• Style and substance: 2015 Toyota Yaris 1.3E

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    If there’s one thing we can be sure of about Toyota, any new model the brand comes up with for the Philippine market sells. Any nameplate it has introduced to the market simply sold like hotcakes like the Vios, Fortuner, Innova, Hilux, Corolla, Camry and the Hiace, which are all leaders in their respective segments. Even the Alphard, FJ Cruiser and 86 are all strong sellers.

    There is, however, one exception: the Yaris hatchback.

    The Yaris nameplate has been around for a while, as Toyota had offered the previous generation Yaris and even the Echo before that. Both, however, sold in very limited numbers overall, especially when compared to the far more popular Toyota Vios, a strange fact given that there was a very minimal price difference between the hatch and 4-door versions.

    Could this new generation 2015 Toyota Yaris bridge that wide gap to its trunked brother?

    For starters, the 2015 Yaris does not look like anything like a Vios with the trunk simply removed. The front end looks nothing like the Vios apart from the similarity in the trapezoidal motif for the radiator intakes.

    Unusually, the Yaris that we are getting is not the same as the ones offered in the US, Japan or Australia, as those markets get the Vitz. It may seem like the Philippines is getting shortchanged by receiving the Asean/Chinese Yaris, but the version in the country is actually much larger and more spacious than the Vitz, as the latter is under 3.9 meters long while the Philippine-spec Yaris is already at 4.1 meters.

    Either way, the front of the Yaris has a striking look to it, and the hatchback profile with the stylish tailgate does lend the car a character unique from the Vios, even though they’re very much related. That fact becomes very obvious when you open the doors.

    If the dashboard and interior elements such as the seats, switches, steering wheel and everything else seem familiar, that’s because the cabin is essentially the same as the Vios but executed differently; if anything, the Yaris 1.3E leans to the side of sporty by using a predominantly black color scheme inside as opposed to beige in the Vios. To contrast with the black, Toyota used orange accents in the backlighting of the airconditioning dials, the audio unit, the gauge faces and even on the stitch patterns for the fabric seats. The combination just works if you prefer a more stylish and more standout alternative to the Vios.

    What’s really great about the Yaris 5-door hatchback when compared to it’s 4-door sibling is its ability to take on larger cargo with the rear seats folded down; think of things like big balikbayan boxes or even bikes. The flat folding seats and the tailgate make loading a breeze, though the current Honda Jazz is still the definitive class leader.

    At the heart of this Yaris is a 1.3-liter, twin cam 16-valve four cylinder engine that makes 85 PS and 121 Newton-meters of torque. If those figures sound a bit familiar, it’s because the engine is the same one found in the current and previous Toyota Vios 1.3E. No surprises there, and the 4-speed automatic transmission is a carryover as well. Also of note is that the previous generation Yaris did not have the 1.3L variant.

    In town, the Yaris drives as expected, smooth and easy to maneuver. The suspension does work well to absorb much of the Metro’s rough stuff, and the ride on smooth tarmac is quiet and relatively refined. One surprising thing about the Yaris is that it managed to turn a few heads on the sidewalks; that was unexpected from this stylish little hatch.

    The car does feel a bit more taut and more enjoyable to drive fast on a twisty bit of road, thanks to the lack of a trunk (read: reduced rear overhang). Tossing it from one corner to another can put a smile on your face, and the braking (like the Vios) is surprisingly good.

    As expected, this Yaris 1.3E A/T returned decent fuel economy numbers, or 8.8 kilometers per liter (kpl) in moderate to heavy traffic conditions (19 kph). On the highway, the Yaris fared better at 13.5 kpl.

    The 2015 Yaris 1.3E certainly came out of the T-corner swinging: P 745,000 for this mid-grade model. The Yaris is a fun little car, and the fact that it shares the same engine, components and spare parts with the Vios, makes for cheaper, quicker and easier maintenance.

    I still don’t think the Yaris can outsell its brother in a country still addicted to sedans despite the arrival of more hatchbacks. Therein, however, lies the best selling point of the Toyota Yaris. By not being anywhere near as ubiquitous as the Vios in terms of sales seems to elevate the Yaris to a different, more desirable rung on the subcompact car ladder.

    The best bit? I wouldn’t expect to see one with yellow plates and “How’s My Driving” decal on the road anytime soon.

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