We’re invited to a lot of press drives here at MW, and the better-organised ones will supply attendant cars for photographers to shoot action shots from. They’re invariably Toyota Innovas, and they’ll do this for 12 hours a day over a weeklong schedule, while also ferrying staff and supplies over hundreds of kilometres. Try finding an Innova owner that hasn’t driven their car over 1,00,000 km. That’s the sort of credo the Toyota name carries in India, but they haven’t had a contender in the B-Hi segment, where the Honda City dominates. That’s where the new Yaris expects to make a mark.

The Honda City and Toyota Yaris have admittedly played nemesis to each other across markets, over the time they’ve been around. They’ve been “twins” in a sense, as was explained to us at the press event. The companies have mirrored each other in India, with a confusing lineup over time. Honda used to have the City, Civic and Accord, before discontinuing the latter two and bringing back a much more premium Accord. Toyota has never had a Cityfighter, but continues to sell the Corolla Altis and Camry. Hopefully, after Honda brings back a new Civic, things will make more sense.

The Yaris is made in six plants across the world, and the Indian version is a bit more upmarket than its Asian-market rivals. It has to be, to go up against the formidable City and Verna. The Yaris does this by offering unprecedented features in this segment. Safety is a strong selling point, with 7 airbags standard across the four trim levels available. A CVT automatic is available, again across trims; you are no longer compelled to opt for the highest trim level to rest your left foot. You get front seats straight from the Altis, with a power-adjustable driver seat and a gesture controlled infotainment system on the top model – again from the Altis – and an industry-first roof-mounted blower for the rear passengers.

What we like – Excellent feature set, safety, automatic option

Those are just the unique bits. There’s also hill-assist, parking sensors, a reverse camera, paddle shifters, automatic wipers and headlamps, among a laundry-list of other features. Some of these we’ve seen in similar cars, but many of these tend to be reserved for more luxurious vehicles. The Yaris is also eminently practical, with generous legroom at the back, a completely flat floor, flexible, easy-to-use split seats and a 500-odd litre boot. About the only glaring omission – and this is a big one – is the lack of a diesel motor at launch.

You won’t make a big impression when you arrive in a Toyota Yaris, to be honest. About the most distinctive part of the otherwise bland design is the deliberate homage to the Altis. The headlamps are very reminiscent, and the entire front fascia has a lot of deliberate black trim. The white colour is pearlescent in the way we’ve seen on the Altis as well. Toyota stresses the ‘emotional’ aspects of the design, though we suspect there’s something lost in translation from the original Japanese. The Yaris is a bland-looking car and is as safe in its design language as it is for its passengers. We also thought the 15-inch wheels on our test car looked small, and less premium than the Yaris’ pitch.

As a driver’s car, we must use the word ‘inoffensive’ to describe it. The engine is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol that makes just 107hp and 140Nm of torque, among the lowest in the segment. Toyota has kept the Yaris as light as possible while still staying safe, so the motor feels adequate. The CVT-equipped range-topper that we drove the most tended to be noisy in an intrusive way, thanks to the way this type of gearbox works. Toyota has taken pains to make the cabin as quiet as possible, going as far as to include a special vibration-free glass, so this is a bit of a downer. The manual transmission version tends to remain much quieter. Paddle shifters are present and respond well, but with a CVT, you’re not likely to get much out of using them. Just leave it in drive and get used to the drone, and you’ll be rewarded with 0.7 kpl more than the manual (17.8 vs 17.1 kpl).

The suspension setup is very comfortable, and Toyota has done a great job tuning it for our roads. We had the opportunity to shove the car into some rather deep crevices in the tarmac, and the Yaris did not complain once – no Euro-spec thuds into your spine here. We did not throw the car around enough to assess body roll, and most buyers are unlikely to be that sort.

For rear passengers, things remain comfortable, with a completely flat floor and plenty of legroom. Strangely, the driver’s centre armrest intrudes into the rear cabin, despite there being no AC vents there – this negates the advantage of a flat floor. The rear seat also has a hump in the middle, and combined with the generally narrow dimensions of the Yaris, we’d suggest this remain a four-seater. You do get dual 12V sockets where the AC vents would typically be, and a manual sun shade for the rear glass.

What we don’t like – Average performance, bland looks

The interior follows the general design philosophy of the car by taking no risks. Toyota has, unfortunately, succumbed to the piano black trend, but thankfully, the quality is better than some of the other dodgy trim we’ve seen in the past. It looks okay, and it will be passable if you keep it clean. We could do without the gimmicky gesture-controlled infotainment system, however. The screen is matte and the quality of response is good, but the gesture system is mostly pointless. It works occasionally, and certainly does distract the driver far more than using a tactile knob or button. We found ourselves avoiding it and using the steering-mounted controls.

The Yaris is a mixed vegetable juice, with no added salt or spices. It’s very healthy for you, but you’re more likely to reach for something sugary or alcoholic if your crossfit instructor gets off your ass. It’s solidly practical and well-equipped. Just before going to press, Toyota announced pricing, starting at Rs 8.75 lakh and going up to Rs. 14.07 lakh for the range-topping automatic. With those numbers, it spans the entire price range of the competition, but it doesn’t have the personality of the Honda City or the Hyundai Verna.

TOYOTA YARIS Engine

1.5-litre VVT-i petrol

Transmission:

6-speed manual/7- step CVT automatic

Max Power:

108 bhp

Peak Torque:

140 Nm

Price:

INR  8.75 lakh

(ex-showroom)

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