But a significant number of changes under the skin have been made in an attempt to turn the Yaris into more sophisticated transport.
Introduced to upgrade performance, safety and overall refinement, the mechanical makeover is aimed at driving the Yaris sufficiently upmarket to make room for a new supermini range to be launched in 2005.
The fact that the appearance of the Yaris is little changed will have no adverse effect in the business market, believes Toyota Fleet general manager Jon Pollock. He said: 'Even though it was launched in 1999, limited supplies meant the car was restricted to the retail sector until 18 months ago. But fleet sales still accounted for almost a third of registrations last year.'
And according to statistics, almost every Yaris customer is new to Toyota. But what's more significant is that almost half of them remain loyal to the brand at trade-in time. New specification grades of T2, T3 and T Spirit mirror the strategy adopted for the Corolla and Avensis. At £6,995 on-the-road, the T2 has power steering, driver's airbag, twin-speaker radio/cassette player, an immobiliser and colour-keyed bumpers and door handles.
From £8,195, the T3 adds front and side airbags, electric front windows, remote central locking and four-speaker sound, while at £9,695, the T Spirit adds air conditioning, electric mirrors and sunroof, alloy wheels, front fog lamps and a leather steering wheel.
Standing on 15-inch alloy wheels, T Sport versions cost from £11,995 and have unique trim and an alarm system. Available in T3 and T Spirit grades, the Verso estate model costs from £10,695.
The car is due on sale only a few months before the debut of the next-generation Yaris. Codenamed B-Zero, the new small car is being developed to take over as the firm's entry-level model across Europe.
Toyota GB marketing director Matt Harrison said: 'We are still waiting to find out about specification, but it has been made clear that this will not be a stripped-out utility model.
'That will have to be reflected in the pricing, so now we need to concentrate on the job of repositioning the Yaris a notch higher upmarket.'
The Yaris hatchback and Verso estate range achieved more than 31,000 registrations last year – a record total for a Toyota model in Britain. But the manufacturer believes it can build on that and sell at least 36,000 units this year, with further growth in 2004.
In total, there are 15 new products and improvements to be launched over the next 30 months, with the Yaris expected to play a major role in gaining extra market share.
Behind the wheel
WHILE its looks remain more or less the same, the latest version of the Yaris feels like it has changed for the better.
The big differences are hidden from view and include a new 1.3-litre petrol engine, higher output 1.0 and 1.5-litre petrols and a 1.4-litre D-4D common rail diesel. A stronger structure promotes a quieter demeanour, and alterations to suspension settings provide smoother ride characteristics. Tweaks to the suspension have brought the supple quality of a C-segment car to the way the Yaris behaves over rough surfaces, yet it still handles well and the steering seems to have lost none of its accuracy.
Relaxed and relatively subdued as it zipped along the busy A8 in southern France, the 1.0-litre multi-mode transmission model proved to be capable of coping with more than just life in the city. At £400, it costs half the price of a regular auto box but because it is based on smart electronics, the unit uses less fuel in automatic mode than a standard manual five-speed gearbox. It works well too – once you get used to it. For another £300 on top of the 1.0-litre, customers can choose a power boost with the new 1.3-litre VVTi and the added punch pays dividends.
For all that, the best Yaris versions of all are still those fitted with the 1.4 D-4D. It is a great little unit offering exceptional fuel economy with refined manners and strong mid-range performance.
SMALL cars usually call for a compromise, but that isn't the case with the Yaris. Now the recipe has been improved, and the automated transmission version should prove attractive to urban motorists.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||64/6,000||86/6,000||103/6,000||74/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||66/4,100||90/4,200||105/4,200||125/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||96||109||118||106|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||50.4||50.4||41.5||64.2|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||45/9.9|
|Service intervals (miles):||10,000|
|Prices (OTR):||£6,995 - £12,495|