Toyota's new small car packs big safety punch

Car maker says Yaris is world’s safest compact car.

Consumer demand for more comprehensive safety features means the days of the sub-$20,000 Toyota small car may be over.

That’s the frank assessment of Toyota Australia’s Vice-President of Sales and Marketing Sean Hanley, speaking at the launch of the all-new Yaris compact car. 

The new entry-level Toyota model has been completely overhauled with new platform, body and styling, plus a host of high-tech safety features usually the preserve of far more expensive models. 

But pricing for the comprehensively reengineered model has also increased across the board, with the entry-level Yaris now broaching the $20k barrier for the first time. 

The previous model’s entry-level price was a thrifty $15,390, albeit with a smaller 1.3-litre engine than the new 1.5-litre units. 

The pricing shift moves the Yaris perilously close to the larger Corolla, with the price difference between an entry-level Yaris and Corolla now only about $1000. 

2020 Toyota Yaris  ZR  Hybrid

But Mr Hanley said prices starting from $22,130 for the entry-level manual Ascent Sport still represent strong value, particularly for a vehicle that “resets the benchmark in its class”.

“The all-new Yaris has sharper styling, a dynamic new platform, powerful and efficient new powertrains, an engaging new driving experience and the cutting-edge safety that is otherwise available only in luxury cars,” he said.

“Its capability and features – including quality, safety and connectivity – go beyond anything else offered in this segment and respond directly to the needs and preferences of compact-car buyers.”

This is the fourth-generation Yaris, 250,000 of which have found a home in Australia since first going on sale here, while a total of 8.7 million have been sold worldwide.

Now as before, the Yaris will be sold here in three specification levels – Ascent Sport, SX and ZR – and with the choice of a three-cylinder petrol engine or a three-cylinder petrol-hybrid. 

Pricing for the new range starts at $22,130 for the Ascent Sport manual, this can also be had with a direct shift CVT with 10 ratios for an additional $1500. 

2020 Toyota Yaris  ZR  Hybrid

Next step up the ladder is the petrol-powered mid-spec SX, which tips the scales at $27,020, while the same engine in the top-sec ZR costs $30,100. 

Both the SX and ZR can also be had with a fuel-efficient hybrid-powertrain, adding $2000 over their equivalent petrol variants, meaning the range-topping ZR hybrid carries a $32,100 sticker price.  

Power in the petrol models comes from a new 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine that is similar to the 2.0-litre unit used in the RAV4 and Corolla, but with a cylinder lopped off.

Despite being down a cylinder, Toyota says the new engine develops more power than the previous model’s four-cylinder offering, while using substantially less fuel and cutting emissions.

Specifically, the new engine delivers outputs of 88kW and 145Nm, a gain of 10% and 2.7% respectively over the previous 1.5-litre four-cylinder.

Toyota says the new engine has been put on a slimming program, and boasts a lighter block and crankshaft, reduced frictional losses and high-speed combustion technology. 

2020 Toyota Yaris  ZR  Hybrid

Fuel economy for the new petrol manual is an impressive 5.4L/100km, while the CVT auto sips unleaded at an even thriftier 4.9L/100km, which represents a remarkable 23% improvement over the equivalent outgoing model. 

But it’s the new hybrid system that hogs the fuel-efficiency headlines with its benchmark 3.3L/100km, which Toyota says makes this the most fuel-efficient model it has ever sold here.  

The Atkinson Cycle engine delivers outputs of 67kW/120Nm and is supplemented by a 59kW/141Nm electric motor-generator, for a combined maximum power output of 85kW. 

The hybrid’s compact lithium-ion battery is a move away from the nickel-metal hybrid batteries Toyota typically uses and may be a pointer to a broader shift in approach. Lithium ion batteries are smaller, lighter and more efficient than similarly sized nickel-metal hybrid units, but they’re also more expensive.     

The new model’s eye-catching new exterior design looks suitably youthful and sporty, with prominent cascading grille, longer bonnet, sculpted door panels, dynamic character lines and a shorter rear overhang. 

The overhauled interior promises more space and comfort over the outgoing model, as well as a more upmarket ambience courtesy of high-quality seat fabrics. 

2020 Toyota Yaris  ZR  Hybrid

But arguably the biggest news in this comprehensively revamped new model is the introduction of a full Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) safety package as standard on every Yaris. 

In addition to the new intersection assist feature, the system includes a pre-collision safety system with autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control, automatic high beam, and technologies to assist with cornering, staying in the intended lane and detecting speed signs. A reversing camera and a full suite of brake assist and traction-control systems including active cornering assist are also standard.

As well as class-leading safety, Toyota says the Yaris has been comprehensively reengineered to deliver more dynamic performance and handling. 

The new model sits on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, which the company says provides the foundation for the new models’ advances in driving character and appeal.

The new platform delivers a lower centre of gravity and more rigid body, which Toyota says translates to improved dynamics, a more comfortable ride and agile handling.

Dimensionally, the new Yaris is 5mm shorter and 5mm lower than its predecessor but has a longer wheelbase for improved stability and maximum interior space and stability. 

2020 Toyota Yaris  ZR  Hybrid

Toyota says intelligent packaging has created a more open and spacious cabin, with more space between the driver and front passenger. 

The driving position is also better, thanks to changes in the seat design and steering column geometry, while the rear seat offers a lower hip point and more angled base for greater comfort. 

Relocated A-pillars offer a better view of road ahead, while Toyota says its safety-inspired “hands on the wheel, eyes on the road” concept results in intuitive placement of controls and a smaller-diameter steering wheel with fingertip switches. 

A high-mount 7.0-inch touch screen is standard on the Ascent Sport and SX, while the top-spec ZR gets a larger 10.0-inch screen. All models get a linked 4.2-inch multi-information display in the instrument cluster, while the SX and ZR get digital speedo and tacho/hybrid meter dials. 

A soft touch instrument panel and larger door pockets should make the interior a nicer and more practical place to be, while the 60:40 spilt rear seat and 270-litre boot with two level deck board ensure a degree of practicality.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 restrictions we’ll have to take Toyota’s word for all of this at this stage, since the usual drive impressions were not available at launch. 

2020 Toyota Yaris  ZR  Hybrid

2020 Toyota Yaris Prices and standard features  

Ascent Sport manual $22,130
Ascent Sport CVT $23,630

Includes Apple Carplay and Android Auto, LED daytime running lamps, tail and stop lamps; auto retractable door mirrors with LED turn signal lamps; and power windows.

SX CVT $27,020
SX Hybrid CVT $29,020

Includes satellite navigation with pinch-and-zoom capability; speed-limit display and warnings; automatic air-conditioning; keyless smart entry; smart-start ignition button; soft-touch instrument panel; 15-inch alloy wheels; LED headlamps, indicators and rear combination lamps; and privacy glass.

ZR CVT $30,100
ZR Hybrid CVT $32,100

Includes 16-inch alloys; rear spoiler; head-up display; sports front seats; blind-spot monitor; front and rear parking sensors; parking support brake system; and paddle shifter on the petrol variant.