What’s this, a sporty Toyota? 1.8 litre engine, variable valve timing, three doors, big alloys, roof spoiler and side skirts. All fitted to the tiny Yaris. As a motoring enthusiast, it’s understandably easy to get caught up in the anticipation, the promise of excitement. Remember the heady days of the Twincam 16 valve RSi? But before you get carried away, the Yaris TS is no sports car; heck, it’s not even a hot hatch. Toyota is at pains to point out as much, calling it a mature, flagship model and comparing it to VW’s now morbidly lethargic 85kW, 2.0 Polo Sportline instead. It seems that no matter how many millions Toyota shovels into a Formula One programme each year, or how many Nascar or Japanese GT Championship (with a Lexus) races they take part in, precious little excitement filters through to their production cars. I suppose if they ever actually won the F1 championship they’d celebrate by releasing a limited edition Timo Glock ‘Awesome’ Auris with indicators that flicker precisely one-and-a-quarter times faster than normal. But that’s another fireside argument. So what exactly is the Yaris TS? Simply put, it’s the best darn Yaris you can buy. Drive it with verve on a twisty road and you’re immediately aware of the taut chassis, stiffer springs and the beefier engine.
The ride is firm but not jarringly so and the spec levels are appropriately high for a flagship model. So what’s the problem then? Ah, did I mention it costs R200 000? That’s into C-segment hatch money and uncomfortably close to more serious junior hot hatches like the Peugeot 207GTi and Clio Renaultsport. >STYLED BY CARTOON ARTISTS Half the problem stems from the fact the TS looks the part. 17 inch alloys and far wider rubber (205/45) do a sterling job of filling the arches and balancing the bulbous styling. All facelifted Yarii get reprofiled headlamps and front bumpers, but the TS gets circle motif LED-type rear lamps, a 100mm diameter tailpipe end piece and vertical fog lamps in the squared-off rear bumper. The changes don’t attract much attention on the move though, especially from the front, with most slow-moving traffic refusing to move over for a Yaris, nogal. So zero rear-view mirror presence then, but park it up alongside a T1 3-door and the TS is palpably more appealing. >SMART ENTRY Getting in and starting a locked TS is as simple as opening the door and pressing the start button. All courtesy of a keyless entry, keyless start remote. Of course that also means you can walk away from a running car with the ‘key’ still in your pocket.
The interior architecture is all standard Yaris fare, except the central fascia has a classier, gunmetal tone. The main gauges are still in the daft central pod, but at least they look like traditional dials now, with orange backlighting instead of green. There’s additional buttons on the steering wheel to operate the Bluetooth-enabled cellphone connection system with its speech recognition facility. The cool-but-complicated Bluetooth setup requires a solid read of the manual first as general use is not that intuitive.
The driving position is not exactly sporty, as you are perched on a high set pew (even in its lowest setting), but the seats are comfortable enough and the fabric is quite grippy. >SCORECARD You’d think that 98kW in a bodyshell usually adequately propelled by a 1.0 litre, 3-cylinder engine would make the TS a pocket rocket. Alas, it falls short. Though reasonably linear in its delivery, it lacks the urgency you’d expect and only spins to a limited 6500r/min.
Having said that the TS is an excellent Yaris and no doubt Toyota will sell their targeted 25 units a month to loyal clientele unconvinced by the Auris and unconcerned with value for money. In the meantime real enthusiasts will have to hang on for a proper sport.