When it comes to hybrids like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight it’s tough not to get hung up on the conclusion that they only exist because Americans refuse to buy diesels. After all a modern turbo-diesel is a cheaper and more efficient way of getting the most from a gallon of juice than Toyota’s clever but complex Hybrid Synergy Drive. Don’t get me wrong, plug-in hybrids like Vauxhall’s Ampera and Toyota’s forthcoming Plug-In Prius which allow you to move twixt A and B using electricity generated someplace else, ideally by a wind turbine, are great, but the traditional hybrid? I’ve yet be convinced. Toyota’s new Yaris Hybrid may change that though.
The Yaris Hybrid is basically a compact version of the Prius and uses the same type of petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain found in both the Prius and Auris hybrids to increase fuel efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions and offer limited electric-only running. At just under £15,000 it’s the cheapest hybrid currently on sale in the UK by some margin.
Under the bonnet the interesting thing is by how much Toyota has shrunk the powertrain compared to that in the Prius. The Atkinson-cycle engine is 17kg lighter and 50mm shorter - it’s a 1.5 litre unit in the Yaris rather than a 1.8 - while the battery is 11kg lighter and 20 percent smaller. That’s no mean achievement.
Turn the Yaris Hybrid on and...nothing happens other than the dash lighting up. Push the throttle gently you can travel short distances - about 1.3 miles at speeds up to 31mph - on electric power alone. Push the pedal further and the petrol engine fires up and you feel like you are driving any other small car with an automatic (CVT to be exact) gearbox.
According to Toyota’s numbers the Yaris Hybrid emits only 79g/km of CO2 and should average over 80mpg on the combined cycle. To be honest I only managed 71mpg but that’s still not at all bad for a day spent zipping around the urban jungle. Drive gently on the open road and something close to 90mpg is possible.
Of course the Yaris Hybrid is not exactly a fast car. While the petrol engine produces 73bhp and the electric motor another 59 and maximum combined output at any given moment is only 98bhp. That means a 0-60 time of 11.3 seconds and the top speed 103mph.
The extra torque from the electric motor - 169Nm of it - which is available from the off makes progress in stop/start traffic very relaxed unless you really floor the throttle.
On the road the handling is safe and predictable and the light steering makes it very easy to negotiate busy streets and park in tight spots. On all but the worse road surfaces the suspension feels well damped and compliant too.
Hit the brake pedal and there’s nothing to betray the regenerative system that recoups the energy usually wasted in deceleration to charge the nickel-metal hydride battery.
The interior of the Hybrid is much like that of every other Yaris which means plenty of space for four adults and a reasonably sized 286 litre boot with a false floor giving additional storage space beneath. Visibility is good, too, thanks to the large glass area and elevated seating position.
Sadly as is the case with the other models in the Yaris range the interior is a bit dull and cheerless and some of the plastics look and feel a bit cheap. It’s all glued together well enough but you get the impression that all the flair and inventiveness went on the clever drivetrain and that the interior was a bit of an afterthought.
The interior does have one highlight though, the impressive Toyota Touch & Go system which combines your navigation, phone and media controls on a 6.1inch touchscreen interface. It is an optional extra, but it’s an option well worth coughing up for.
MyDadRocks Verdict: The Yaris Hybrid is keenly priced, easy to drive and impressively economical. For once then the hybrid option is not the costly one and so needs no pious tree-hugging justification for the premium. The obvious alternative, a Ford Fiesta diesel costs around a thousand pounds more and isn’t quite as economical. It’s more fun to drive granted, but we're talking about saving money here, not having a giggle on B-roads.
MyDadRocks Rating 8/10
Price: From £14,995
Review by Pete Winder