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Research says Indians are moving towards SUVs and sedans are taking a back seat rapidly. And as a result, every carmaker has a slew of SUVs lined up at the dealership, ones that come in all sizes and prices. But Toyota has simply taken that research and thrown in it the bin. And just after it's done that, it's got on with its new project for India, the Yaris.

The Yaris made a lot of noise at this year's Auto Expo, and it won't be wrong to say that it was one of the show stopper in Noida. Back in February, we saw it up close and we were pretty impressed with the package that Toyota had put together. And now, two months later, we've driven it right on our soil, and here's what it is like.

In terms of design, the Yaris is bit of a mixed bag. Upfront, it looks well designed and a big grille, big, swept back headlamps give it a typical Toyota look yet enough flamboyance to stand out in the sea of sedans. With it size, it's comparible to the Hyundai Verna, Honda City, Maruti Ciaz and the VW Vento. And that's good news, because it frees up enough space for you to occupy in the cabin - more on it in a bit. Moving towards the side, the design loses a bit of flamboyance and this is when things start to get a bit dull. And have a look at the Yaris from the back and it's evident that Toyota hasn't prepped it enough to compete with the Hyundai Verna. Things are bland at the overall design at back fails to make you fall in love with it at first sight.

Fortunately though, things aren't bland on the inside. The dashboard is dual tone, with black and being plastics, and the upholstery is dressed in beige leather. The fit and finish and quality of plastic feels upmarket and far, far better than the smaller Etios. A nice touch of faux stitching on the dashboard makes it look like it's finished in leather. The centre console is finished in piano black and what takes centre stage is a 7-inch touchscreen that controls all your media needs and doubles up as the screen for the reverse cam.

The seats upfront are big and offer great amounts of support, and are comfortable even on long drives. The split seats at the back in the 60:40 ratio are comfortable too and wide enough for three adults to seat comfortably. There's also plenty of legroom at the back, even with front seats adjusted for a decently tall individual, but the issue lies in the headroom. The sloping roof take away from the headroom and if you're anywhere close to 6-feet in height, you'd not be happy at the back of the Yaris.

Toyota is serious about offering a lot of kit with the top spec of the Yaris. You get multimedia system with a DVD player and a touchscreen, auto headlamps and wipers, auto AC, steering controls, rear windshield blind and a host of other features. This also includes segment firsts like electric seat for the driver. But even with all this, it lacks cooled seats, like in the Verna. To counter the issue of the ambient heat in our country, there's an over head cooling unit that sucks in cold air from the front AC vents and throws if where the rear passenger desires. It's a smart and efficient way of getting rid of rear AC vents.

In terms of mechanicals, Toyota has decided to refrain from offering a diesel mill in the Yaris. What it does is a 1.5-litre petrol engine that develops 105bhp and 140Nm of torque. Adequate for a car that weighs in at 1100kg, right? Read on.

With the way the engine is tuned, it's not got much shove at the lower end and even the top end of the rev band is fairly flat. All of those horses and the torques are placed in the middle, from around 2000-4500rpm. In terms of refinement, it's a typical Toyota with not much engine noise seeping in the cabin and almost completely void of vibrations.

You get an option of a six-speed manual gearbox or a CVT with seven presets. We drove the later and came out smiling. Now, CVTs in general aren't the sportiest of the lot, but this one is quick to react to your need of power and works its belts and pulleys to keep the engine spinning at optimum speeds to offer all the power that it has. But if you're on a run, the limitations of the CVT kick in soon enough. If you wish you take the controls in your hand, there are seven presets to the CVT that can be operated by paddle shifters.

We haven't got a chance to push the Yaris hard around corners on the Bangalore-Hyderabad highway, but with little that we could, it's clear that the Yaris isn't the most sportiest of the lot, but isn't a couch potato either. It's strength may not lie in handling, but it offers a well-weighed steering at doesn't need constant correction even at high speeds. The car feels well planted even when you keep the engine on the boil on the highway and in no way feels vague, like the Hyundai Verna.

At the pre-drive presentation, the top management at Toyota have hinted at a premium price compared to its rivals. And to justify that, according to Toyota, the Yaris has enough and more features and powerful drivetrain to back it up. We expect the Yaris to start at Rs 9 lakh and go all the way up to Rs 14.5 lakh (ex-showroom). That may be a bit of an ambitious price tag, but it's got plenty of features, ample room in the cabin, a solid drivetrain and to top it all up, Toyota's impeccable reliability. With all this, the Yaris will make a strong case for itself in the shrinking sedan market, but the Verna's styling and the City's strong recall value might take a chunk out of the share that Toyota wishes to grab.


Specs:1496cc, 4cyl, petrol, 105bhp, 140Nm, FWD, 6M/CVT, estimated price: Rs 9-14.5 lakh (ex-showroom)

Verdict: Makes a strong case with a roomy cabin, loads of features and good driving Dynamics, but the styling lacks flamboyance.

7/10



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