By Khulekani Dumisa (@sirkhulz)
A few (okay – more than a few) years ago I started life out as a candidate attorney and I was fortunate enough to secure articles with a top law firm which made buying my first car an exciting prospect. After looking at my options carefully, I settled on a VW Polo. The race was a close one between the Polo and a Ford Fiesta but after much negotiation, the VW sales lady had an ace up her sleeve and threw in a maintenance plan to seal the deal. Notice something strange, the Toyota Yaris wasn’t even in consideration. In fact such was the gap between the Polo and the Yaris that the longest running banter between a friend who’d gone for the Yaris and I, was that since my car was the luxurious one of the two, if we ever went on a long drive, it would have to be used for such a trip. Fast forward to 2017, the folks at Toyota have decided to get serious about the Yaris and close the gap between the Yaris and the segment leaders. This is an exciting prospect that not impossible at all. They have made similar strides with the Toyota Etios although the gap still remains between it and the Polo Vivo.When the invitation to attend the launch of the new Yaris landed on my desk, I must confess to feeling extremely excited as memories of the banter of my former days came flooding back. Could the folks at Toyota have finally bridged the gap between the segment leader and the Yaris was the question I’d ask myself going to the launch. You might say that’s an unfair approach and each car should be judged on its own merits. True as that may be, the reality is that consumer in this segment is no longer a first time buyer I once was and has gotten very, very discerning. This buyer is likely to think long and hard about their decision and go over their options, naturally using the market leader as a yardstick, before they settle on what they want. As if Toyota were aware of what was on my mind, the launch kicked off with a long test drive. I mean within 20 minutes of landing, I was behind the wheel of the new 1.5 Yaris Pulse. The first impression was that Toyota has stepped things up. The design of the exterior looked bolder, all the way from the front with new headlights and refreshed grille to the back with new tailgate, bumper and lamp clusters.
The two tone body colour option made a statement of a car that wasn’t there as a bridesmaids for the likes of VW Polo but rather a car that was there to take its place at the altar and say I do as number 1. True to old habits, I opened the back door before I got upfront and I was pleased with the legroom for the back passengers. The only criticism was the more than generous legroom may have come that the expense of the boot. It’s still a decent boot but it could have been better.
Hoping upfront was an experience of its own. I got the same connection I’d gotten with models far up the Toyota line such as the new C-HR and the Fortuner. The dashboard looked clean and uncompromisingly good with a newly designed three-spoke steering wheel, propeller-style air vents, multimedia screen and controls in the centre console.
The drive in the 1.5 Pulse was composed and the engine was very responsive. It felt like a different car from previous generations. This 1.5 engine is actually a new engine in the range, sits above the entry level 1.0 engine and replaces the previous generation 1.3 engine. Good news is that the 1.5 is more powerful (with 82 kW and 132 Nm) and more fuel efficient than the 1.3. Later on I got to try out the 1.5 Yaris Pulse Plus CVT in automatic guise. For this one, the folks at Toyota have thrown in a sport button and mounted paddle shifts on the wheel. Make no mistake, this is a good engine but I didn’t enjoy the noise feedback. I had to rely on the rev counter to see that I wasn’t abusing the engine. Only when I took things into my own hands by using the paddle shifts to sidestep the CVT’s delayed changes, did the engine feel quieter and as if it was operating in its natural space. Toyota should have done more with noice cancellation. The pricing for the Yaris is: – 1.0 Pulse MT: R199,000; – 1.5 Pulse MT: R228,700; – 1.5 Pulse CVT: R241,400; – 1.5 Pulse Plus CVT: R249,600; and – Hybrid: R307,200 (making the Yaris the only local car in its segment available with hybrid power). The above prices are inclusive of a 3 year/45 000km service plan and a 3 year/100 000km warranty. My overall impression was that the new Toyota has taken a great leap forward to make the Yaris Pulse capable of holding its own against the market leaders and, if they are not care, possibly beat them to the summit. Dislike: smallish boot. Likes: rear legroom and interior quality. Party tricks: two tone body colours and paddle shifts.
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