Saturday, 23 January 2010

Toyota's town toddler; as good as it's painted?

Toyota's Yaris; not that nice, really.

The first car I ever drove with an internal combustion engine, gearbox, and more than one seat was a Toyota Yaris D4-D. To all those who own and love Yarises, I'm very sorry, I may as well admit this here in the first paragraph. I hated the thing.

The rest of the motoring press seem pretty unanimous in their appraisal of the small Toyota; fun, neat handling, easy to drive, and refined. I'll grant it one out of four. For a car running on the fuel of Satan and tractors, it was very refined. From inside, I wouldn't have guessed it were a tractor at first. Fun? No. Neat handling? No. Easy to drive? No.

I'll launch my first attack upon the gearbox. No, the gearknob. Utterly horrid elephant's-arse grey plastic, as uninspiring as the gearbox was bad. I vividly remember having three goes to get it into first gear, having hit third and, bizarrely, neutral, before getting the right gear. This was not my fault - it was often easier at junctions to aim for second and throw it back from there. The one I drove at least had a forgiving clutch - although a friend of the owner told me months later that the clutch in it was well past it's best anyway!

Second attack. The dashboard. Oh God. As a Maestro and Montego fan, not to mention the Audi quattro, it would be unfair of me to attack the car for having a digital dashboard. But I'm going to. The damn thing was set in a pod, in the middle of the dash, where despite Toyota's claims it took more effort to see than it would behind the wheel. Add to this the fact it acted as a strobe light set in and amongst the varying grey plastics of the dash, and you begin to understand just how emetic the interior of the Yaris was. At least, the bits I remember. Most of it was too forgettable.

I'll be fair to it again here, after all, it's only fair. It did have light steering, which made it an easy car to park. However, it could have been light without seemingly completely devoid of feel. I found it to be greatly over-assisted, and frankly not a tool for the keen driver.

So I've lambasted it for it's forgettable interior, awful plastics, emetic dashboard, and reticent gearbox. Was there anything else? Oh yes. Ugly as sin. But I'll forgive it that, it's not meant to be pretty. The one I tried was also a diesel - as much as I despise the idea of driving round in a tractor, I shan't deny that diesels work well in the sort of cars I like; big automatics. Their torque characteristics make such cars feel effortless, whilst returning significantly better fuel consumption than the big V8 I'd personally buy anyway. But a diesel city car? That takes stinginess to a whole new level. Add to this that the engine displaces just 1.3 litres - and as such any torque gains are lost by the corpuscular capacity of the powerplant - and the logic of a diesel engine is seen to be highly questionable.

I'm sure it's a very practical car, I'm sure it holds it's value, I'm sure young single carefree hipsters and grannies love it alike. But I wouldn't buy one. I'd have a Fiesta instead.

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