Toyota Yaris ZR hybrid on test: is it worth the extra $3k over the standard car?

David Linklater
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Base price
Boot Capacity
Fuel Consumption (l/100km)
0-100 km/h
  • Astonishing fuel economy
  • Great design and style
  • Advanced safety technology
  • Lethargic e-CVT gearbox
  • Why isn't ZR adaptive cruise stop-start?
  • Hard to justify price premium over petrol model

First things first: yes, you can take the official fuel economy figures for Toyota’s Yaris hybrid seriously. While an official overall figure of 3.3l/100km seems scarcely credible, I managed 3.2l and then 2.8l on my first weekday commutes without trying terribly hard.

True, gridlock driving suits hybrids better than motorway cruising. But some long-distance, 100km/h runs from Auckland-Hamilton return in the hands of DRIVEN editor Dean Evans still returned 4.4l. Which is higher than the official average… but still outstanding.

Case closed then? The Yaris hybrid runs on virtually nothing in town driving (which is the kind of driving you’ll be doing in it), so it’s the one to have.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

The hybrid system works brilliantly in practice. Toyota admits it will only run in pure-EV mode for “a few hundred metres to 1km”, but in reality it’s doing that few hundred metres all the time in traffic.

It’s a more high-tech petrol-electric system than most of Toyota’s other hybrids, including the big-selling RAV4, because it has a lithium-ion battery pack rather than the old-school nickel-metal hydride setup Toyota has been using since the first-generation Prius.

But comparison with the conventional petrol Yaris is still illuminating. We tested that in the same ZR specification as this hybrid last month.

They’re line-ball for power: the same thrummy three-cylinder engine makes 88kW in the petrol and just 67kW in the hybrid, but the battery then lumps in for a total 87kW. The hybrid has 25Nm less torque overall, but it’s delivered lower in the rev range. The hybrid wins the sprint to 100km/h, but only by 0.6sec.

The way that performance is delivered is very different. Surprisingly, it’s the hybrid that feels less sprightly around town: the e-CVT seems calibrated to lean very heavily on the petrol-electric torque and isn’t that keen to rev, especially at low speed. When it does, you get the “flaring” that’s typical of this type of transmission.

The petrol Yaris has a different CVT; a brilliant execution of CVT, actually. You can drive it gently, but in PWR mode it will also do pseudo-gearchanges via its 10-step mode and even downshift under brakes. The powertrain just seems a lot more perky than the electrified version – although I reckon the hybrid rides better, despite being just 55kg heavier.

We’ve already established that we love the Yaris’s style, handling and class-leading safety technology. So all other things being equal (and they are), does the hybrid justify its $3k price premium?

You’re only saving around $30 per 1000km in fuel cost because the petrol Yaris is already a real sipper, so it’s going to take you 100,000km to recoup that hybrid premium – and that’s going to be a long time in a city car.

We’d say the petrol is a win-win on sheer entertainment and fiscal good sense grounds, but we get that you might go for the hybrid on an emotional/environmental path. Either way, the Yaris is a brilliant little thing.

To view all Toyota Yaris models currently listed on DRIVEN, click here

ENGINE: 1.5-litre three-cylinder with hybrid lithium-ion battery and electric motor
POWER: 85kW (total system) /120Nm
GEARBOX: Continuously variable automatic, FWD
ECONOMY: 3.2l/100km
PRICE: $32,990.


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