Cars don't always need to have a gimmick. Sometimes they can just be straightforward and simple, with a clear mission for the duties they are destined for. If you're in the city, commuting to work or chauffering around a small family, you don't need anything too special. The Toyota Yaris ZR is pure, undistilled Affordable Motoring at its finest.
What Is It?
The 2015 facelift of the Toyota Yaris ZR, ($21,490 as tested) the top model of the smallest possible car in Toyota's extensive line-up, is a five-door hatchback with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder pushing a four-speed automatic gearbox to propel this little city car around Your Local Suburb at a modest pace. You can, of course, buy the sedan variant (in YRS or YRX spec), but the ZR is the best Toyota micro-hatchback on offer.
At 3905mm long, 1695mm wide and 1510mm tall and 1055kg, it's definitely a city-dweller, but the four surprisingly large passenger doors, five spacious seats and a goodly amount of (mostly vertical) boot space inside make the Yaris actually usable for a small family. My test car came in a beautiful red, with an absolutely immaculate high-gloss finish, although eight different colours are available to choose from.
The facelift brings a vaguely moustache-esque front end to the Yaris ZR, as well as a large lower front grille; the combo with the car's large and angular headlights actually looks really nice. 15-inch alloys mean it doesn't look like a van, the single central windscreen wiper does a surprisingly effective job, and the car's lines are modern without being unnecessarily racy. The rear actually looks a little bit sporty; a lot of that comes from the swollen lower bumper. Plenty of glass around all four corners gives you a clear view of the world around you.
What's It Good At?
For what is definitely a cheap car in the scheme of things, the Yaris ZR has a surprisingly decent and well-equipped set of features. You won't get bored sitting inside it as a passenger, chiefly thanks to that magical wireless standard known as Bluetooth. The 6.1-inch touchscreen in the centre of the Yaris' dash has an easily understandable and usable interface that is functionally quite similar to the Toyota 86.
You get satellite navigation with traffic alerts, which on one of the cheapest cars in Toyota's range is pretty impressive. You also get voice control for the navigation system, which means you don't have to — although you still have to be parked or crawling along to use the system in the first place. Fuel consumption read-outs over time is equally useful. I've actually been driving a $90,000 Lexus for the past week, and to be honest, really the only significant difference between the media systems of the two is that the Yaris doesn't get DAB+ digital radio.
There's a heap of room inside, too, and appreciably large windows and windscreen that make it a really easy car to drive in city traffic and around tight and narrow CBD and suburban streets. For a small car, it's really spacious and visibility is excellent for the driver, and the split-style glovebox has a hell of a lot of room. Parking is equally simple, made easier by the addition of a rear-view reversing camera and sensor package. It's that kind of thing that lends the Yaris ZR a simple, no-nonsense feel. You even get cruise control as standard.
The Toyota Yaris ZR gets five stars for safety; seven airbags, stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution and ABS. It's also quite a composed car when you drive it, which is not the case for all small models on the market today. The Yaris stays sure-footed and stable and rides flat through bends even if you're giving it a bit of a flick around the corners — entirely inappropriate given its target market and the entire point of the car, but good to know nonetheless.
What's It Not Good At?
Fuel consumption from the Yaris ZR I had for a week was merely OK but not spectacular. I managed an average of 7.1L per 100km, or a shade over 600km from the hatchback's 42-litre fuel tank. If you're a commuter this should be more than enough for a fortnight's travel, and it's on par with what you should expect out of other naturally-aspirated petrol small cars. It's a little bit of a distance from Toyota's rated 6.3L/100km fuel consumption figure, though, and I put that down to the four-speed auto having to work a little hard to get the car up to speed on my commute and a spot of highway driving.
The interior, too, is perfectly adequate but doesn't try to hide the fact that this first and foremost a functional vehicle. The seat materials and padding are comfortable enough, although the white-on-black fabric is a tiny bit naff, but the dashboard and door plastics are hard and hard-wearing and don't feel particularly luxe. I can attest to the fact that they are easy to wipe the occasional accidental boot scuff mark off, though. The ZR's sports steering wheel is comfortable to hold but does stand out a bit against the utilitarian rest of the dash construction.
The biggest potential issue with the Toyota Yaris ZR is its engine and gearbox combo. As one of the higher-specced models in Toyota's lineup, the Yaris gets the 1.5-litre VVT-i inline four-cylinder developing 80kW and 141Nm of torque and mated to a rather dated four-speed auto, and that means you'll be using the entire 6300rpm until redline to get yourself moving quickly through these tall gears. When you're into third gear, too, things get a little pedestrian; it's not a super-quick car for highway acceleration. If there was a manual option, the ZR would be easier to recommend, and Toyota's five-speed is well specced for city driving. Unfortunately it's only available in the SX hatch.
Should You Buy It?
The range-topping 2015 Toyota Yaris ZR has a lot of strong competition, especially from the updated Kia Rio and the brand new Mazda 2, both of which are really impressive vehicles in their own right and are equally well equipped — the 2 even has a heads-up display. That's the main issue with the new Yaris ZR — it's a pretty great car for the price you're paying, but there are cars out there that are arguably even better.
At the end of the day, the new Yaris is affordable motoring at its core. It's not even remotely a sporty car, but that's not what it's meant to be. It's dependable, relatively fuel efficient, reliable, feels well-built and doesn't offer any impediments to driving along the way. It handles surprisingly well, the interior is well-well appointed if a little Spartan, and the paint job is first-rate.
My main concern is the fact that the Yaris ZR, the top-spec model, has an outdated four-speed auto and that its engine, which necessarily has to do a lot of work to get even the miniscule Yaris going, is harsh and noisy towards the higher end of the rev range. You'll not be going anywhere quickly, although fuel consumption is pretty miserly because of it. It's not an especially refined driving experience, but it is relatively frugal.
But you're buying into that long and storied history of Toyota reliability with the new Yaris ZR, and getting yourself a five-door small car that'll easily handle the city duties it's meant for. And you get a lot for your $20,000 these days — sat-nav, Bluetooth playback from your smartphone, and nifty fuel consumption monitoring over time. The Yaris ZR is not a highway touring beast, obviously, but within the confines of Australia's capital cities you won't find yourself disappointed with it.