Yaris - new car has more competition

Toyota's new Yaris III comes to a market this week that is decidedly different from the one that the first model found for itself in 1999.

That first car was known as the Echo when it first arrived, and at the time, it had very little competition. There was no Nissan in the B-segment to compete, Honda had only the old Logo in that slot, Ford could offer only the Festive, and Mazda's square-rigged Demio was a bit of an also-ran at the time.

Holden did have the Barina, but that was very much a second-class citizen compared with the wildly styled Echo, with its centre-clocked dash, soft-wedge profile and clever fore and aft sliding rear seat.

It sold like hot cakes.

Whether the new one will do the same is a moot point, for though the new car is a gorgeous looker, with much more interior space, it has lost the clever passengers-or-luggage seating, now has a conventional dash and still uses the same 1.3- or 1.5-litre engine lineup with five-speed manual and four-speed automatic.

In 2011, the new model has to clear new hurdles in this slot: the roomy second-generation Jazz (five-speed auto), Mitsubishi's Colt, a cute wee Nissan Micra, a stunning new Fiesta (with a six-speed two-pedal option), Hyundai's refined new i20, as well as the big, spacious slick-looking Kia Rio and its slightly smaller mate, the Picanto, and the all-new Barina from Holden that not only goes well and seems to be sized for the segment above, but offers a six-speed automatic as part of its package.

Add in the VW Polo (seven-speed DSG) and the Skoda Fabia (same gearbox) and it can be seen that the new Yaris has a lot more competition than it did a dozen years ago.

In some areas it's quite good enough to compete, but with models like the wee Suzuki Swift going gangbusters at the top of the field and Suzuki adding another model in the B-segment mix in the form of the new Splash, Yaris might find it a little harder than that first one.

Mind you, while its pricing might look a tad steep at from $23,290 to $27,490 when a Kia Picanto 1.25 asks from less than $19,000, nobody pays full price for a new Toyota these days.

See our driving impressions in next week's Fairfax newspaper motoring sections.

Follow Dave Moore on Twitter - @mooretothepoint