Overall rating: 3/5
Five-door supermini, 100hp, 80.7mpg and emissions of 79g/km - what's not to like? In the end, if you're after an economical car for around town (and especially a hybrid model) then 'not a lot' is the answer. Save for some typical hybrid curiosities (that transmission for one) this particular Toyota Yaris might just be the best hybrid the firm makes.
In the metal 3/5
There's little to distinguish this super-economical Yaris hatchback from the rest of the range, and your take on that will be down to personal preference. Obviously there are the Hybrid badges (the Toyota roundel is even finished in a shade of blue) and LED tail-lights, but that's pretty much it. Which means you're left with an inoffensive mono-box style supermini that blends in with its surroundings a little too well.
There's more of a change inside, though current owners will recognise much of the cabin and its switchgear already. The instruments are blue and white, the soft-touch plastic on the doors and dash is now a shade of white and of course there's an automatic gear lever on the transmission tunnel. Talking of which, the plastics lower down this car's cabin are of especially poor quality, with a hard scratchy finish - and some of the switchgear is already dated looking. At least the Yaris Hybrid retains its donor car's spacious cabin and boot, the batteries being wholly stowed under the rear seat.
Driving it 3/5
Driving a Hybrid, no matter which one, requires a slightly different mind-set than when behind the wheel of a regular car. Accelerating hard up to your chosen speed will see the fuel economy plummet, effectively using all of the available power from both the engine and electric motor to ensure maximum performance.
Do so and the Yaris is actually quite lively, though the CVT (continuously variable transmission) sends engine revolutions soaring, and the noise inside the cabin can become irritatingly intrusive. This is probably the biggest bugbear we have with the Yaris Hybrid, though the issue isn't restricted to Toyota. It's almost as annoying as the series of beeps and noises this little Toyota makes when being driven hard, alerting you to speed limits, speed cameras and even emitting an audible chagrin when braking hard.
However, go with the flow (and by that we mean be relatively gentle with the accelerator) and keep the power needle hovering in the ECO section of the range, and things are much more pleasant. Noise is kept to a minimum, and on occasion the car will operate in solely electric mode, and of course economy is improved. While trying we saw an average (over a distance of around 35 kilometres) of only 78.5mpg (3.6 litres/100km) - not far off the official figure. In reality this probably translates to a more reasonable 62.8mpg (4.5 litres/100km) across a mixture of roads and traffic situations.
Impressive stuff, but it's worth remembering that there are some compromises here - the Yaris (regardless of engine and transmission combination) isn't as fun to drive as a Ford Fiesta or even a Volkswagen Polo, the light steering and excess body roll really hampering a driver's enjoyment. You'll also experience the difficult to moderate brake pedal found across the hybrid board, which makes coming to a smooth and progressive stop a real art form.
What you get for your money 4/5
Toyota Ireland won't release the Yaris Hybrid until the very end of 2012 so prices have not yet been firmed up. It's likely to sit near the top of the Yaris range in terms of pricing and have a specification to match. We'd expect it feature electric front windows, dual-zone climate control, a decent stereo and follow me home headlights. Of course most of the money goes on the hybrid technology (motor, batteries etc.), but thanks to near 80mpg economy and sub-80g/km CO2 output fuel bills will be low, and annual road tax is cheap - even if the government changes things.
Toyota really is pushing its hybrid technology; not only do we have the ubiquitous Prius and now this new Yaris Hybrid, but later this year we'll also see the production-ready Prius +, a compact MPV version of its best-selling hybrid hatchback. The firm is even entering a hybrid into this year's Le Mans 24-hour race, which uses an electric motor on the rear axle allowing EV running down the pit lane and an extra boost of performance around the corners too.
The Yaris was met with a rather lacklustre reaction when it was launched in 2011, and in some ways this Hybrid model should generate the same. However, there's a certain charm to this little eco-box, and certainly more (of a different) character than its petrol counterparts. Whether it is the right choice for you will depend on where you'll use it - in the city where its EV mode comes into play the potential is massive, but those expecting to complete longer journeys will see better economy from conventionally-powered superminis.