I never have a problem when people ask me what compact hatch to buy. Get a Toyota Yaris, I tell them. No-one has yet come back and told me I was wrong.
As a long-standing Toyota fan, I have always looked forward to testing the Yaris, and have sampled every successive generation ever since the cute and slightly oddball original Yaris appeared on our shores back in 1999.
So what will I be telling would-be buyers of the latest 2011 reincarnation, which is larger inside and altogether more mature and stylish? You’ve guessed – go and buy one.
So why Toyota above other brands? Because no-one has arguably produced a better all rounder that’s so reliable, easy on the eye, user friendly and guaranteed to hold its value well. You may pay a little extra than for some rivals, but it’ll be money well spent in the long run.
So let’s take a look at what the latest Yaris is all about. For a start, Yaris has undergone a big image change. The rounded, friendly face has morphed into an altogether more mature and angular car that is larger on the inside and striking from all angles.
Where previous Yarises were cute and cuddly, new Yaris is more self-assured, a little less quirky and a little more sophisticated. Yaris has come in line with the rest of the current Toyota family and there are strong echoes of the bonier and angular iQ in its design. In particular, the Yaris front grille is very striking and the top T Spirit model I have been testing has a smart chrome V-shape traced in the grille.
The interior is also radically different, while retaining Toyota’s traditional ease of use and ‘feel at home’ vibe.
The test car Yaris offered an instant perfect driving position, with clear, unobstructed vision of all the main dials through the steering wheel and the central main dash information display (complete with funky graded tint colouring) holds no terrors for technophobes, with instant access to CD, tuner, Bluetooth and navigation.
If there’s a minor disappointment, it’s that the stylised grainy black dashboard and console material (think liquorice log, folks) is hard and unyielding and not very tactile, although undoubtedly built to last.
Slightly hard but well contoured seats are a generous size and shore you up well on a long journey but again the shiny fabric used isn’t especially welcoming.
A perky 1.33-litre petrol engine is unobtrusive and quiet and goes about its business quietly and efficiently and the test car’s automatic gearbox enjoys the smoothest of changes that come and go like a thief in the night. Toyota ramp up the fun factor here by inclusion of racing driver-style paddle shifts for fingertip control at the wheel, in case you want a more hand-on approach to driving and some extra excitement and input.
There’s also a sequential straight up and down channel on the console, so you’re really spoilt for choice here with driving styles.
The Yaris is really built for conservative everyday driving, and that’s what most owners will expect, however there is plenty of willingness if you dig deep, as the T Spirit grade indicates. And ride quality is excellent as the Yaris soaks up the worst of bumps efficiently, making light of the 40-plus speed bumps I endure every day of my commuter trip across country. My own car shakes me to pieces every time here, so this is quite a luxury.
New Yaris excels on space, with generous width and headroom and excellent rear legoom, plus a cleverly designed floor console with multi-purpose cup holders and useful indentations.
Converting the rear seats quickly reveals an impressive amount of maximum luggage space, although the floor is created at two levels, as they don’t tumble forward out of the way. With seats in normal position, the everyday boot space is wide, deep and genuinely useful.
Stand-out features include a speed camera warning beeps (a godsend), side repeaters on door mirror tips and rain-sensing heavy duty single front wiper, which cleans efficiently.
Overall, the Yaris does everything well and there’s precious little to dislike and much to admire. Yaris marches on with a little more style and swagger, and why not? It’s still the number one choice for many. Take my word for it.
> Toyota Yaris1.3 T Spirit, £14,385 (Yaris prices start at £11,170).
> Powered by 1.33 VVT-i petrol engine producing 99bhp; multidrive S automatic gearbox with paddle-shift.
> T Spirit features 15-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof, front foglamps, chrome strip in grille, choice of nine colours, dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers.