Toyota’s mid-size saloon

The Honda City has long dominated the mid size saloon (4.25 to 4.5-m long) segment in elsewhere Asia but this leadership is being challenged by the Maruti Suzuki Ciaz and the new Hyundai Verna that has a fist full of improvements. The other contenders in this segment like the Volkswagen Vento, Nissan Sunny and Skoda Rapid trail far behind. Now Honda will face a very grave threat from their great Japanese rival Toyota who showcased a new Yaris at the recent Auto Expo. Car companies shift their brand names from country to country and the name Yaris had earlier belonged to a popular hatchback that Toyota sold internationally and used the name Vios or Saluna for a Honda City rival in many countries. For some strange reason they left a blank space in India between the smaller Etios saloon and the bigger Corolla Altis. It is now clear that the new Yaris is intended to  fill this gap and shake up the segment.

Except for the aggressive front face it is not too dramatic to look at and has the smooth curvaceous lines like a slightly scaled down Corolla Altis without all the angular lines of the Verna. The massive black front grille with horizontal lines is distinctive, the sweeping wrap-around front and rear lights are attractive and the lights on either side of the huge air dam are highlighted with shark gill shaped side scoops in which the parking lights are placed. The sides are however rather plain without any heavy creases or shadow lines. The big wheel arches hint at bigger tires than the 15-in tires on offer. The Yaris is an attractive but not very dramatic car that sedate older owners would probably like.

The 4.44-m long one-tonne saloon is powered with a 1500-cc petrol plant generating 107HP that is slightly less than the engines propelling the City or Verna but performance should be good with a torque of 140Nm, a 6-speed manual and a fully automatic continuously variable transmission. With disk brakes plus ABS and electronic brake-force distribution (EDB) on all four wheels the control and safety should be best in its class. A unique tire pressure monitoring feature usually only found in premium cars will also be a bonus.

Whatever the Yaris may lack on the outsides is fully compensated with very attractive and comfortable interior features including a unique air-conditioning vent mounted on the roof to ensure perfect rear seat cooling. The seats are spacious and comfortable and the beige and black upholstery is attractive. Toyota seems to have somehow carved out a bit more inner space and legroom than is found in its rivals. There are silver highlights added to this beige and black theme on the dashboard and other plastic surfaces. There is a three spoke steering wheel and a large centrally mounted touch screen conveniently displaying infortainment and all the data any driver would wish for. The 500-ltr boot is very spacious and bigger than the ones found on the earlier foreign models. The boot space can also be increased by folding forward the back of the rear seats. Seven airbags on all models will provide unprecedented levels of safety for all the car’s occupants.

The launch of the Yaris is expected in March and the entry price will probably be attractive as Toyota will certainly pull out all the stops to make their offering irresistible to those who want a spacious and comfortable saloon.

 The author is the region’s most celebrated automobile columnist