Toyota Yaris Hybrid Excel
What makes a hybrid a good hybrid? Fuel efficiency and low running costs are probably up there, as is the general performance of the powertrain. One of the most important factors to consider is location: it is no longer viable to buy a diesel to use in a capital city, nor is it particularly smart to opt for a giant SUV that guzzles tonnes of petrol. Instead, a small hybrid hatchback might just do the job.
Super in the city
Described by Toyota as the "perfect city car, designed for the urban life," the fourth-generation Yaris certainly looks the part. It is dinky (measuring 3940mm in length and 1745mm in width), and is easy to manoeuvre. Parking in tight spots is a breeze not only due to its proportions but also its driver assistance equipment, including the "intelligent" front and rear parking sensors with automatic braking.
Most short trips in the centre of town can be done in electric-only driving mode, which is initiated by pressing the button on the centre console that reads 'EV mode'. Alternatively, 'Eco mode' helps to reduce the use of the new 1.5-litre petrol engine, though it will gently come to life when a heavy right foot is used to stomp on the accelerator.
This fourth-generation Yaris Hybrid has a new lithium-ion battery pack that boasts a greater power density, higher voltage, and weighs less than the one on the previous Yaris. This all helps to improve efficiency, lengthen the time that the car is in EV mode, and thereby reduce the amount spent on fuel. Lovely stuff.
As well as parking aids, the Yaris Excel is equipped with a long list of tech including "Full-range Adaptive Cruise Control", "Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Monitor", and a "Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection". The latter is an important addition to the assistance systems, particularly when in cities that are more bike-friendly. Another notable piece of tech is the "Eco-driving indicator", a little graphic displayed on the touchscreen when you're driving efficiently. If the driver is getting lairy and channelling her/his inner Elfyn Evans, the little graphic disappears—a stinging slap on the wrist! But in all seriousness, it is a gentle reminder to be conscious of fuel consumption and help save the whales.
Easy on the eye
A special hat-tip must be given to Toyota's exterior design team. It is by no means easy to design a car that looks a bit different without going rogue and producing something along the lines of the Pontiac Aztek (Walter White's horrific family car in Breaking Bad).
The Yaris Hybrid probably won't blow any minds, but the shapes and angles of its exterior are undeniably pleasing. Apparently the car was inspired by the shape of a bull... The resemblance is hard to see, but it definitely has a sporty, if not muscly character.
The lights at the front look pretty mean, and the sloping bonnet makes the stance appear very low. At the back, the wheel arches flare out, adding again to the sporty feel, and the LED light bar spanning the width ties it all together. It may not be groundbreaking, but the exterior of the Yaris is well executed.
Coming up short
There is a downside to the Yaris Hybrid: the interior. It is by no means the worst (in fact, it is considerably better than some of its competitors), but there is nothing here to get excited about. The dash is almost entirely made up of plastics—hard-wearing and practical, but dated. There are a few strips of chrome here and there, but no nice suedes or woods to touch.
The central 8-inch touchscreen (a smaller 7-inch screen is used in the basic 'Icon' spec) is plonked on the upper section of the dash. Its edges are rounded, and it is encased in a glossy plastic housing. The graphics are good enough, but the whole thing looks old school when compared to some of the sleeker units that are used in other new cars.
The gear selector is retro too. So many car makers are now opting for stubbier designs, but it seems like Toyota is hell bent on keeping its big upright stick. Above it sits a small glossy unit and display for climate control. It's reminiscent of an old CD-player unit. Please, Toyota, ditch it.
Luckily, the seats are comfortable and there is a surprising amount of leg room for passengers in both the front and the back. However, the compromise comes in the form of a teeny tiny boot. A big shop at Tesco will need to be thrown across the back seats as well as the boot.
Are fuel efficiency and low running costs super important? The Yaris Hybrid has you covered—we clocked 63mpg over the course of a week and spent a little over £20 to top up the tank. But as well as its frugality, there is something to be said for the size and design of the Yaris . This is where the little hatchback crushes its current competitors (the Renault Clio and Honda Jazz, both of which are available as small hybrid hatchbacks). The Yaris Excel offers an excellent overall package, one that is currently unparalleled.
Spec: Toyota Yaris Hybrid Excel HEV CVT
Price as tested: £22,220
Chutzpah rating: 4/5