Review and road test of the Toyota Yaris Hybrid (2014 - 2017)
By Jonathan Crouch
Aimed directly at city-living eco-minded buyers, the improved version of Toyota's third generation Yaris Hybrid that sold between 2014 and 2017 was cheaper, cleaner and more frugal than any conventional hybrid model we had previously seen. It may not be the small car you've always dreamed about but if you're urban-based and looking for a frugal supermini made in this period, it could very well be the one you actually need.
5dr (1.5 Hybrid)
Having originally introduced the idea of a hybrid car, it fell to Toyota to democratise it. To make petrol/electric power more widely accessible, something only possible if it became more affordable. In a car like this, Toyota's Yaris Hybrid.
The Yaris Hybrid was first introduced here in the Summer of 2012 as the industry's most affordable hybrid car, the model that finally properly opened up hybrid ownership to the urban-based market segment that in theory should take to it most, that of superminis. Here, we're looking at the improved version of the MK3 model, updated in mid-2014 with sharper looks and small improvements in cleanliness and frugality. It was a car that remained the cleanest means of automotive transport in its period, assuming you discount the pricey plug-in and battery-powered models sold in this time. Quite a claim.
Though this wasn't the market's very first hybrid supermini, it was the first able to improve upon the running costs of comparable eco-conscious diesel models in this segment, while matching (or beating) them on price. Which made this model a game-changer in its town-targeted market sector and, in theory at least, an difficult option to ignore for those supermini customers looking for a small hatch from the 2014-2017 period who spend much of their lives in the kind of stop-start traffic where hybrid technology really comes into its own. This car sold until the Spring of 2017, when it was replaced by another facelifted model.
What You Get
Not only will you struggle to recognise this car as a hybrid, you'd also have a job to tell it apart from any other conventional Yaris from the 2014-2017 era. All of which is entirely intentional of course. The days of enviro-conscious buyers wanting to trumpet their eco-minded pretentions are, thank goodness, rapidly drawing to a close. Choose one of these and your neighbours won't know that you're doing your bit for the polar icecaps - unless perhaps they look a little more closely.
Those who do exactly that might clock the hybrid badging and the unique piano black lower front grille with its satin chrome surround. The better informed amongst them might even note the 20mm of extra front overhang necessary to accommodate the Hybrid Synergy Drivetrain. Otherwise though, giveaways to this car's petrol/electric status are few. Here, we're looking at the first of the MK3 Yaris's facelifts made in 2014, recognisable by an X-shaped frontal graphic that gives this supermini a sharper and more assertive look.
Inside at first glance, it's all familiar third generation Yaris stuff, but look a little closer and differences begin to emerge. The little blue CVT auto gearknob, the blue stitching around the steering wheel and the handbrake and the blue and white backlighting around the sliver-ringed instruments. Come to think of it, the instrumentation's different too, with a hybrid system indicator replacing the usual rev counter, with a dial that'll see the blue needle in either 'Charge', 'ECO' or 'Power' zones, depending on the way you're driving. Much more informative about the cleverness going on beneath the bonnet though, is the blue-lit hybrid energy monitor you'll find on the display of the improved Toyota Touch 2 infotainment screen showing you at any given time what's charging or being driven by what.
It would be reasonable to expect the usually rather bulky 144V nickel-metal hydride battery pack necessary for hybrid motoring to impinge upon interior space. It doesn't. The battery pack sits snugly alongside the fuel tank under the rear seat - which is why you can't slide or recline this bench. And a novel transaxle houses the electric motor, the generator, the power split device and double-motor reduction mechanism that the Hybrid Synergy Drive system needs all in a compact transmission casing that's directly comparable in size to a conventional gearbox. Very interesting no doubt for technophobes but all potential owners really need to know if this: that in this car, you get just as much room for people and packages as you would in any normal third generation Yaris.
If you're not familiar with one of those, then we'll tell you that on this back seat, there's comfortable room for two adults but, as usual in this class of car, three would be a bit of a squash. At least headroom is less of an issue in this generation of Yaris thanks to an increase of 30mm in height over its predecessor. Luggage-wise, there's 286-litres of baggage room with all the seats in place. If you need more, fold the 60/40 split-folding EasyFlat rear seats down and you're treated to one of the larger stowage areas of any supermini - 696-litres - and it's perfectly flat. Overall then, a masterpiece of packaging.
What to Look For
With our ownership survey, we found plenty of satisfied Yaris owners, but inevitably, there were a few issues. None though, related to the hybrid engine, which has shown exemplary reliability. A rattling dash was reported by one owner. We also came across issues with creaking suspension and a clunking gearbox, while in one case, the centre console went blank occasionally. Look out for all these things on the test drive and, as usual, prioritise models featuring a fully stamped-up service record.
(approx based on a 2015 Yaris Hybrid - Ex Vat) An air filter is priced in the £31 bracket and an oil filter costs in the £9 bracket. Front brake pads sit in the £41 to £50 bracket for a set; rears are around £47. Front brake discs cost in the £138-£227 bracket; rears at around £86, though you could pay as much as £45 or even as much as £50 for pricier brands. Try not to damage the headlamps; a replacement unit costs around £127; a replacement rear lamp could cost the best part of £50. A water pump is around £100. A thermostat will cost around £15.
On the Road
This Yaris Hybrid model is driven by a Hybrid Synergy Drive system serviced by a 73bhp 1.5-litre petrol/electric powerplant and a bespoke version of the CVT auto gearbox. A selectable 'EV' electric-only setting is part of the package, but even with the batteries fully charged, it'll only take you just over a mile in milk float mode.
But to think in those terms is to miss the point of the Hybrid Yaris. The Synergy Drive system's cleverness lies in the way that on the move, it's always re-charging itself, even more so if you leave the auto gearbox lever in 'B' to maximise the energy that can be harvested from regenerative braking. The result is that in the stop/start urban traffic it's designed for, this car is nearly always ready to revert to total battery power. So much so in fact, that Toyota's 'real world' tests suggest that silent zero emissions driving, with the engine switched off, could account for up to 66% of a typical owner's average commuter journey length and 58% of the total journey time.
It's usually the case that the more you spend on a supermini, the more comprehensively you've missed the point. These things are supposed to be cheap and cheerful cars that you don't get too precious about. In the case of this Yaris Hybrid though, we think you'd be willing to make an exception to that rule. It's not some premium, soft touch, leather-lined piece of ostentation. Instead it's a really satisfying, smart, and genuinely useful small hatch - and is very affordable in this facelifted MK3 2014-2017-era form. A car you could see yourself downsizing into from something a bit bigger and not feeling hard done by.
Clever and cheaper than other conventional hybrids, this Yaris may not be very exciting but it's devastatingly effective at fulfilling its urban-minded eco remit. And at the end of the day, you can't ask for much more than that.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid (2014 - 2017) review by Jonathan Crouch