I love small cars. With small cars, you can have a lot of fun driving, but without spending too much, and have enough laughs and giggles without going scary fast. Small cars are inherently more responsive, thanks to their light weight. You don’t need huge power, super wide tires (which kill steering feel) and monstrously powerful brakes to have fun.
The Toyota Vios and Yaris are not your typical sporty subcompacts, but with careful driving, a few choice modifications here and there, you’ll be surprised at how fun these pocket rockets are to drive.
Technically, the Yaris (also called Vitz or Echo in other markets, at different times of introduction) is the older nameplate, having been around since 1999, while the first-generation Vios was introduced in 2003, based heavily on Yaris’ underpinnings, and designed in collaboration with Thai engineers. The Asean market was not yet ready for a compact 5-door hatchback which is the core automotive market in Europe, so a 1.5-liter-powered sedan was needed, taking advantage of special tax laws common throughout the region favoring a small people’s car.
Both the Yaris and Vios are in their second generations, and both top-model variants are powered by the 1NZ-FE 4-cylinder, twin-cam 16-valve engine with Toyota’s VVT-i or variable valve timing with intelligence, producing a modest 108 HP for the Yaris and 107 HP for the Vios and 14.5 Nm of torque. The difference is probably down to slight differences in ECU programming and possibly the exhaust path as the Yaris, with its hatchback body and slightly shorter exhaust coming straight from Thailand, whereas the Vios, with its 4-door sedan body and slightly longer exhaust is made locally in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Despite the small discrepancy in power, the curve is identical as both cars produce a strong low to midrange grunt, tapering off towards redline, using low-octane unleaded fuel. Both cars are capable of handling as much as 10 percent ethanol in most blended fuels according to insiders at Toyota, but to date, Toyota has been silent about how ethanol-blended fuels can impact their vehicle’s performance. Mated to the engine is either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic.
Performance on the highway is brisk at best, hampered only by the overly long transmission gearing, which can make in-city cut and thrust-driving a bit tedious. But the gearing pays dividends on the highway, where both the Yaris and Vios can easily achieve a personal recorded best of 17km/liter, knocking on the 100km/h speed limit, +/- a few clicks north of that. The automatic in particular, seems to find its sweet spot cruising at 3,000 rpm which equates to about 120 kph, providing the best in real-world fuel consumption.
Both cars share the same Macpherson-strut front suspension and torsion-bar rear, shod with narrow Bridgestone 185/55R15 all-season touring tires. The narrow tires, filled up to 33-35 psi cold pressure improves steering feel significantly through the electronically powered steering system, which has a tendency to feel inert when the tires are below 30 psi. But with the tires pumped up, you gain just a little more confidence to make driving on the road better, and more engaging.
Recent improvements have made both cars more contemporary, with both now featuring revised in-car audio systems, a new D-shaped steering wheel that adjusts for rake, with controls for the audio system, new wheel designs, a TRD-specific trim for the Vios, and TRD RS bodykit made standard for the Yaris. Both have dual airbags and ABS-brakes as standard, but the top-model Vios comes with 4-wheel disc brakes, whereas the Yaris still makes do with drum brakes at the back.
Both have the same, high-feeling driving position and roomy interior. A person my size (5’10″ with a 42-inch waist and 55-inch chest size, with 11 EE shoes) fits comfortably in the back seat behind the driver of exactly the same size, a good test if a car fits you well.
Unfortunately, this is where the similarities end for the Yaris and Vios. The Yaris is significantly shorter, by a measure of close to 20 inches, making it easier to park in tight spaces. I easily fit the Yaris laterally in front of the slots in my two-car garage, whereas the Vios was next to impossible (but still doable). The Yaris is also 25 kilograms lighter. Doesn’t seem much, but every performance-car enthusiast will tell you that is a world of difference in the dynamic front. The Yaris also feels noticeably sharper to drive, while the Vios feels more comfortable and refined, thanks in equal parts to the 90-millimeter-longer wheelbase and the added weight from the trunk hanging out from behind its rear axle which gives the sedan better balance, unlike the Yaris’ nose-heavy chassis, giving the hatchback the propensity to spin out on tight, decreasing radius corners with a downhill gradient on the track (Yes, it happened to me 5 times already!).
The Vios claws its way back with a 400-liter trunk space compared to the Yaris’ almost nonexistent trunk. Whenever I take my own Yaris, I have to drop the rear seats to carry my golf bag, essentially making the Yaris a 2-seater. If both the Yaris and Vios had split-folding 60:40 rear seats, it would make a world of difference in terms of practicality and versatility.
Drive with a steady foot and you’ll be rewarded with as much as 12 km/liter in the city, and a cool 18 km/liter out on the highway, though some private owners claim as much as 22 km/liter. Flat-out, both cars, equipped with automatic transmissions will top out at a personally verified 180-185 kph, with the manuals able to nudge closer to 200 kph. As proof of their sportiness, particularly the Yaris, which is called Vitz in Japan, there’s a one-make race series called the Netz Vitz Cup where highly tuned Yaris hatchbacks duke it out on the tracks throughout Japan. A friend of mine at the Yaris Club Philippines, Eddie, has lapped the short track of the now closed Subic International Raceway in the same time as a more powerful Honda SiR with its infamous B16 engine. Testament to good design and driving dynamics on Toyota’s part for the Yaris.
So while the Vios and Yaris are often overshadowed by the more expensive and premium-feeling Honda Jazz and City, the terrible twins from Toyota are a bargain, particularly the Yaris, which retails for only P771,000 for the top-model spec, and the special-model TRD-equipped Vios which goes for P865,000, or the regular top-model Vios which retails for P820,000.
Search online and you’ll find just as many parts and accessories to make your Vios or Yaris more personalized, with firmer suspensions from the likes of BC Racing, chassis stiffeners from Ultra Racing, speed parts from Speedlab in the form of K&N intake kits and Hotpipes exhaust parts, numerous wheel/tire upgrades from ROTA and Concept One/Wheel Gallery thanks to its standard 4X100 PCD wheel size, to rarer and more high-end accessories from tuning houses like HKS from Japan and AEM in the United States. The ultimate bolt-on upgrade for either car? A Blitz supercharger kit, which bumps up power to 150 HP, and increases torque to roughly 25 Nm.
For a car barely over a ton, that is a lot, almost a 50-percent increase in power and 40-percent increase in torque. I’m saving up now for that kit!