Someone asked the other day whatever happened to the Toyota Echo.
Well, Echo, which was named Yaris in other markets, eventually became the Yaris here too.
And this time around, it’s also available with a hybrid powertrain, which replaces the Prius C (itself a Yaris).
Confused? There’s no need to be.
In its latest iteration the Echo cum Prius cum Yaris transcends its “cute” roots to become a much more mature, desirable product — at least that is the sporty ZR.
What’s it cost?
Prices start from $22,130 for the entry Ascent Sport manual (the only manual by the way).
A CVT style auto adds $1500 to the price, bringing the total to $23,630 before on-roads.
SX and ZR with a CVT are $27,020 and $30,100 respectively. While hybrid power adds a further $2000 to the price of each.
Then there’s premium paint at $500 and you can also get two-tone paint with either a contrasting black or white roof for $450.
Our test vehicle was the top of the line ZR Hybrid finished in Coral Rose with a standard roof priced from $32,600.
Standard kit includes cloth trim, LED runners, tail and stop lights; auto retractable door mirrors with LED turn signals; and auto power windows front and back, along with a 7.0-inch touchscreen with DAB digital radio, six-speaker audio and Apple Carplay/Android Auto.
SX adds 15-inch alloys, climate air, satellite navigation with pinch-and-zoom capability, speed-limit display and camera warnings, keyless entry and start, soft-touch instrument panel, Bi-LED headlights, indicators and rear combination lights plus darkened privacy glass.
To this top-of-the-line ZR adds 16-inch alloys, rear spoiler, head-up display, sports front seats, blind-spot monitor, intelligent clearance sonar, parking support brake system, and paddle shifters on the petrol variant.
Safety extends to eight airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a rear view camera with guidelines.
There’s also Pre-Collision Safety (PCS) system with day/night pedestrian and day cyclist detection and Emergency Steering Assist, Lane Trace Assist and Lane Departure Alert with steering assist, daytime Intersection Turn Assist, Auto High Beam, Road Sign Assist and adaptive cruise control.
ZR variants gain front and rear parking sensors and a parking support brake system that can warn the driver of objects around the vehicle and even apply the brakes if necessary.
What’s it go like?
The ZR Hybrid is a surprisingly sporty little hatch (for a hybrid).
Entry Ascent Sport is powered by a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine with the choice of 6-speed manual or CVT-style auto.
The direct-injection engine produces 88kW of power and 145Nm of torque, with the manual using 5.4L/100km or the CVT 4.9L/100km.
SX and ZR grades get the same engine, but can also be specified with Toyota’s latest hybrid powertrain.
Also based on a 1.5-litre three cylinder engine (but an Atkinson cycle version), with an output of 67kW and 120Nm, it’s supplemented by a 59kW/141Nm electric motor that together deliver 85kW.
Toyota never quotes a torque figure for its hybrids . . .
Petrol ZR benefits from gear change paddles with 10 steps or gears to use in manual mode.
The hybrid misses out on this, but has a choice or power or eco modes and uses as little as 3.3L/100km.
It can also run on electric power alone.
All versions run on standard 91 unleaded, with a 40-litre tank for petrol models and 36 litres for the hybrid.
A new chassis delivers better performance, with reduced body roll and better stability and stopping distances under brakes — although it’s still fitted with rear drum brakes.
Hybrids gain regenerative braking which helps top up the battery system.
Revised front MacPherson struts and torsion-beam rear suspension offer reduced friction, softer springs and less body roll from the rear.
Because it weighs almost 200kg less than the lacklustre Yaris Cross tested, the power to weight ratio is better and that means significantly better performance.
In fact, the hatch couldn’t be more different, feeling tighter, lighter and sportier, and riding on smaller 16 inch wheels shod with 185/55 series Bridgestone Ecopia rubber.
Starting to push harder, it soon becomes apparent this chassis is capable of more, capable of absorbing more power and delivering higher levels of performance.
This Yaris feels more planted, more composed, with a lower centre of gravity and lower seating position, complemented by sports seats in the ZR.
Even the CVT doesn’t feel too bad, at least until it’s put under load.