Driven: Toyota Yaris Hybrid

Is a boot-load of tech enough to keep this green eco-hatch from feeling the blues?

The original Toyota Prius is 20 years old now. A revelation when it appeared, it allowed the hybrid powertrain to become normalised and (generally accepted, an ecological stepping stone between gas-guzzling petrol engines and polar bear friendly electric cars.

Toyota combined a petrol engine with a small battery pack and an electric motor to create something that, theoretically at least, offers the best of both worlds. Since then it’s been fitted to all sorts of cars, including this, the Yaris supermini.

Introduced back in 2012, the Yaris is beginning to get on a bit, so this year it gets a tidy up of the styling and an equipment boost. The changes consist of a more aggressive treatment to the front end that brings it into line with the rest of the Toyota range, while mechanical changes underneath promise to improve ride and handling.

While the hybrid has stiffer suspension than the normally powered models in the range in order to compensate for the extra weight it has to carry around, it’s fair to say that the ride quality is mostly good. It absorbs an awful lot of the dreadful urban roads Cambridgeshire throws at the car, that extra weight actually helping matters slightly and making the car feel altogether more substantial.

It can’t ride the high-speed bumps with quite the same grace as the Ford Fiesta or Seat Ibiza though, and falls short when it comes to sporting prowess. The Yaris is a cautious car, trying hard to remain true to its green credentials, so high-speed cross-country runs are not its forte. Stick to the stop-start nature of the city and it’s pleasant enough, though.

Of course, being a hybrid attention turns to economy, and the Yaris promises an impressive 78.5mpg, a figure that could only be matched by some noisy diesel-powered alternative. The theory is that the tiny battery and electric motor take over some of the urban running, and they actually do – the engine switches off and the little EV-Mode light switches on surprisingly frequently.

It doesn’t appear to reduce fuel use significantly though, with roughly 50mpg being shown by the on-board computer during my time with the car. It was possible, while trying very hard, to sneak into the mid 60s, but otherwise it’s only using around 10% less fuel than my 17-year old Yaris, which doesn’t seem like a massive step forward. That said, it’s no worse than any other of its ilk on the market, and there are serious benefits to be had.

Outside of the obvious tax benefits (first year tax is just £100, while company car buyers face a Benefit in Kind burden of just 17%) buyers will find the cabin to be a supremely quiet place to be. It’s near-silent when running in pure electric mode, while the 1.5-litre petrol engine is barely audible when it fires up to assist. With a spacious cabin, especially in the rear, and a boot-load of high-tech goodies, a blindfolded passenger could be fooled into thinking they were in something far larger and luxurious than a Japanese city car. It’s solidly built too, although the plastics are a tad hard in places and there’s not a huge amount of design flair.

Yes, this top-spec ‘Excel’ model with its leather and Alcantara trim, chrome trim and automatic-everything might be a tad expensive, but the Hybrid can be picked up for around the same money as a mid-spec Fiesta. That makes the Yaris an excellent choice for those that spend most of their time in the city, where the benefits of the hybrid system and the grown-up nature of the car stand out.

Model Tested: Toyota Yaris Hybrid Excel
Price: £19,295
Range: £12,995 – £19,845
Top speed: 103 mph
0-62 mph: 11.8 seconds
Power: 101 PS (99 bhp)
Torque: N/A
Monthly PCP*: £263
Official fuel economy: 78.5 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 82 g/km
Car Tax: £140 (£100 in Year 1)
Insurance group: 8E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.