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.
8 thoughts on “Summer Reissue : Joking Aside”
Aah, a nice reminder of a time when small cars were often friendly, cheerful and unaggressive looking. Today, the opposite seems to be the norm. Without any serious analysis or data to back this assertion up, I think there’s often strong correlation between the design of a car and how it’s driven.
Here are some examples of my favourite nicely designed “friendly” small cars from the mid-90’s:
The Micra above seems to have headlamp wipers, which I cannot recall ever seeing on one of those. Perhaps the smallest car to be offered with them?
Tom – I think the original Mini had them in some markets.
Weren’t headlamp wipers mandatory in at least one Scandavian market?
I had to look up what the red car was (Honda Logo). It was sold in the UK for 9 months, apparently, before the Jazz. I’ll enjoy investigating further, so thank you.
Hi Charles. Yes, the Logo was introduced to the UK market shortly before its demise as a warm-up act for the much more sophisticated Jazz. If was typical of earlier generation Honda models: meticulously built, metronomically reliable, easy to drive, but a bit dull, making it perfect for the more mature demographic that Hondas used to attract in droves.
It’s interesting, because before the Yaris, Toyota didn’t do small cars, and they weren’t good at it either. Traditionally, Toyota farmed out everything and anything smaller than a Corolla to their sub brand Daihatsu, what they made in house was always sub par like the Starlet. I’d say they didn’t really take that market sector seriously until the Yaris, but when they did, they got it thoroughly benchmarked ahead of where the opposition was situated. From someone with experience both from a Yaris and a Citroen C1, I can also say there’s a lot of Yaris in the C1. I think Toyotas role in the PSA JV has been deliberately downplayed, because you notice so much of Toyota tech when you start looking for it. I’d say they beat the French in joie de vivre, and that doesn’t happen that often.
It’s pointless to discuss the Yaris without delving deep into its most defining aspect – that of a mini-SUV cabin/seat-height architecture.
Cleverly disguised in a ‘friendly’ and irresistibly cute exterior,
the original Yaris was (viewed in hindsight) most revolutionary
as a first attempt at offering SUV-levels of ‘raised occupants’ positioning’ in an A-segm. car. The resultant visibility benefits and ease of parking/urban use, made it a truly hard to beat
Therefore, it’s massive commercial success is tricky to analyze:
a big part thereof is undeniably due to its zoomorphic, appealing styling, but a significant success factor is also its innovative (almost a historical trend-setting) raised architecture.
They are outstanding in city use, and unexpectedly competent
& comfy out there on longer road trips.
One of the best allrounders ever made, that’s for sure.