added new flagship SR
models to its Yaris
line-up. Billed as
a warm hatch, its a
model that most
customers will warm
to very easily…
ORIGINALLY LAUNCHED in 1999, the Yaris was restyled
in 2003 and the second gener-ation introduced in 2006.
The Yaris 'supermini' range of three- and five-door hatch-backs is Toyota's best-selling model in Europe, with over 1.6 million sold since its launch.
In 2000, the Yaris was voted Car of the Year both in Europe and Japan. In 2006, over 250,000 Yaris models were sold in Europe, gaining a 6 per cent share of the B segment (or supermini) double that of
its first year of sales.
Toyota said this week that Yaris European sales are expected to reach 270,000 units in 2007 in a sector which is reducing in size as A and B segment MPVs take more of the market. Last year, European B seg-ment hatchback sales were reduced to 3.9 million units whilst smaller MPVs increased to 5.8 million.
In the UK it is a slightly different picture. Supermini sales in 2006 actually increased by 2.9 per cent to 753,858 vehicles, making it the largest new car sales sector. MPV sales of all types increased by 7.4 per cent, to 124,850 units.
The DNA of Yaris, says Toyota, is its compact packaging, high levels
of comfort and specification, seating and load carrying versatility and class-leading safety. Existing customers are, according to Toyota,
the biggest ambassadors for Yaris sales.
To broaden the appeal of the Yaris range still further (particularly to younger customers), Toyota is launching from 1 February in Europe and 1 April in the UK a sportier flagship model, the Yaris SR 1.8-litre Dual VVT-i in three- and five-door bodystyles. European sales this year of these sportier editions should be around 12,000 units. In the UK
the 1.8 SR will account for 7 per cent (2,500 units) of all 36,000 Yaris sales. In addition to the new 1.8-litre models, SR branding will be given to top-of-the-range 1.3 VVT-i petrol and 1.4 D-4D diesel versions.
The increased SR sub-brand models should take almost a quarter of all Yaris UK sales.
Unlike other Yaris models, which are built in France with engines supp-lied from Toyota's Deeside plant, the SR 1.8 VVT-i variants and their engines are manufactured in Japan.
In the UK, the model name will be SR. In Europe it is TS. Toyota GB explained that because their Yaris line-up differed from that of main-land Europe, they did not want the new model confused with their current T Sport variants. Therefore the UK will now have Yaris models available with 'comfort' specification (the T2, T3 and T Spirit) and 'sports' models with the SR branding.
More important than all of this, at least from the customers' point of view, are the prices. Yaris SR models will start at £10,695, whilst the flagship variants with the new 1.8-litre VVT-i engine will be priced at £12,995 for the three-door version and £13,495 for the five-door model.
Currently, the UK's Yaris customers are aged in their mid-50s. Toyota GB expects SR variants to attract successful single people, young couples and a number of older enthusiastic drivers. The average age profile should therefore drop to the mid-40s. Toyota also expects there to be a 50:50 split between male and female buyers, with 68 per cent of customers opting for the five-door versions.
Toyota took great trouble this week to explain that the Yaris SR 1.8 VVT-i is not intended to be a 'hot hatch' but more of a 'warm' model.
It combines sportier performance with style but also with added refine-ment and the all-important driveability needed for today's driving conditions all the requirements of 'real' customers. It will sell against supermini competitor models such as the VW Polo Sport, Vauxhall Corsa SXi, Renault Clio Dynamique and Peugeot 207 Sport.
Toyota says that none of the SR 1.8's main competitors provide traction control, stability control, a roof spoiler, side skirts, a sports exhaust, driver's knee airbag, Smart Entry and Start system and climate control air conditioning as standard. Nor can any match the Yaris's 17-inch wheel size, or the 131bhp produced by its 1.8-litre VVT-i engine. In spite of all these additional features and performance advantage, Toyota customers pay no more than £680 above the
price of the cheapest of its key rival models. Interestingly where
the Volkswagen Polo 1.6 Sport is concerned when the value of the Toyota's specification is taken into account, the Yaris is actually cheaper by more than £1,000.
Positioned as 'The best Yaris you can buy', Toyota says the SR 1.8 delivers premium equipment features, great open-road driving charact-eristics and sporty yet sophisticated styling. And, in keeping with the latest generation Yaris on which it is based, it delivers exceptional interior space, safety and comfort for a car in its class.
It is the first Toyota to be equipped with the all-new 1.8-litre four-cylinder Dual VVT-i engine, a unit which gives enjoyable driving per-formance, refinement and fuel economy. Maximum power of 131bhp is produced at 6,000rpm with a torque output of 128lb ft. Equipped with a slick, five-speed manual gearbox, it will accelerate from rest to 62mph in 9.3 seconds and reach a top speed of 121mph. Combined cycle fuel economy is 39.2mpg and carbon dioxide emissions are 170g/km, placing the Yaris SR 1.8 in Band E for Vehicle Excise Duty.
An insurance group rating of 7E is expected.
The SR 1.8 also has a sports-tuned chassis and suspension for good handling and ride comfort. The car sits 8mm lower than the regular Yaris, with suspension adjusted to suit the standard-fit 17-inch wheels and 205/45R17 tyres.
The Electric Power Steering has also been revised to suit the model's sporting performance, operating 12 per cent quicker for more precise and nimble control.
The exterior styling includes distinctive deep front and rear bumpers, side skirts and a discreet rear roof spoiler. SR badging, LED rear lights and a chrome sports exhaust add to the sporting look.
On the inside, the sports seats and doors are trimmed in a fabric exclusive to the SR 1.8. The air vents have chrome highlights, the steering wheel is leather-covered and the main controls have amber backlighting. The instrument panel features hi-tech Optitron units
with analogue speedometer and tachometer read-outs.
The equipment specification marks out the model's premium positioning with features such as climate control air conditioning, six-speaker
audio system with CD player, Smart Entry and Start system and an adjustable steering column.
The SR 1.8 incorporates all of the safety standards of the existing Yaris range and its top five-star Euro NCAP rating for adult passenger protection. It is equipped with nine airbags including a driver's
knee airbag plus a comprehensive array of active safety systems including Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control. All are fitted
Although described as a 'warm' hatch, the new Yaris 1.8 VVT-i is a model that most customers will 'warm to' very easily. It has sporty looks but done in a refined and acceptable way. There is an improved interior with supportive front seats and lots of space, including head-room. But it is the cultured driving characteristics that will, I think, appeal most.
This front-wheel drive Yaris is not intended to be a 'road burner' and instead delivers a more polished drive and appearance. An increasing number of real-life customers do not want to be seen driving tacky
and generally fragile hot hatches which have bone-crushingly hard suspension systems. Refinement is the key ingredient today and this is where the SR 1.8 excels. Yes, it is quick when needed. But today's road conditions traffic congestion and speed cameras en-mass dictate a different motoring approach.
Overall, the newcomer especially my preferred five-door model is a good package. The specification is comprehensive and the sus-pension firm enough to cope with the extra performance without being uncomfortable. The electronic power steering is precise and gives quick-acting feedback and the free-revving engine is really responsive.
Around 90 per cent of the torque output is available from 2,000 to 6,000rpm, which means that it's really flexible to drive and almost as responsive as a diesel unit. Okay, the engine sounds a bit busy at high rpm, but for most of the time the 'grunt' or torque allows overtaking of slower moving traffic without having to work the engine hard. Cruising at high speeds on a motorway, the engine would sound a little more relaxed if it had been mated to a six-speed 'box rather than the current five-speed unit.
All in all, the roomy Yaris SR 1.8 VVT-i drives very well, with a com-pliant ride and handling. It has sporty good looks and a decent level of kit with a high level of safety features. There are a few minor niggles: the hard plastic facia was not to my taste, a sixth gear would guarantee even more refinement and the luggage space is small if the rear seats are in use. More important plus points include the brand's well-known engineering refinement and build quality. On balance, Toyota's latest Yaris appears to have everything necessary to ensure it's a certain sales success. David Miles
Toyota Yaris SR 1.8 Dual VVT-i 5-door | £13,495
Maximum speed: 121mph | 0-62mph: 9.3 seconds
Test MPG: 39.2mpg | Power: 131bhp | Torque: 128lb ft
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