Toyota’s hybrid tech rolls out into Europe’s biggest market segment in the shape of the Yaris, but is it a wholesome alternative to humble petrol engine?

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Toyota may not have invented the hybrid-powered vehicle, but it has become accustomed to breaking through petrol-electric barriers nonetheless. The Yaris Hybrid is Toyota's first foray into the supermini segment with parallel hybrid technology.

When the original Toyota Prius went on sale in Japan 20 years ago, it was the culmination of a development process that had begun five years earlier, and marked the introduction of the first mass-produced hybrid car.

The Yaris is smaller and cleaner than the established hybrid norm

The seismic ripples generated not only by its novel configuration but also by the 2.5 million sales it subsequently accumulated continue to be felt across an industry that’s still working frantically to catch up with the manufacturing colossus.

The Yaris has the potential to be an even more conductive lightning rod than its bigger hybrid brother. It is smaller, cleaner and, most importantly, cheaper than the established hybrid norm, and it is perfectly positioned to unlock the untapped market potential of the petrol-electric supermini. Toyota has given the Yaris a much needed facelift and equipment boost for 2017, with the hybrid receiving much of that attention - essential considering it made up 40 percent of Yaris sales pre-facelift.

Buyers can pick from one of six trim levels: Active, Icon, Icon Tech, Design, Bi-tone and Excel, as well as numerous styling packs to give owners the opportunity to toughen up or personalise their Toyota city car.

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Toyota Yaris Hybrid rear

Only a manufacturer as heavily invested in petrol-electric propulsion as Toyota could launch a car at once so pragmatic and so technologically advanced as the Yaris Hybrid. Toyota counts this car as the world’s first full hybrid supermini.

The existence of Honda’s Jazz Hybrid makes that claim debatable to put it mildly, but this is doubtless one of the very first ‘sub-compact’ hatchbacks we’ve tested that can run on petrol power, battery power, or a combination of both.

The Yaris is one of the cheapest hybrid models available

Why pragmatic? Because much of the mechanicals of this car have been recycled from the second-generation ‘XW20’ Prius. It’s a tactic that has contributed to Toyota achieving one of its primary objectives: at £16,195, this is the cheapest full hybrid on the market, and by some margin.

Also, building the car at the firm’s factory in Valenciennes, France, means that its price should be immune from the yen-related currency fluctuations that could affect some of its rivals.

The 1.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder petrol engine, sourced from the XW20 Prius parts bin, has been engineered for less friction, and 70 percent of its components have been redesigned. It now produces slightly less power and torque, but Toyota says its thermal efficiency has improved by six percent.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive is made up of a downsized E-CVT and a smaller electric motor than you’ll find in a current Toyota Prius or Auris Hybrid, plus a nickel-metal hydride battery made up of 120 individual cells rather than 168 as before.

The Yaris’s battery is 20 percent smaller (by volume) and 11kg lighter than that in the Auris. It is located entirely beneath the rear seats and barely intrudes into either passenger or boot space.

According to our road test scales, the car weighs just 90kg more than the 1.3-litre Toyota Yaris we tested. So far, so quietly impressive.

For 2017, Toyota gave the Yaris range a facelift, and made some mechanical changes to the small hybrid to improve ride and handling, with new anti-roll bars, roll restrictors, front driveshafts and subframe fitted.


Toyota Yaris Hybrid dashboard

It’s almost a shame that the pay-off for Toyota’s inventive and cost-effective reshaping of its hybrid hardware in the Yaris Hybird is a pretty ordinary interior. 

The latest Toyota Yaris was always intended to swallow a battery pack, but Toyota’s engineers still deserve credit for preserving the car’s internal dimensions, and they can take pride in the fact that spaciousness remains one of the car’s most compelling assets.

It's a shame that the Yaris Hybrid's interior is so ordinary

An extra 20mm on the front overhang may have nudged the Yaris close to four metres but, seated inside, it would be hard to persuade a blindfolded rear cabin passenger that the model wasn’t much bigger than that. As well as accommodating adult-sized thigh bones, it feels airy in a way that’s matched only by its closest rival, the Jazz Hybrid.

The Yaris swaps its revcounter for a backlit battery dial that shuffles between Charge, Eco and Power. Similarly, there are now two buttons adjacent to the handbrake, for selecting Eco and EV modes.

Otherwise, a splash of Toyota Prius-blue switchgear are all that distinguishes the model from a standard Yaris. Such a policy may be useful in helping to lever Toyota’s conservative supermini demographic into a new-fangled hybrid, but the cockpit could also be interpreted as a missed opportunity for distinctiveness. The company continues to mass-produce robustness better than anyone, but its mainstream competitors have moved interior style several streets ahead. The facelift saw more standard equipment fitted and the interior was given a light refresh to make it appear more sporty.

On the standard equipment front, the entry-level Active model comes with steel wheels, heated wing mirrors, front electric windows, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, projector headlights and Toyota's full suite of safety technology, while upgrading to Icon adds 15in alloy wheels, keyless start, cruise control, road sign recognition, rear view camera and Toyota's Touch 2 infotainment system complete with DAB radio and 7.0in touchscreen display.

New for 2017 is the Icon Tech trim, which as you will have guessed adds more technology to the Yaris package, such as, sat nav and front parking sensors, while opting for the Design models add luxuries such as, arear spoiler, 16in alloy wheels, tinted rear windows and a gloss black honeycomb grille.

The new Bi-Tone range adds black door mirrors, rear LED lights, LED day-running lights and rear electric windows to the package, as well as the option to pick one of the snazzy bi-tone colour scheme which comes with a black roof and a choice of Nebula Blue, Tokyo Red, Glacier Pearl and Platinum Bronze. Topping the range is the Excel trim which adds 16in alloy wheels, part-leather and Alcantara upholstery, automatic headlights and wipers, chrome sills and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.


Toyota Yaris Hybrid side profile

The key consideration in this section has to be fuel economy. No one who’s driven a Toyota hybrid would expect particularly strong performance from the Yaris – and nor would they get it.

But with an increasingly wide selection of sub-100g, road-tax-free superminis to choose from, this car must at least get close to its 76mpg combined economy claim in order to justify Toyota’s “class-leading efficiency” billing.

A true 65mpg is possible in economy-minded urban driving

And it can’t. Or at least it can’t across the broad mix of driving through which every Autocar road test subject is assessed.

Our average economy result of 51.6mpg would be good for a supermini powered by petrol alone, but you’d hope for a much better return from a car billed as among the most frugal on the road.

You’ll get a much better return, mind, if you spend the majority of your time driving in town – which is exactly where superminis tend to be driven. A true 65mpg is possible in economy-minded, exclusively urban driving, where the battery regenerates kinetic energy with impressive speed. You’d be lucky to get within 10mpg of that in a Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion or Ford Fiesta Econetic.

Another advantage the Yaris has is refinement. Toyota has taken a lot of the high-rev mechanical thrash out of its petrol-electric powerplant, and the car is quite well mannered even at the wide throttle openings necessary for anything approaching a hurry.

But it’s slow – particularly above 50mph, where modest power, plenty of frontal area and an efficiency-biased transmission totally hamstring its performance. On a fairly windy day at MIRA, the Yaris Hybrid failed to record a 90mph two-way average over a standing mile.

There’s only one other car we’ve tested that has failed similarly – and that’s the Renault Twizy.


Toyota Yaris Hybrid front profile

Producing a sophisticated ‘big car’ ride quality was one of the key challenges that faced Toyota when developing the current Yaris. With the heavier Hybrid, the most important barometer of dynamic success is how well the manufacturer has preserved the balance of handling and ride.

The answer is: pretty well, really. Mechanical differences are minimal; the Hybrid features the same MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension as the standard car, but spring and damper rates have both been modified to compensate for the additional weight.

The Yaris remains an amiable if anonymous urban companion

Faced with tortured UK asphalt, the Yaris responds in much the same way as before. It flexes leniently over lumps and ridges but can’t duplicate the supple, controlled damping of a Ford Fiesta or Volkswagen Polo.

Toyota had already worked hard to reduce the noise and vibration of the distant chassis function, and that pays dividends in a hybrid which occasionally permits silent running.

With good rolling comfort, a 9.4-metre turning circle and light, frictionless steering, the Yaris remains an amiable if anonymous urban companion. Beyond the stop-start dirge of a city centre, however, it is less appealing, although blame for this can’t be laid entirely at the hybrid tech’s door.

Toyota’s packaging prowess has kept the battery within the wheelbase and mounted it as low as possible to retain a respectable centre of gravity, while weight distribution is almost identical to that of the 1.3 TR Toyota Yaris.

The extra heft is actually welcome because it makes the Hybrid feel slightly more substantial and less easily disturbed over smaller bumps. Dynamically the car is cautiously competent, but its economy-biased agenda is all-pervading. It is most evident in its contempt for quick changes of direction and the steering’s reluctance to convey any feedback at all.


Toyota Yaris Hybrid

We’ve come to anticipate a hefty premium for the addition of hybrid gadgetry, but here the Toyota Yaris departs from the norm.

Toyota may be able to crow about the Yaris Hybrid’s class-best CO2 emissions (79g/km) and claimed fuel economy, but plenty of its rivals dip under the 100g/km VED-free barrier, which is the only watershed that matters for the private owners who buy most superminis. Residual values are strong, but those same diesel-powered rivals would deliver better economy over an extended driving range.

If nothing could tempt you into a compact diesel, the Yaris deserves your consideration

To extract value for money from the Yaris at the pump, it must be confined to the urban sprawl or driven with the patience of a saint. However, if nothing could talk you into a diesel-engined compact, the Toyota merits consideration.

Its main rival, the now discontinued Jazz Hybrid, was more expensive, its powertrain is not of the same standard and, because it emits 104g/km of CO2, it will require you to pay road tax. It's worth pointing out that some entry-level pricing undercuts some conventional diesel alternatives too.



Toyota Yaris Hybrid rear quarter

Toyota’s real achievement here is in having made a petrol-electric supermini that doesn’t look particularly expensive.

Our fully loaded test car disguised this somewhat, but you can buy an entry-level Yaris Hybrid for less than a mid-spec 1.4-litre Vauxhall Corsa. We doff our cap to that – just as we do to the excellent packaging, practicality and good driving manners.

The practical small hybrid is well priced but has its limitations

However, the Yaris is a one-dimensional machine slow enough to make a diesel Chevrolet Aveo seem thrilling. More to the point, it’s only particularly economical in low-speed urban traffic.

For urban motorists who feel that that’s exactly where a supermini should be economical, and who are less interested in how they get around than how much it costs and how much they can carry, then this could be a perfect second car.

But those of us who regularly venture out of town – and who enjoy the trip when we do – would find better economy and a lot more fun elsewhere.


Toyota Yaris Hybrid 2013-2020 First drives