There are many attributes to characterise a mainstream Toyota model – dependable, efficient, indestructible, predictable, maybe even bland. Nothing too wrong with that, millions of satisfied Toyota owners around the world turn up at work on time because they don’t drive Alfa Romeos. But when UMW Toyota launched its “All about the Drive” tagline back in 2016, I have to admit I chuckled, just a bit.
It’s common knowledge that self-professed car nut-cum-Toyota president Akio Toyoda is on a mission to reshape the mindset of the organisation he leads, but like an ocean liner making a course correction, it takes time. Here in Malaysia, there are flashes of that happening with the radical-looking C-HR crossover and a new Camry showing off some sporty goodness, but both aren’t exactly mainstream accessible in price. Suffice to say, the new and improved Vios – the quintessential bread-and-butter compact saloon – has a lot to prove.
The 1,000km media test drive
Despite the revised outer skin and interior refresh, not much has changed on the Vios, at least on paper; the underpinnings are the same, the dimensions are similar, even the powertrain has an identical output as before (107hp and 140Nm), so subjectively it surely can’t be that different, or will the exceedingly lengthy media test drive route from Shah Alam to Desaru, Johor (and back) prove otherwise.
Turns out that the new Vios didn’t even need that many kilometres to show its stuff; the first thing that jumps at you is overall refinement. This Vios isn’t just quieter on acceleration and at cruise compared to the last one, but Toyota has also dialled out the annoying frequencies that made the previous car sound hollow when you wind up the engine. Toyota says extensive insulation materials been applied within the engine bay (can be seen visibly), on the engine cover and around the cabin.
Holding the virtual gears of the 7-speed CVT via the new steering shift paddles (only available on G grade) and upshifting near the red line, we do not doubt Toyota’s claims of newfound refinement. But not just that, the steering paddles are meaningful in the way how the transmission has been calibrated with distinct shift points that mimics how a conventional torque converter automatic changes gear. Put it this way, if this CVT in the new Vios is vegetarian ‘chicken’, it is a very convincing one.
And then there’s the ride, which now shows a level of sophistication never seen before in a Vios; it is supple at low speeds and above small bumps yet retains a good grip on body motion when the speedometer hits triple digits. As is usually the case with ride quality, once that is sorted, the handling follows.
No, the Vios hadn’t transformed into a sports saloon that makes you search out for winding trunk roads, but through the well-weighted steering feel (revised and reinforced) and reassuringly positive braking response (it wears larger brake rotors), there is now a connection to the machine and a trust in how the Vios responds to your inputs. It’s unfamiliar territory, but the subjective pleasures behind the wheel would make Akio Toyoda proud.
It may well boil down to the drive
Given that this is essentially an extensive facelift of the previous model, it begs the question why Toyota didn’t do this earlier, clearly, they had it in them to make this Vios more refined and better to drive. For that, we may have to thank Honda for raising the bar in the B-sedan class with the City. So, the RM77,200-to-RM87,300 question is: should you get this over the Honda?
No doubt, much will hinge on whether you like how this new Vios looks and/or if the City’s slightly more spacious cabin matters more. To my eyes, Toyota has done a solid job differentiating this from the old one, but like many efforts of late, it may be one slat and a cut too many, especially at the front, though the intricate face of the new Vios may appeal to youthful buyers more than this middle age writer. The view is however much better from the back, with the two-piece combination LED tail-lamp adding a premium touch to the tidy-looking rump.
Of course, you should also take into consideration that all three variants of Vios now come with seven airbags as standard, with the 1.5G and 1.5E grades adding on blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and a dash cam by way of Toyota-approved accessory fitment. The comprehensive safety specs are one of many reasons why the new Toyota Vios may have what it takes to claw back some ground on the Honda City, but like what’s emblazoned on the media test drive cars – ‘As Never Before’ – the competitive edge of the new Vios may surprisingly turn out to be ‘all about the drive’.
Toyota Vios 1.5G
Price: RM87,300 Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder, FWD Output: 107hp / 140Nm Transmission: 7-speed CVT Performance: 0-100km/h in 10.0 seconds; top speed 185km/h (both estimated) Wheels/tyres: 195/50 R16 Safety: 7 airbags, Electronic Stability Control Warranty: 5-year/unlimited mileage