Good: improved driving dynamics and styling
Not so good: still lacks any real fun
Toyota hasn't been shy about making changes to the Yaris beyond the usual mid-cycle facelift, and in this range-topping 'Sol' specification those updates are even more noticeable. Most of the changes made were overseen by Toyota's European division rather than by Japan - a first for the firm. Around €85 million was spent on the project, which, to put into perspective, is about five times what is usually spent on a model facelift. This isn't to say that the previous Yaris was a bad car, but it highlights how seriously Toyota is taking the effort to improve the dynamics of its models.
Visually, the front-end is where the biggest changes can be seen thanks to a new front grille and bumper design, which, on all but the entry-level 'Terra' grade, gets a chrome strip along the edge of the larger radiator grille, while this 'Sol' specification also gains fog lamps at the lower corners of the front bumper. A set of 12-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels and a chrome window beltline also add to the upmarket image of this Yaris. The rear-end has also been tidied up a little with a chrome strip above the number plate area and some new rear lights.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is reasonably peppy around town, but requires a bit of work with the five-speed gearbox to get it up to speed on the motorway. It has been tuned to generate less noise under power and complies with all of the latest Euro VI emission regulations. At 99g/km it falls affordably into road tax Band A2 equating to €180 per year. Toyota does offer a more powerful 1.33-litre petrol engine that gives an extra 30hp and 30Nm, but more importantly adds a six-speed gearbox to the equation, which does make it a nicer car should you do longer motorway drives on a regular basis. It carries a €1,420 price premium though and falls into tax Band A4, which will cost a modest €20 more per year in tax. Toyota does offer a hybrid version too, which may appeal to certain buyers though with the conventional engines being as frugal as they are, the need for a hybrid offering in a car this size is questionable.
Noticeably reduced is the level of road noise transmitted into the cabin thanks to the increased levels of sound insulation that includes what Toyota calls 'noise-optimised carpet'. Yep, you read that right. We truly are in a scientific age. Toyota has also fitted a new electrically-operated power steering system in a bid to give the Yaris a more direct feel around town - though to be fair that is hardly the main reason for people to buy one. More will be impressed by the new seven-inch touchscreen system that comes as standard in both the Luna and this Sol specifications. Not only is it easy to use it also looks far nicer than the standard radio system. Space-wise little has changed in the Yaris; there's up to 1,150 litres of boot space and although there is a three-door body style available, the five-door, at only €540 more, makes better financial sense to buy.
Against its rivals the Yaris comes with plenty of equipment and there are enough specification options to suit most budgets. It lacks the sheer enjoyment of driving that the Fiesta offers while the Polo, although one of the more conservative designs in the segments, is still a tough car to find fault with. Toyota's aim to make its cars more exciting may not have nailed it from a dynamic perspective, but the sleek new Yaris is more desirable than ever and spending a little extra on it does make it feel like a more upmarket car.