Electric cars are not a new technology, the evolution of electric vehicles dates back 200 years. Of the 4192 cars sold in the USA in 1900, 28% were electric. There were forays into a few different methods of harnessing battery power, but petrol and diesel took the crown as people disregarded emissions issues and the free flow of oil kept everyone buoyant. The world’s first hybrid appeared in 1972 but never as a viable option. It’s really only since Toyota launched the Prius in 1997 that the world, and pretty much every PR conscious Hollywood star at the time, took notice.
The Prius was a game-changer. Coinciding with California’s move to zero emissions, it became the poster child for the future and a move away from the a traditional petrol or diesel engine. Roll on twenty years (sorry) and the automotive landscape is now moving at a greater rate than ever before. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, thinks the industry will change more in the next five to ten years than it has in the last fifty. Electricity may be the catalyst but manufacturers are falling over themselves to find the sweet spot between EVs and the security of falling back on the reliability of a traditional engine. While Elon Musk’s Tesla has championed the move to full EV, issues of range, charging availability and reliability still plague the concept. A Hybrid, for now, bridges that gap.
As principal innovators of the concept, Toyota are keen to expand on the Prius’s success as the market develops and have made significant moves to bring full hybrid technology across its whole range of models. The company’s baby, the Yaris, is the latest to be given the treatment. Taking much of the mechanics from the second generation XW20 Prius, Toyota has managed to squeeze the tech into the Yaris’s diminutive form without compromising on space, counting this car as the world’s first full hybrid supermini.
There are lots of misconceptions about hybrids. Where do we plug them in? What happens when they ‘run out’? Freelance, our local Toyota dealer, are keen to keep us all informed. They’ve launched a challenge to let people experience the new baby of their hybrid range and help people understand the technology and its advantages. Last month we took part, picking up their new hybrid Yaris and taking Freelance’s Hybrid Challenge; to see how cheaply we could get to Gorey for an ice cream and back from their dealership at Longueville, tracking our MPG over the distance.
The car wasn’t hard to miss as we pulled in. The new Yaris Yellow Edition Bi Tone looks like a bee; bright yellow with contrasting gloss black finishes on the roof, pillars, mirrors and grille, along with good-looking black and silver 16-inch alloys. It carries across the current Toyota styling well, in a bijou kind of way. I’m a mild petrolhead but I do like a small car. Our Gallery Smartcar is great for zipping about Jersey and unless you’re hauling kids and dogs, there’s really no need to do each journey in a car designed to take seven people up a sand dune.
Despite its small footprint, the Yaris has a comfortable spacious cabin and although the batteries are in the back, the rear seats two adults comfortably. The Bi Tone spec includes tech I’d not expected on a supermini; it gets Toyota’s Touch 2 infotainment system as standard which linked up to Spotify on my phone quite easily, alongside DAB radio, cruise control, LED taillights and daytime running lights plus reversing cameras as part of Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of assists and safety features. Add keyless start and it all feels very grown up for such a small car.
I’ve driven a few different hybrids and electric vehicles and it’s always a little odd when you hit the start button and it prepares itself to go, but silently. It doesn’t accelerate like a Tesla but the Yaris isn’t looking to win any 0-60 contests and the focus is on comfortable, economical motoring. In place of a rev counter, the Yaris has a counter for efficiency and I tried my best to stay in the ‘eco’ zone. Below that is ‘charge’. This hybrid doesn’t require plugging in, you see. It charges itself. When the wheels are turning and you’re on engine power you’re building up your battery charge for steady cruising on the electric drive when appropriate.
The result of my run to a misty Gorey and back was 55mpg. Paulo at Freelance had told me he got an admirable 64mpg and my competitive nature meant I was a little disappointed. It turns out I’d been concentrating too much on my dials rather than feeling the car. Apparently the vital ‘Eco’ light is on when you’re getting optimum efficiency. Plus I’d over-run the target, going up past the castle toward Archirondel rather than turning in Gorey. Excuses, I know, but had to give it another go. With more conscious driving and the little green ‘Eco’ icon as my guiding light I got to Gorey and as the mist disappeared, signaling a more successful run. Cruising in the Yaris was fun and gameifying the fuel efficiency made it seem like a driving game; one that saves you money too. On the second run I managed 69.8mpg, which is pretty much driving for free with no need to plug anything in.
If you’re looking for a small, convenient run-about, the Yaris is a perfect, economical and hi-spec car for island driving; providing a free school run or hassle free motoring. It’s not going to replace your Range Rover, but is a perfect back up. Plus they’re putting this hybrid tech across the range so you could always get something bigger that matches. The Lexus range gets the same tech you know….