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First Drive: Toyota Yaris – Does more power for hybrid supermini make it more desirable?

Toyota has given its Yaris supermini a bit of refresh for 2024, including the addition of a more powerful hybrid engine. James Batchelor tries it out.

(Source: Toyota)
(Source: Toyota)

What is it?

(Source: Toyota)
(Source: Toyota)

While some carmakers have abandoned the small car market in search for higher profits and more well-healed customers, Toyota remains resolutely focussed on this sector of the market. Its Aygo X shows there’s still life in the city car class, while the Yaris, a mainstay of Toyota’s range since 1999, is a strong seller here in the UK.

The current car was only launched in 2020 but Toyota believes continued sales are reliant on continual improvements, so it’s updated the Yaris for 2024.

What’s new?

We say updated – tweaking would be a more apt description. The bulk of the changes are technology improvements inside, consisting of a brand new set of digital instruments in front of the driver.

As is now the norm, the car’s safety kit has been boosted with new driver assistance tech, including some big car features such as pre-collision warning and even a system that prevents the driver undertaking ‘unintentionally’ another car on the motorway. There’s also a brand new, more powerful engine option, and to celebrate the introduction of this there’s a special ‘Premiere Edition’.

What’s under the bonnet?

Unlike its rivals which come with a bevvy of engine options, the fourth-generation Yaris has only ever come with one – a 114bhp petrol-hybrid engine option.

Now, Toyota has added a more powerful unit – it’s still a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, but now it develops 129bhp. The electric motor’s power has been boosted from 59kW to 62kW and the second of the car’s motor generator’s torque has been upped from 141 to 185Nm. It’s even greener than the 114bhp version, strangely, as the CO2 figures are lower.

What’s it like to drive?

The new 129bhp engine, badged ‘130’, is only available on the GR Sport and the ‘Premiere Edition’, but as the latter is only a limited run special, we took the GR Sport for a test drive. The GR Sport gets a stiffer suspension set-up than regular models – indeed, it’s far firmer than an equivalent Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo or Renault Clio Esprit Alpine, and can give a surprisingly brittle quality to the ride on roads pockmarked with lumps and bumps. The firm suspension undoubtedly gives the already agile Yaris an extra level of sportiness, but you can’t help but feel it’s slightly at odds with the powertrain, which is designed more for fuel efficiency and about prioritising pure-electric running as much as possible.

In regular driving there’s not much between the 114 and 129bhp engines, but you will notice the extra oomph between 50 and 70mph – the more powerful unit feels a lot more eager to accelerate up to motorway speeds – and the electric motor seems more keen to whizz the car silently around town.

How does it look?

There’s a new ‘HEV’ badge replacing the previous ‘Hybrid’ one on the tailgate, but that’s it. Toyota hasn’t messed with the Yaris’s styling, and it’s easy to see why as despite the car passing its fourth birthday recently, it still looks fresh and modern.

What’s it like inside

Just like with the outside, Toyota hasn’t wasted its time by needlessly changing things. So, there’s still the same attractively styled dashboard and quality feel – the felt on the doors is a highlight. There is quite a chunky uplift in terms of technology, however, with GR Sport, Excel and Premiere Edition cars getting a new 12.3-inch digital instrument display. The driver can customise it thanks to 12 different display patterns, and there are four display themes called, strangely, ‘Casual, Smart, Tough and Sporty’.

Space in the back remains tight, though, with six-footers likely to find it difficult to get comfy, and the boot is a little too small compared with a Renault Clio, for instance.

What’s the spec like?

(Source: Toyota)
(Source: Toyota)

The Yaris is pretty well equipped for the money. Entry-level cars get the full suite of safety equipment, 16-inch alloys, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a reversing camera. The predicted best-seller, the Design trim, adds larger wheels and a seven-inch digital driver’s display, while GR Sport features more racy exterior sterling inside and out, including 18-inch alloys and sports seats, as well as a 10.5-inch infotainment system and 12.3-inch digital driver’s display.. Excel and Premiere Edition add a couple of extra luxuries; the limited-run Premiere is marked out by a range of unique body colours and a black roof.

Verdict

The Yaris remains a solid choice in the diminishing supermini class. While the new, more powerful engine doesn’t transform the Yaris into a thrilling car to drive, the extra performance is welcome.

While other superminis are better in one particular area, the Yaris is appealing in many, and the combination of a smart design and an efficient hybrid powertrain will seal the deal for many. It’s a shame, though, that the 129bhp engine is reserved for the top-spec cars, as the GR Sport costs from £28,805 which seems a lot.

Facts at a glance

Model as tested: Toyota Yaris GR Sport


Price as tested: £28,805


Engine: 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol, plus electric motor


Power: 129bhp


Torque: 120Nm


0-62mph: 9.2 seconds


Top speed: 109mph


MPG: 65.4-67.3


CO2 emissions: 96-98g/km