The Yaris was one of Toyota’s better efforts. It still looks good today.
Toyota signalled a stylistic change of heart at the 1997 Frankfurt motor show when they presented the Funtime concept, a cheerful looking five door hatchback marking a significant departure from the rather anonymous looking Starlet, which by then was being left behind by the increasingly sophisticated and considerably more modernist European opposition.
A more Euro-centric design both in conceptual and stylistic terms, it was introduced in production specification the following year at the Paris motor show. Intended to be a global car, the Yaris (or Vitz in certain markets) signified a point where Toyota became deadly serious about their European B-segment ambitions.
Taking its visual cues from Nissan’s 1992 K11 Micra and GM-Opel’s 1993 Corsa B, the Yaris looked the part, both inside and out, came with up to date powertrains and all of the might, not to mention build integrity of the predominant Japanese automotive colossus.
However the Yaris’ rather playful looking interior design was perhaps more inspired by the studios of Patrick Le Quément in Paris, where the centrally mounted instrument display and organically shaped dashboard moulding cast palpable reflections upon Renault’s seminal 1992 Twingo.
European market deliveries began in 1999, and the following year, the Yaris received both European and Japanese car of the year titles. While the bulk of production took place in Takoaka, Japan, Toyota inaugurated a new plant in Valenciennes, France during 2001, where over 200,000 examples per annum were being built by 2004.
Such was the model’s popularity, that Yaris’ sales rose consistently year on year throughout its production life, to the point where it accounted for a quarter of Toyota sales in Europe. By the time production of the first-generation model ceased in 2006, over 1.2 million units were sold across the European region.
While not a car to set aside for posterity, the Yaris was arguably the first B-sector Toyota for which no excuses were necessary – marking a point from which the Japanese car giant never really looked back in market acceptance, to say nothing of penetration terms.
So to mark the 20th anniversary of its introduction, we return to this 2016 report from DTW contributor and one-time Yaris owner, SV. Robinson. And for those whose appetites for all things Yaris-shaped remains unsated, fellow DTW-er, Richard Herriott makes some colourful observations on Toyota’s diminutive trailblazer here.