x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Dread renting a car no longer, because the new Yaris is perky, writes Kevin Hackett

Dread renting a car no longer, because the new Yaris is perky, writes Kevin Hackett.

Toyota’s latest Yaris doesn’t pretend to deliver any driving thrills, but with its smooth ride, it’s perfect for a daily grind in rush-hour traffic. Sarah Dea
Toyota’s latest Yaris doesn’t pretend to deliver any driving thrills, but with its smooth ride, it’s perfect for a daily grind in rush-hour traffic. Sarah Dea

Anyone would think that Toyota was showcasing a new gadget that would obliterate the iPhone, such is the fanfare surrounding its arrival in the UAE. As I turn up at the venue for the media briefing and road test, at the Meydan hotel in Dubai, there is a sea of red-and-white banners, flags and other paraphernalia surrounding the entrance. A DJ is spinning tunes in the cavernous area downstairs, there’s a party atmosphere and dozens of staff tear around making sure that the army of journos is kept fed, watered and entertained. Yes, all for a Yaris – the car that you hope won’t be foisted upon you when you approach the doors of a rental office.

Yet the market for cars such as this represents almost a quarter of all annual sales, so there’s a strong demand for cheap and reliable transportation. Cars like the Nissan Tiida, the Mitsubishi Lancer and others are everywhere here, but the Yaris is inescapable. And now there’s an all-new one.

When Toyota says “all-new”, that might be a tad misleading. What it actually mean is “newly styled one” because, at least when it comes to power trains, it’s the same as the model that it replaces, which means either 1.3L or 1.5L engines putting out 84 and 103hp respectively, coupled to four-speed automatic transmissions.

The real differences between it and the model that it replaces are a new look, larger dimensions and improved levels of kit. Externally, the Yaris saloon looks like the recent Camry, only smaller, and it does still look like its wheels are lost under a body that’s too big for it. But at least those tyres will be cheap enough to replace. It’s 110mm longer than before (reaching 4,410mm), 10mm wider and 15mm taller and, to be fair, whoever was in charge of styling it has made a decent fist of moving it more upmarket. It looks more expensive than it is, and that can only be a good thing.

Inside, too, the Camry association continues, with a horizontal beam dashboard that mimics its larger brother’s look. It appears graceful and stylish, way ahead of the Tiida and the Lancer, although what you, at first, think will be nice, cushioned and stitched textures are actually rock hard. There isn’t a soft surface anywhere, not even on the door armrests, although the higher-end models are treated to a leather-bound steering wheel. The seats are comfortable enough, and there’s a sense that, in buying this thing, you’ve availed yourself of excellent value for money. Toyota has actually made an effort to ensure those motoring on a budget aren’t reminded of the fact every time that they get in.

There’s little point in taking to desert or mountain roads in this car to see what it’s capable of, and I do have to question what the brochure copywriters were ingesting when they wrote: “While feeling at one with the car, you experience a superb driving experience that is in line with your inspiration.” What nonsense. The Yaris doesn’t pretend to deliver thrills on any level and it doesn’t need to – it’s simply a vehicle for the daily grind so that’s what I put it through. I plump for a 1.5L SE+ version and head into the insanity that is Dubai’s rush-hour traffic, along Umm Suqeim Road and Sheikh Zayed Road, reasoning that this is the kind of journey that most of these will be making.

This is the range-topper, with the aforementioned leather wheel, but there’s also (a rather pointless) keyless entry system and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and USB connectivity. The Yaris thrashes away whenever I squeeze the throttle, getting louder but not feeling like it’s going any quicker, but while the engine’s noises are uninspiring, at least wind noise and tyre roar are conspicuous only by their absence; Toyota’s attention to sound deadening paying off nicely.

It steers nicely, with next-to-no effort, even when parking, and the brakes are full of bite yet not over-assisted. And, yes, I do feel that this is a premium product, despite my sore left elbow, and when I pass other cars in its class, I reckon that I’m in the better car. The air conditioning is quite something, too – far better than that fitted in German cars such as my own.

The Yaris saloon, then, comes recommended. With it, Toyota has set out to obliterate the competition by offering more style and refinement than its rivals and, I have to concur, it’s a job well done. It will never be a car to yearn for, but, at least now, when you’re walking up to the doors of that rental agency, there’s no need to fear being dealt a Yaris. However, when it’s so cheap to buy in the first place, you have to ask yourself why you’d bother renting one in the first place?


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