B-Segment cars are arguably the most densely competed segment in the whole automotive industry. Be it an upgrade from a budget hatchback or a first car for a young family, B-segment sedans are typically the go-to choice for most.
However, in recent years, manufacturers are struggling to meet the demands and expectations of consumers. Besides having a mandatory big boot, buyers are taking into account the styling, driving performance, features, safety kit and most importantly fuel efficiency. The Honda City took the market by storm by offering exceptional value and has been instrumental in dethroning UMW Toyota as Malaysia’s number one non-national car manufacturer last year.
More than a year later, with the Toyota Vios Facelift, UMW Toyota has finally caught up with the competition. Or have they? We joined UMW Toyota for a drive down to Malacca to experience first-hand what the updated Vios brings to the table.
|Name||Toyota Vios 1.5 GX|
|Engine||1,496cc; inline-4 DOHC with Dual VVT-i|
|Transmission||CVT with 7-speed Sport Sequential Shiftmatic|
|Max Power||106 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Max Torque||140 Nm @ 4,200 rpm|
|Price (OTR with insurance)||RM92,800|
The 15-car convoy down to Malacca was made up of a mix of Toyota’s two top Vios trims, the 1.5 GX and 1.5 TRD Sportivo. Carried over from the outgoing model lineup, the TRD Sportivo remains as the range topper while the GX is a new offering sitting just between the TRD Sportivo and the G variant. With the keys to a 500-odd km mileage Crimson Spark Red Metallic Toyota Vios 1.5 GX in hand, we began our journey to the south.
It was hard to tell the TRD and GX apart, even when parked next to each other. Both variants are equipped with a five-piece aero kit (albeit differing in design), beginning with the front bumper, side skirts, trunk spoiler and rear bumper. Upon closer inspection, the TRD packs a little more aggression with the blacked out grille and front lower lip while the GX is much more tastefully designed, at least to me.
According to UMW Toyota, the TRD kit is designed entirely by Toyota Racing Development Japan for a little taste of genuine JDM flavour. On the other hand, the GX’s aero kit is designed and engineered locally. Possibly the more reserved styling of the two, but again, this suits my palette better.
Another beef I have with the TRD kit is the 15-inch flowing design wheels which suggests that it’s smaller than it actually looks. The GX’s 15-inch multi-spoke wheels on the other hand looks a tad more like the ones on the Camry Hybrid, and looks classy without overdoing it.
When finished with the Crimson Spark Red Metallic paint, the Vios is quite the looker. It even turned some heads while we were in Malacca. However, I personally find the Soul Red finish on the Mazda2 more appealing, especially when it comes with the LED headlights.
There is really nothing to complain about the facelifted Vios, especially when it comes fitted with smoked projector headlamps, front and rear fog lamps, chrome door handles, LED daytime running lights, power folding wing mirrors with integrated turn signals and keyless entry.
The interior is carried forward from the pre-facelift model and here too, I reserve no complaints. Well made, well laid out and well put together, just as expected of a Toyota. Hard plastics and fake stitching are expected of cars in this price bracket, but the build quality is more satisfying than some of its competitors.
New to the facelift model is the saddle and tan coloured perforated leather combination seats. The seats get the job done in providing ample support and comfort for long drives but they aren’t as comfortable as the Honda City nor as body hugging as the Mazda2.
Seating position in the Vios is decent but not ideal, as the steering lacks telescopic function (adjusting for reach). It’s not so much of a deal breaker because most of us can do without, but if you’re very particular about your driving posture, it’s something worth noting.
Interior space is more than sufficient to ferry five adults comfortably especially with centre armrest for the front and back. With the driver’s seat fixed to my driving position (I’m 174cm tall), I have more than enough legroom and headroom at the back for a decent stretch. The rear bench in the Vios is much more comfortable than the ones on the Mazda2 Sedan but the City takes the cake.
It’s not all bad news for the Vios as there are a number of cool features to fiddle with. For one, the upgraded (but optional 7-inch touchscreen) unit is linked to six speakers and makes for a rather pleasant aural experience. The Android-based infotainment system is way more polished than the ones you get on the City, though. It’s responsive and intuitive to use. However, Mazda’s MZD command system with a centre control knob is still uncontested in the segment.
The most exciting update to the Vios happens under the hood. The old 1.5-litre 1NZ-FE VVT-i engine and four-speed automatic combo has finally been swapped out for an all-new aluminium 1.5-litre 2NR-FE Dual VVT-i unit and a brand new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). This combination is identical to what you find in the seven-seater Toyota Sienta.
UMW Toyota claims that the new powertrain will return 18 percent better fuel economy, give more refined NVH levels and superior overall performance compared to the old mill despite being slightly less powerful. The engine produces 106 hp and 140 Nm.
While enthusiast may whine over the application of CVT, but believe me, after experiencing the powertrain myself, the benefits of incorporating a CVT are tangible. Due to the mechanical nature of a CVT, the gearbox is always in the “right gear” at any rpm. Therefore, it does not suffer from torque dips, which saves you the hassle of downshifting to get the car moving again.
To demonstrate the CVT’s superiority, we pitch the pre-facelift against the facelifted model to an acceleration test from 70km/h. Pedal to the floor, the CVT equipped Vios (despite being 1 hp and 1 Nm short) pulls one car’s length ahead of the four-speed Vios as we hit the three digit mark. Where the four-speed upshifts and suffers from a dip in torque, the CVT remains at the ideal ratio for acceleration and continues to pull ahead with ease.
As for fuel economy, Toyota has arranged a one-litre fuel challenge to test just how much distance we can cover around the Melaka International Motorsports Circuit. It was an actual contest, so some of the participants went as far as to switch off the air conditioning, even slip streaming to conserve precious fuel. However, most of us kept an average speed of 30-40 km/h around the circuit. To our surprise, the average distance travelled was a stunning 20km per litre. The best result recorded was an unbelievable 24.5 km per litre. That is almost 4.1L/100km!
So the new Vios has proved itself to be faster and more fuel efficient, but what is it like to drive?
First thing that caught my attention in the Vios is the brakes. The brakes were very natural to modulate as they are quick to respond with strong biting force. Never once I had to second guess myself when slowing down in town or on the highway.
Getting up to the national speed limit on the highway was pleasantly smooth as well. The CVT works best with a gentle and progressive right foot. When the accelerator is gradually probed, the car accelerates in a very composed manner. However, as mentioned above, if a hard acceleration is needed, the engine maintains revs between 4,000 – 6,000 rpm. The aural note is less than pleasant but for that few seconds of overtaking manoeuvre, it’s bearable.
At 110km/h, the tachometer needle hovered around 1,900 rpm, and engine noise is almost inaudible. In the pre-facelift Vios, the rpm was close to 3,000, again showcasing the refinement the facelift has brought to the table. At that speed, the acoustic windshield fitted to the G, GX and TRD variants help cut wind noise from seeping into the cabin. The only noise you hear are tyre roar. I suspect with a good set of tyres, the Vios is easily the most refined cabin in its class by a huge margin.
The Vios was never known for its handling capabilities despite what the over-the-top drift videos suggest, but it is one of the better ones in the segment. The steering is well weighted but lacks road feel. When thrown into a bend, the chassis and suspension keeps body roll at a minimum with decent driving dynamics. However, it trails behind what the Mazda2 and Volkswagen Vento are capable of.
Around town, it drives very similarly to the pre-facelift model and it is not a bad thing by a long stretch. The 5.1m turning radius makes it easy to get around tight spaces, even more so with the reverse camera equipped. Road undulations and bumps are well sorted out on the Vios despite the somewhat stiff suspension setting. I suppose it’s a good compromise to achieve a healthy balance of comfort and handling.
IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?
For the loyal supporters of the Vios since day one, first car buyers and those who are thinking of an upgrade to a B-segment sedan, the third-generation Toyota Vios facelift is finally a choice that your friends and family won’t mock you for.
With prices being lower than before, the addition of a new powertrain, extensive standard equipment and safety features across all variants, the Vios holds its ground a tad stronger now than before, regardless of the variant of choice.
Besides, what more can you ask from a car when it’s known as the “Godcar”? UMW Toyota knows what – five-years warranty with unlimited mileage. Did I mention that there is also a five-speed manual variant available?
WILL I BUY IT?
Yes, only if it’s in Crimson Spark Red Metallic. Besides offering exceptional value and decent driving dynamics, UMW Toyota has responded well to the market’s demand. I can pick any of the six variants and still get a decently specced car. The question is, with this facelift, will the dethroned king of B-Segment be able to reclaim its title?
Matthew’s take: Like Nokia, the Vios (and many Toyota cars for that matter) learned that to survive, you’ve got to stay relevant. Over the course of its existence – in Malaysia at the very least, the Vios was sold with the same mechanical formula for the better part of a decade. Nobody made noise until the competition caught up, and unlike Nokia, Toyota had enough time to prevent the worst. Honestly, the updated engine and CVT are both things that could have come fitted on the Vios when it was first launched in 2013. But at the going rate, Toyota has a lot of catching up to do, and apparently the design team is working on a brand new look for the Vios. For the time being, my B-Segment choice is still the Volkswagen Vento 1.2 TSI, to which the Vios trails considerably behind in nearly all aspects.