You could say that it was sort of a return to the scene of the crime. I was in Quebec City for the Canadian launch of an all new Toyota Yaris, just as I was four years ago. On that trip, I scored my first speeding ticket in 22 years and it was a doozy: 120 km/h in an 80 zone.
I felt stupid, as we were just driving along, having a great conversation and the car gravitated to its natural cruising speed.
I tried and failed to fight the ticket, which only cost $232 but also came with 3 demerit points. Quebec officials do not bend for Ontario drivers it seems. I was worried about what that might do to my insurance. It turns out that with my otherwise clean record, the incident had no effect other than to tick me off.
Fast forward to the next generation Yaris and we have the result of Toyota’s collaboration with Mazda, a mildly restyled Mazda2 with Toyota badging.
For the most part, the wee four door looks like a little Mazda, with the exception of the oddly styled front fascia and grille. Some journalists have compared the Toyota designed front end to a carp. While I can see the comparison in photos, to my eye it looks far more attractive in person. I actually kinda like it.
The real head scratcher for me is why Toyota chose to retain Mazda’s now signature dash top display. Not only is it a clear clue to the car’s origins, but it still looks like a tacked on afterthought. Perhaps if it was removable, like an iPod dock, it would make more sense. It works well however, so those who don’t appreciate the look will quickly become accustomed to it. When equipped with the Premium package, the pod expands to a 7″ touch display. The navigation system seen below is an SD card based upgrade which can be installed by the dealer for $515.
On the road, the small sedan feels light and nimble at city speeds, with just enough power to squirt through traffic like a bike courier on a mission. Powered by a 106 horsepower, 1.5L four-cylinder engine which can be mated to either a manual or automatic transmission, both have 6 speeds, the Yaris keeps up well with highway traffic for the most part. Consumers who typically drive in an area with a lot of hills may want to choose the six speed manual, as that version offers drivers more flexibility on steep inclines.
During the press drive, the place the Yaris really shone was a long section of winding road which slithered through farmland and dense forest. The human shifted Yaris felt right at home in this setting, eagerly gobbling up corner after corner with glee even when shod with plastic hubcaps on steel wheels. Toyota Canada vice-president Stephen Beatty attributed this spritely handling to the Toyota specific suspension tuning, but the car’s handling feels much more like a Mazda product, in a good way.
Cross brand vehicle development is nothing new, nor is Toyota new to the practice. Remember that the Matrix derived Vibe was arguably the best car that Pontiac ever sold. The comparisons to a vehicle’s roots usually point to the strengths of both companies and in the case of the Yaris Sedan, Toyota is on the winning side of the partnership for this one. The Yaris Sedan is a fun to drive small car that is likely to appeal to cost conscious urbanites and suburban driving enthusiasts alike.