There is no doubt that the Toyota Vios is the country's best-selling vehicle. After all, over 25,000 of them saw new homes and garages last year, and it's the only sedan that's in the top ten best-selling cars of 2018. If you don’t own one, then you probably know someone who does, or you may have ridden in one already either as a taxi or as a transport network vehicle service (TNVS).
But back in the 90’s up to the early 2000’s, that wasn’t the case. For starters, there were no Vios back then. Instead, it was the Corolla that ruled the streets. With the introduction of the seventh-generation Corolla, known locally as the ‘Big Body’, Toyota Philippines began offering the model with a new trim level called the XE, which slotted in between the base XL and the range-topping GLi. The XE gained additional features of the GLi, such as power steering, alloy wheels, and a tachometer, but retained the 1.3-liter carbureted engine making it a popular choice for most buyers. The popular XE trim then continued on into the next-generation Corolla but was ultimately dropped when the Corolla Altis debuted.
But now, it's back. Toyota has revived the XE name, not in the Corolla, but in the 2019 Vios. This new variant slots in between the 1.3 J and the 1.3 E. So, will it be a value-packed throwback?
Starting with the design, the Vios XE looks visually similar to the 1.3 E Prime we tested last year (sans the kit). However, there are some differences to distinguish the two apart. In particular, the XE does not come standard with fog lights and LED daytime running lights (the 1.3 E doesn't have the latter either). The door handles and side mirrors are not painted body color, and the wheels are small steel units with hub caps instead of alloy units. Curiously, there is no XE badging on the rear to indicate its trim level unlike the 1.3 E or the 1.5 G.
While this Vios may be a new model, the XE does have some features that are properly 90’s. For starters, there’s the key. That's it. It’s literally just a key. There's no alarm either which means no key fob that unlocks the vehicle from the click of a button here. Instead, you have to actually use the key to unlock the doors. Thankfully central locking is already a standard feature today, unlike some 90’s cars. Though I must say, it is quite hard to get into the XE if you happen to be carrying a lot of things with you.
Step inside, and you’ll find the same improved cabin of the new Vios without most of the fake stitching. Unlike the 1.3 E though, the dashboard in the XE is finished mostly in black except for the center stack which features some silver contrast. And it shouldn't be a surprise that it is all hard plastic in the dash. Situated in front the driver is a simple steering wheel with no radio controls paired with a more simplistic gauge cluster. Surprisingly, the XE still has a touchscreen head unit which comes with Bluetooth, USB, and AUX inputs. To sum, it's a no-frills simple interior.
Although having a simple and minimal interior is something I like, there is one feature that I wanted the XE to have at the very least – adjustable side mirrors. The side mirrors on XE are as basic as it can be. To adjust them, you have to physically push the mirrors which is very hassling to position spot on. This makes it hard to adjust the side mirrors to the position you want them in, especially for the one on the passenger side. To move the passenger side mirror, you either have to tell your passenger to move the mirror for you, or if you happen to be alone, go down and adjust it yourself. At the very least, Toyota could have added the small adjustment knobs inside rather than having to actually push the mirror.
Coincidentally, both the Corolla XE and the Vios XE are powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine. But thanks to modern-day technology, the engine in the Vios now produces 98 PS and 123 Nm torque and benefits from VVT-i. While I expected the XE variant to come with a manual transmission, I was surprised to see it was fitted with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) instead.
If you're looking for adrenaline, you're looking at the wrong place. The Vios XE drives like, well, a Vios. It’s easy to drive, has good stopping power, and it handles okay even at speed. Personally, I did find that the 1.3-liter mill is a bit lacking for the Vios, especially when putting your foot down. However, I suspect most drivers will find it adequate especially if you’re only going around Metro Manila. Meanwhile, having a CVT makes like a whole lot easier if you're stuck in hours-long gridlock.
I would love to tell you how efficient the Vios was, but unfortunately, the XE only has a basic gauge cluster that doesn’t display what your average fuel consumption is. Considering we did get to manage around 9.3 kilometers per liter in the 1.3 E variant, it’s safe to assume it would more or less be the same.
Even though the XE only comes with steel wheels (with plastic covers), the ride does feel a bit more comfortable as compared to the 1.3 E. The wheels and tires happens to absorb the bumps and the potholes on the road, making travels a bit more relaxing. Despite having skinnier and taller tires, it doesn’t produce that much body roll either when going around corners at speed, keeping the car planted
For those who got to the drive or ride in the previous model Vios, they’ll find that the new cabin is a lot quieter and more refined. There’s less outside noise that gets into the cabin. More importantly, however, the Vios XE is a lot safer than its predecessor. When TMP introduced the new Vios last year, they announced that all variants will come standard with seven airbags, the XE included. Stability control is also another standard safety feature, but can be turned off with the push of a button.
At Php 738,000, the Vios 1.3 XE is priced fairly well for a 1300cc car with a CVT. There’s not a lot of features to go, but you do get a Bluetooth head unit for your tunes together with a comfortable ride. Most importantly, there are also seven airbags as standard, a feature only the Vios has over its competitors. Still, I do wish that Toyota added power mirrors at the very least. But once you do have them adjusted, you’re good to go.
All-in-all the Vios XE is great if you’re someone who’s not very particular about having in-car features, or just simply wants to get from point A to B. Now, if you're looking for a bit more features, there’s always the 1.3 E CVT. Do remember, however, it does come with a Php 100,000 premium. And if you want the 1.5-liter mill, that’s another Php 300,000 on top.
We actually like the humble Vios XE as it reminds us of simpler times. But please Toyota, give it adjustable side mirrors.