You could say that it was sort of a return to the scene of the crime. I was back in Quebec City for the Canadian launch of the 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 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 three 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 little effect other than to annoy.
Fast forward to the new Yaris and we have the result of Toyota's collaboration with another Japanese automaker: a mildly restyled Mazda2 with Toyota badging.
For the most part, the wee four-door car 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, it looks far more attractive in person. I actually kinda like it.
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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.
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, 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that can be mated to either a manual or automatic transmission, 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. Toyota Canada vice-president Stephen Beatty attributed the sprightly road manners 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 Pontiac ever sold. The comparisons to a vehicle's roots usually point to the strengths of both companies. 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.
2016 Toyota Yaris
Fuel consumption (L/100km, city/hwy):
Manual 7.6/5.7; automatic 7.2/5.6
Sporty and fun driving experience
Questionable front end styling, expensive base price compared to the competition
The Nissan Versa Note is a great drive, but not quite as zippy when the roads get twisty.
The Hyundai Accent sedan features edgy styling that looks upscale, despite costing thousands less.