than the Yaris that preceded it. The steering wheel and the gear shifter are both new, and feel a lot better than the older model. What was clear was that Toyota wanted to convey a more premium feel with the Yaris, and have installed some small but tactile upgrades like new switches for the windows and locks that have an upmarket satin feel to them. What I did notice is that Toyota did away with the interior orange accents that they had for the 1.3E and 1.5G versions of the previous Yaris. Those accents were a nice touch, but they were only retained for the 1.5G version of this 2018 model; this 1.3E version doesn't get them.
The cabin is still a nice and comfortable place to be in, and there's plenty of room to go around for a B-segment car. The rear seats do fold down if you want to put in larger bits of cargo, like if you went shopping for big ticket items or want to bring a surfboard along. One thing that could have been improved is making the rear seats fold fully flat; something that other contenders like the Jazz have been doing so very well.
There are two things that I wish Toyota addressed with the Yaris (and Vios), the first of which was the faux stitching on the dashboard; they could have done without them. The second is the alignment of the gauges with the steering wheel and the driver's point of view; the gauges (particularly the center of the speedometer) isn't on the same axis as the driver's head and the center of the steering. It's a minor thing, but once you notice it, well, you know the rest.
Now we know there are major changes outside and inside with the Yaris, but if there are mechanical changes in the car, they're not obvious. Both of the dual VVT-i engine choices are the same; a 1.5-liter unit that makes 107 PS and the 99 PS 1.3-liter motor in this car. It is, of course, front-wheel drive via a continuously variable transmission, or CVT.
The drive, as expected, is not going to blow you away. There's quite a wait between the time you step on the accelerator and something happening; turbo guys would know how this feels. But when it does get going, the feel of the acceleration won't be great either. This is an economy version of a small car after all, and so it won't get your loins excited if you drive on a mountain pass or on the highway. On a downhill slope the lack of acceleration doesn't matter as much, and that's when you can enjoy the decent handling of this hatchback and the manual mode on the shifter. You do have to be mindful of the brakes if you're going fast; unlike the top spec Vios 1.5G which has disc brakes on all four wheels, all versions of the Yaris have discs in front and drums in the back.
Where the Yaris shines is with everyday economy car tasks... things like getting you to and from work or school with minimal fuss. The A/C is seriously cold at even the highest temperature settings, but that's not a complaint, especially with our summer heat. The entertainment system is a 2-DIN system that has a big touchscreen that can play digital video files and DVDs, but that function is rather useless since its dangerous (not to mention illegal) for a driver to watch videos in traffic. It'd be useful for the rear occupants if you opted for a drop down screen or headrest monitors. The audio quality could be better too, but being a midrange model means that this Yaris only has 4 speakers.
The CVT is adequate and smooth; more importantly it's very convenient for our horrendous traffic. As for fuel economy, the combination of the small 1.3 engine and the CVT saves a lot of gas in traffic: 9.3 km/l in the city with an average of just 15 km/h is very good, all things considered. It can be better, but you'll have to be very sensible with the throttle and smart about how you accelerate.
On the highway the Yaris is alright; wind noise isn't that intrusive, and the fuel economy from the powertrain hovers around the 12.4 to 13 km/l mark (75-83 km/h average). That, of course, depends on how many passengers are in the car; smaller engined cars are more adversely affected by increases in weight. They're economical if you're driving solo, but with a full cabin, fuel consumption increases significantly.
The 2018 Toyota Yaris 1.3E CVT is a great city car, no doubt about it. We can't expect much from it in terms of performance or driving thrills, but it scores so well in a lot of very important aspects the market demands of an urban vehicle. But a pricetag of PhP 927,000 (with the new excise tax) means that the Yaris 1.3E is more expensive by PhP 34,000 than it's chief rival, which is the most affordable variant of Honda Jazz with a 1.5-liter engine and a CVT.
That pricing difference could make the Yaris an even rarer sight on our roads.