Whenever we post a story about the Vios, be it about a new model, a review, or even a race, the most common comment is this: Taxi.
Scoffing at the idea of the Toyota Vios as a taxi is odd: since when has being the default choice for taxi fleets become a bad thing? Remember when the 'Big Body' and 'LoveLife' Corollas used to populate our roads en masse as taxis? Often, these cars were not in perfect, ideal, or even passable running order. Yet they still ran despite the dings, dents, and rattles along the way.
That is where the success of the Vios also lies: proven reliability and dependability, easy-to-maintain mechanicals, plenty of spare parts, and admirable fuel economy. The result is a reputation that it can take you to your destination, no matter the distance, or its condition. And now, we have a new model, and now we get to test this new taxi... er, Vios 1.3J.
We need to clarify one important thing: is this Vios a new generation model or a facelift? The reason behind that is because this 2019 Vios technically sits on the same chassis underneath, but gets new sheet metal on top. In that regard, it can be called a facelift albeit a major one. But it can also be considered a new generation entirely, especially since the body is already completely different; none of the panels are interchangeable, so says the engineers.
Perhaps the best middle ground is to call this a different generation altogether, as this particular Vios didn't exactly start life as a Vios. When it was launched earlier this year in Thailand, they called it the Yaris Ativ, and it's sold alongside the facelifted version of the same Vios that Toyota has been selling in the Philippines since 2013.
Love it or hate it, the 2019 Vios is quite the looker in every direction or angle. Like the Yaris that made its local debut late last year, both it and the Vios now share similarly-designed aesthetics. It features the brand’s updated ‘Keen Look’ design philosophy that is highlighted by a huge, and quite frankly prominent, front fascia.
The sweeping headlights, along with the heavily restyled front grill and bumper, give the Vios a more aggressive and upmarket look. It even gets a new hood which comes with distinct lines that flow from the windshield towards the headlights. The doors may appear similar to the pre-facelift model. But upon closer inspection, we noticed it gets new creases and restyled door handles. No stylish alloy wheels here as the 1.3 J variant only rolls on 14-inch steelies that come with a full wheel cap.
More changes can be seen at the back of the 2019 Vios. These include a broader trunk lid, slimmer taillights and a smoother-shaped rear bumper with thinner reflectors. Sure Toyota could have done more for the Vios' rear, but personally I liked how Toyota made it resemble its bigger brother, the Corolla Altis.
Overall, the exterior makeover on the Vios was good, suave, and dare I say quite daring (particularly on the front fascia). It won't exactly be setting the world on fire in terms of design, but again I commend Toyota's commitment in injecting more zest and fun on their current models.
Pop the doors open and a refreshed cabin greets you inside the updated Vios. Gone is the old steering wheel as the Vios now comes with a simpler three-spoke design. I was not a fan of the previous wheel's shape so this new one is a welcome change. What I miss, however, are the hooded gauges which were perhaps my most favorite part of the cabin. Replacing it is a traditional instrument gauge cluster with a center mounted multi-info display.
Also gone are the aircon-vent cupholders for the driver and front passenger. Thanks to a redesigned center console, Toyota was able to free up space to put the new front cupholders along with a decent-sized cubbyhole in front of the gear shifter. But where is the 12V power socket you may ask? Not to worry as it was relocated near the handbrake lever and center glovebox. Hard-touch plastic is still prevalent inside the 2019 Vios but I do like that Toyota installed gloss black trim pieces, as well as faux metal trim accents on what is essentially basic transportation.
As far as in-car entertainment is concerned, the upgraded 1.3J Vios does away with a simple 1-DIN sound system. Replacing it is a more substantial 2-DIN head unit that supports AM/FM radio, CD, Aux, USB and even Bluetooth. Also worth noting are its soft and tactile buttons which allows easy manipulation of the device. However, don’t expect it to deliver crisp audio as the system channels sound to the two front door speakers only. Still, it was nice of Toyota to actually give the upgraded 1.3J a better entertainment system than the old one.
Perhaps the only thing I did not liked about the Vios is the lack of power-adjustable side mirrors. There's no arguing that the 1.3 J Vios is priced (and built) for fleet use. But in this day & age I'm still surprised Toyota removed that amenity to further save on costs. Did I mention the J variant also lacked intermittent wipers?
Under the hood lives the 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that has been carried over from the previous model, and is still married to a five-speed manual transmission. Displacing 1329cc, the ‘1NR-FE’ engine benefits from Dual VVT-i and musters 98 PS at 6000 rpm with 123 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm.
Off the line, power from the 1.3-liter four-cylinder motor was good. With its relatively compact size, the engine can easily reach high rpms. It's not exactly a torquey engine, but power delivery was smooth throughout the rev band. When it comes to overtaking other cars on the road, careful planning is a must since it lacks the necessary grunt from bigger-sized engines. With a well-timed downshift (and plenty of road), drivers can easily pass other cars in the 2019 Vios.
Speaking of shifting gears, changing cogs on the five-speed manual transmission was slick, if a bit notchy. I'll admit, it's been a while since I've driven a car with a manual gearbox. But it was actually a nice refresher to actually work the clutch pedal and put the car in gear. The clutch's biting point was somewhere in the middle; not too low and not too high. This allowed me to go through busy town roads and bustling city streets without much trouble while in first gear. The gear shifter itself felt nice to the touch and was easy to slot into the correct cog.
All well and good, but I did notice something rather strange with the manual transmission, particularly its final drive ratio. On fifth gear, while cruising at a steady 100 km/h, the engine was turning over at a pretty high 3000 rpm. Smaller engines (i.e. 1.3L) are best fitted with close ratio gearboxes for better acceleration (at the expense of top speed), and we suspect that to be the case, as evidenced by the higher-than-normal RPMs at cruising speed. Surprisingly, the 1.3-liter motor was still able to return an admirable 9.5 - 10.5 km/l in mixed city and highway driving conditions.
While engine performance can be considered as adequate, the 2019 Vios does seems to have a better ride quality than the previous model. Don’t get me wrong, the past Vios already had a comfortable ride. However, this particular refresh rode better over bumps and rutted streets. Either Toyota tweaked the chassis, upgraded the dampers or maybe it has something to do with the 175/65 Yokohama DB series tires that are fitted on this 1.3 J. Whatever Toyota did, it certainly made riding in the 2019 Vios that more comfortable in both long roadtrips and short city runs.
Handling on the 2019 Vios was predictable and safe. The electronic power steering was light when you’re strolling around town or maneuvering into a parking space. It only becomes slightly heavy while traveling at highway speeds. Cornering ability on the Vios was also good while body roll was kept to a minimum.
At Php 685,000, the Vios 1.3J is still a cheap and cheerful runaround for those that are looking at a decent four-door sedan. Yes, the Vios has slightly gone up in price, but there's a very good reason: safety.
There was a time when the lower grade variants didn't come with safety features beyond seatbelts, but that's not the case anymore. Yes you read that right, the 1.3 J is no longer bare for safety. For 2019, Toyota made sure that from the top-of-the-range 1.5 G Prime CVT all the way to the humble 1.3 Base, all models will be equipped to the hilt for safety. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA) are all standard, along with vehicle stability control (VSC) and hill-start assist (HSA). Heck, all variants even come with seven airbags.
Whether you’re looking to buy your first car on a budget, thinking of adding another automobile to your garage, or re-fleeting your taxi service, the Vios 1.3J has just become a stronger -and safer- choice.