Toyota Yaris ZR: Big features in a small package

Toyota Yaris HB ZR

When you’re lucky enough to test-drive cars for a job you don’t usually have designs on something like a Toyota Yaris, But there’s something about this little car that I liked.

The “sporty” (in looks if not performance) ZR model I tested went along well. The 1.5-litre engine did the job ably and frugally with an automatic transmission and shifted gears when needed, unless you really had to put the foot down.

Driving to Geelong on the freeway it felt like a bigger car, in terms of cruise performance and handling, while in the city it’s nimble and pretty economical.

Toyota claims the ZR has a combined fuel economy rate of 6.3 litres/100km, which was probably a little less than my experience, although you’ll drive this car a long way without troubling a petrol pump.

2014 Toyota Yaris HB ZR

The interior styling was fun and I like the striped seat upholstery, even if it did look a little like garden furniture.

The neat, modular dashboard and door trim looked good, too, There’s a lot of plastic but it doesn’t feel cheap and brittle. The faux carbon fibre is a nice touch, as is the silver trim on the arm rests, although the latter looks pretty susceptible to scratches.

Like many small cars, the front seat felt more like a chair, with not much upper leg support, despite the brochure calling them sports seats. I like to feel like I’m sitting in a car seat than on it and I couldn’t quite adjust it to my liking.

The Yaris is pretty roomy inside and considerably bigger than previous models, with an extra 30cm in width. It’s hard to tell it apart from a Corolla Ascent when sitting side by side. The cargo area, also bigger than previous models, is a decent 286 litres, which is bigger than most of its competitors.

The forward vision is excellent, with a nice wide and deep van-like windscreen serviced by a single windscreen wiper, which I liked. All-round vision is as good as you’d expect with a small hatch, which is aided by a reverse camera displayed on a standard Toyota touch screen displaying audio and phone settings (with Bluetooth) and satellite navigation.

There are plenty of features for a small car, but they do come at cost, with the ZR’s drive-away price tag of $24,940 significantly higher than the base model Ascent which starts at $15,990.

Exterior looks … well, it’s not as sleek as say, the Mazda 2 and Kia Rio, perhaps because of Toyota’s desire for it to have a family resemblance to the Corolla. But it’s a nice looking car from the front with its wide and low front grille. I particularly like it in red.

All in all this is a sturdy little ride with Toyota quality and reliability and a lot more presence and space than previous models, which were too small to the point of being uncomfortable.

It should be on the list for anyone shopping around for a new, features-packed small car.