Go ahead and stare as hard as you can. No matter how good you are in playing “Spot the Difference”, you will never be able to tell the 2017 Vios and Yaris apart from their refreshed versions. Save for the now standard side skirt and rear lip spoiler on the Vios 1.5G (and some new colors), these two sub-compact cars look unchanged from the models Toyota Motor Philippines launched four years ago. Or are they? Pop the hood and you’ll see the words, “Dual VVT-i” embossed on the now silver-colored engine cover. This is where all that change is concentrated in and it makes a world of difference.
One can be overly critical of Toyota’s move to introduce the NR-series engine just now, but it’s better late than never. On paper, it makes the same sort of power and torque figures (107 horsepower, 140 Nm) as the NZ-series that it’s replacing, but it does so with cleaner emissions. It’s designed to be Euro-4 compliant out of the box and can be made to go Euro-5 with just some optimizations. Now, while this news is all good for Mother Earth, what does it mean for the drive? Simply put: this is the engine the Vios and Yaris should have come with from the get-go.
Before the new engine, the Vios and Yaris twins were noticeably coarse-sounding. Though improved sound insulation over the model years mostly reduced them to muffles, they’re still audible as the rev counter goes up. With the new 2NR-FE engine, it’s all gone. Twisting the key and the engine comes to life with a rather unconvincing tinny sound. But as it settles to its 700 rpm idling speed, it becomes remarkably quiet and smooth; better than anything the old powerplant could muster. From there, it moves from strength to strength. At lower rpms, it maintains that composure, maintaining its hushed nature while at higher rpms, it’s free from any vibration or harshness whatsoever.
Apart from answering the clamor for a more refined driving experience, this new engine in the Vios and Yaris answers yet another glaring complaint experienced by owners: poor fuel economy. While it was excruciatingly hard to keep the “Eco” coaching light lit with the older powerplant, it’s almost always on in this new one save for full throttle applications. This observation is only backed up by actual fuel mileage where the new engine provides up to 7 percent better fuel economy especially during city driving; and though the engine plays a huge part in improving the overall fuel economy, the adoption of a CVT over the archaic 4-speed automatic helps too.
Sadly, these improvements aren’t without their drawbacks. The biggest one is the lack of oomph, particularly for the heavier Vios. This is obvious from a standstill, where pressing on the gas pedal results in increased engine sound and pretty much nothing else. It’s only when the revs go above 2,300 rpm that some decent speed is felt. The Yaris, being the lighter one fares better. It feels sprightlier, closely mimicking the performance of the old drivetrain combination. Now, the CVT is largely to blame here since its tuning is less than athletic. Compared to other gearless automatics, Toyota’s slush box emphasizes “slush” far too much. It takes more than a moment to find a good rhythm. Thankfully, once it finds it though, there’s good enough pace to get around. Command an overtake though and the gearbox gets perplexed once more, taking some time to shuffle up its ratios to produce grunt. Slotting the gearbox into the simulated +/- does help things a bit, but not as much as you’d hope.
Apart from the new engine and transmission, the rest of the Vios and Yaris experience hasn’t changed much. Outside, it sports the same “keen look” Toyota family design that first appeared in 2013. The sharp and angular styling is holding up quite well despite its ubiquity and age, though minor changes particularly with the wheel design would have been very welcome.
There are far more noticeable changes in the cabin, but they’re all of the aesthetic kind. It’s headlined by the discontinuation of the controversial two-tone black-and-beige scheme (at least for the Vios 1.5G). Like its hatchback sibling, the Vios sedan now sports a monotonous all-black interior across the line that not only increases its sporty vibe, but makes it easier to clean and maintain. And to reduce the gloominess, Toyota has given a spattering of color in the form of colored seat stitching. It echoes the color scheme in the instrument cluster with the Vios getting blue stiches while the Yaris getting orange ones. There are other minor changes that differentiate the siblings. The Vios gets chrome bits on the air vents and better surfacing on the multimedia paneling while the Yaris makes do without the silver accent that spans the dashboard. And on the subject of the multimedia system, it swaps the old integrated head unit for a full touchscreen one. It offers more input options including smartphone mirroring at the expensive of easier tactile operation (there’s no physical volume knob for one).
Sadly, these aesthetic changes don’t address the pair’s aging ergonomics and space utilization. Compared to its newer rivals, the seating position is less than ideal with the steering wheel positioned too far. At night, the gauges don’t offer any adjustable dimming and this may be problematic for people with sensitive eyes. There’s also a severe lack of cubby holes as well. Aside from the oddly-shaped storage tray in front of the shifter, there’s nowhere else to put things like sunglasses, loose change, and smartphones (the Vios though has a covered armrest storage box).
Like how the interior hasn’t fundamentally changed, the Vios and Yaris conduct themselves pretty much the same way like they did before: good, but not in any stellar way. The driving feel is largely uninvolving, but the quieter and more relaxed nature of the drivetrain does match the road behavior better. It’s solid, stable, and comfortable, tuned more for compliancy than feedback. Through deeper corners and curves, there’s more understeer and body lean, magnified only by the slow steering response. The brakes could also use better modulation as they’re grabby because of their short pedal stroke.
Toyota’s small car offerings have always appealed to those wanting a more sensible rather than outright sexy choice. Though they’ve tried to change that thinking with events like a one-make race and the offering of TRD kits, both the Vios and its slightly stylish sibling, the Yaris, never made adjectives like ‘fast’ and ‘sporty’ stick. Even the adoption of a new powertrain does little to change that. In fact, the new NR-series engine only serves to improve its practicality even more. Not only does it offer a quieter and smoother driving experience, but it’s now got the fuel efficiency befitting a small car. And fundamentally, that’s where all the work on the 2017 Vios and Yaris has gone to. More than ever, they are solid entry-level passenger cars that work and perform as advertised, nothing more and nothing less.
2017 Toyota Vios 1.5G and 2017 Toyota Yaris 1.G
|Ownership||2017 Toyota Vios 1.5G||2017 Toyota Yaris 1.5G|
|Year Introduced||2013 (Refreshed: 2016)||2014 (Refreshed: 2016)|
|Vehicle Classification||Sub-compact Sedan||Sub-compact Hatchback|
|Body Type||4-door sedan||5-door hatchback|
|Engine / Drive||F/F||F/F|
|Under the Hood|
|Aspiration||Normally Aspirated||Normally Aspirated|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||I4||I4|
|BHP @ rpm||107 @ 6,000||107 @ 6,000|
|Nm @ rpm||140 @ 4,200||140 @ 4,200|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Gasoline / 91~||Gasoline / 91~|
|Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed||10.48 km/L @ 17 km/h||9.88 km/L @ 15 km/h|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,060||1,040|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut||Independent, MacPherson Strut|
|Rear Suspension||Torsion Beam Axle||Torsion Beam Axle|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc||Vented Disc|
|Tires||Yokohama dB Decidel E70,
185/60 R 15 H (f & r)
|Yokohama dB Decidel E70,
185/60 R 15 H (f & r)
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||No||No|
|Other Safety Features||No||No|
|Fog Lamps||Front||Front, Rear|
|Steering Wheel Adjust||Tilt||Tilt|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather||Leather|
|Folding Rear Seat||No||Yes, 60/40|
|Power Door Locks||Yes||Yes|
|Power Mirrors||Yes, with Fold||Yes, with Fold|
|# of Speakers||6||6|