Australia’s best small hatch revealed
These are tough times for city hatchbacks. Once-popular models such as the Ford Fiesta, Holden Barina and Renault Clio have disappeared from our roads, while Honda has no plans to import the next-generation Jazz.
At the same time, increasingly strict safety standards have pushed Toyota to raise the new Yaris' entry price by more than 40 per cent.
The new Toyota's suite of impressive - and expensive - safety features have been rewarded with a 2020 five-star rating that few rivals will be able to match.
If safety is your number one priority, the Yaris is hard to beat. But is that enough to put the impressive Volkswagen Polo and well equipped Kia Rio in the shade?
Toyota made headlines with the launch of the new Yaris by suggesting that it had no choice but to build the safest car possible and those who can't afford it should shop second-hand.
This isn't a cheap car. Tested in mid-grade SX form, it costs about $30,600 drive-away, and that's before you consider optional extras such as a hybrid engine, metallic paint or two-tone roof.
But you do get eight airbags - including a pair positioned between front occupants - plus forward and reverse auto emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assistance and much more.
Beyond the realms of safety, other features include smart keys, attractive LED lights, climate control and a 7-inch touchscreen loaded up with proper satnav, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Toyota's five-year warranty comes with capped-price servicing which will set you back just $975 for five years. Robust resale is also a strong point.
The SX has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder non-turbo engine mated to a CVT auto. Impressive 4.9L/100km economy comes from standard unleaded fuel, and full-throttle inputs are rewarded with 88kW/145Nm grunt.
But the Yaris feels stressed when asked to provide power, roaring noisily as the stepless transmission works to help the little motor deliver its best.
A small steering wheel, spacious front end and huge digital speedo are strong points, helped by a low-slung driving position with plenty of room up front.
We're less convinced by cardboard-like material on the doors, a lack of centre armrest or rear power outlets, plus rear accommodation that ranks in the middle of the road for this group.
Toyota's official stats say the Yaris has a particularly small boot, but hands-on experience suggests it is no worse than average for the class.
It's the most comfortable of the three around town and there's a degree of polish to the way it corners, but little charm to attract folks who enjoy zesty little cars.
Keen drivers might be drawn toward the Kia Rio GT-Line, seduced by 17-inch alloys, a body kit, faux carbon fibre and a flat-bottomed steering wheel with shift paddles. It's the sort of stuff normally reserved for hot hatches.
Priced from about $24,490 drive-away, the GT-Line sits at the top of the Rio range. The key selling point separating it from lesser variants is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine that uses 5.7L/100km to make 74kW and 172Nm. Performance is helped by a quick shifting dual-clutch automatic normally found in performance cars.
You get a lot of kit, including leather-look seats with white piping, an 8 - inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and basic driver aids such as auto emergency braking.
It can't match the Yaris' safety gear and costs more than twice as much to service over five years, but wins favour with a seven-year warranty.
A sporty cabin and eye-catching looks promise a special driving experience.
The Rio doesn't quite deliver that.
Inconsistent steering weight, noisy suspension and a firm ride work against it around town, particularly when hustling the car through tight spaces.
A dozy transmission makes takes time to find the right ratio before keeping the compact motor on the boil.
Unsurprisingly given its humble origins, the Rio GT-Line feels like a bargain-basement hatchback with a few choice additions, rather than an intrinsically impressive machine.
Though it isn't the bestseller in this class, the Volkswagen Polo is the class benchmark.
Polished presentation, premium materials, sophisticated engines and a refined drive experience make it the one to beat.
Priced from $24,990 drive-away in automatic mid-grade Comfortline form, the Polo has a five-star safety rating, but few of the Toyota's standard safety features. You need to pay $1500 extra for active cruise control or rear cross-traffic alert.
Free servicing for the first three years feels like a concession that Volkswagen charges too much for maintenance - the first annual bill of $789 will hit budget buyers where it hurts. Its impressive 5.0L/100km fuel use is offset by the need to pay extra for premium unleaded.
Old-fashioned halogen headlights and unassuming exterior style also let the side down but there's real quality to its touch points. The driving position is spot-on, helped by a lovely multi-function steering wheel. You get a central armrest, twin rear USB charging points and rear disc brakes that aren't available in the Toyota or Kia. It also has a full-size spare wheel, the biggest boot of the trio, and a more accommodating rear seat.
It's the best to drive by some margin. Well-weighted steering joins a slightly firm ride that offers more precise control than the softly sprung Yaris. Volkswagen's 1.0-litre turbo engine is a gem, with effortless 85kW/200Nm figures that arrive at low revs, easily outgunning the Yaris or Rio in everyday driving. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission impresses for the most part, but can hesitate at low speeds.
Our team was divided by brakes that bring quick reactions while feeling a touch grabby, but were united in praise for the Polo's grown-up manners. It feels like a much more expensive car than its price tag suggests.
The Rio impresses in the showroom but doesn't deliver the goods on the road. Impressive safety features and ownership credentials make the Yaris a solid choice for buyers with plenty of cash. But the Polo's sharp price, superior driving experience and impressive refinement make it the winner.
TOYOTA YARIS SX VITALS
Price: About $30,600 drive-away
Engine: 1.5-litre 3-cyl, 88kW/145Nm
Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unlimited km, $975 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 8 airbags, front and rear auto braking, active cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert
VOLKSWAGEN POLO COMFORTLINE VITALS
Price: $24,990 drive-away
Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 85kW/200Nm
Warranty/servicing: 5-yr/u'ltd km, $1121 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking. $1500 adds rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and active cruise control
Cargo: 351 litres
KIA RIO GT-LINE VITALS
Price: $24,490 drive-away
Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 74kW/172Nm
Warranty/servicing: 7-year/unlimited km, $2027 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane keeping assistance
Cargo: 325 litres
Originally published as Australia's best small hatch revealed