Toyota is doing its best to heal the world with hybrids, stretching the technology as far down its product line as the little Yaris supermini. Rather than just shoving the same hybrid set-up from the Auris beneath the Yaris's nose, Toyota has taken several steps in order to make it a better fit.
The petrol engine element is downsized, the motor and transaxle have been tweaked and the battery pack squeezed under the rear seat to keep the luggage capacity the same as the regular car. Have the changes compromised the car's performance or efficiency? Is it a rival for the diesel and petrol models? We decided to find out the only way we knew how -- by jumping behind the wheel and taking one for a spin.
The standard Yaris is not likely to set your aesthetic synapses ablaze; it's a fairly unremarkable piece of design that doesn't stand out amongst some more interesting rivals, such as the Ford Fiesta. However, the hybrid version fares a little better thanks to some enforced changes. The extra hybrid gubbins requires extra cooling, so the front has been redesigned and now sports a deeper, more aggressive grille. There are also some blue badges that help you identify it as a hybrid.
It might be pretty small on the outside but there's very little to complain about once you climb aboard. The Yaris makes the most of its modest footprint, offering very usable space front and rear. Even tall drivers won't struggle for headroom and in the back the Yaris is better than many rivals for space. Out the back there is a useful 286 litres of luggage space, including a separate storage compartment under the boot floor. The only significant demerit comes from the seats which, depending on your height and build, may be lacking in a little support.
Performance & handling
This hybrid is geared towards low emissions and economy rather than power, so don't expect blistering performance. That said, the Yaris Hybrid is acceptably brisk for a car so economical; 0-62mph takes around 12 seconds. Being a full hybrid the Yaris can operate in electric only mode up to speeds of 31mph, and even in this mode it delivers pleasingly perky acceleration.
Ask the Yaris Hybrid for full acceleration however and you have to contend with the high engine revs. Being paired with a CVT gearbox means that the petrol motor holds at around 5,000rpm for maximum torque which makes sense mechanically but it results in the car sounding like a hairdryer.
The Yaris has simple, safe and secure handling. The car is set up for comfort rather than sportiness and so the steering is light and undemanding, the suspension is soft to give a comfortable ride and grip is more sufficient than remarkable. For the likely buyers of this car, the Yaris is perfectly adequate.
Economy & environment
There are already frugal petrol and diesel versions available, but adding a downsized version of the hybrid system used in the Auris Hybrid gives the Yaris a little extra in the green stakes.
The key is the combination of the battery pack (which sits out of the way under the rear seats) electric motor, transaxle and inverter that sit alongside the conventional 1.5-litre petrol engine -- itself a downsized version of the 1.8-litre unit used in other Toyota hybrids. The full hybrid configuration means it can run solely on battery power, on petrol alone or a combination of both, depending on the conditions.
The upshot is 80.7mpg on the combined cycle and 79g/km of CO2 emissions plus the bonus of being able to operate in emissions-free electric mode, but only for 1.2 miles at a time and only if the battery has a sufficient level of charge.
These numbers compare favourably to the diesel model, which achieves 72.8mpg and 102g/km.
Equipment & value
The Yaris Hybrid costs a tiny bit more than the diesel model. The standard car comes with dual-zone air conditioning, a decent audio system and Toyota's equivalent of electronic stability control. The T4 adds the extras you'll really want though, such as alloy wheels, Bluetooth, LED rear lights and nice touches such as the rear view reversing camera for an extra £1,000. The T Spirit adds a further £1,000 to the price tag and comes with nicer alloys, a rear spoiler, rain sensing wipers, cruise control, automatic headlamps, and a height-adjustable passenger seat.
There's not much in the way of change from the standard car here, which happily scored a maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests. All models have seven airbags including a driver's knee bag which is a rarity in this segment. Toyota's ESP (dubbed VSC) is also standard on all Yaris Hybrid models.
The Yaris is an attractive car in petrol and diesel forms, and installing a hybrid option makes it even more desirable. It's more expensive than the cheapest petrol model by some margin, but it's roughly the same price as the diesel and delivers significantly better economy and lower emissions than both.
The CVT gearbox spoils the driving experience slightly, as does the rather dull handling, but the Yaris Hybrid is an incredibly clever car that's attractive in many ways.
Model tested: Toyota Yaris Hybrid T4
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol/electric motor
Acceleration: 0-62 in 11.8 seconds
Top speed: 103mph
Emissions: 79g/km CO2