Review: Toyota Vios 1.5 G MT

Will it still be the sedan king?
by Niky Tamayo | Nov 19, 2018
PHOTO: Niky Tamayo

The Vios has never been the sexiest or most desirable of Toyotas, but, until the bargain-basement Wigo arrived, it was the cheapest. Still, considering this model has been ‘My First Toyota’ for many buyers since its launch here in 2003, Toyota has gone to some effort to make it appealing. To give it some character. The last generation even launched with its own highly popular race series. This has helped the Vios become the bestselling car in the Philippines over the last few years—a title this new one hopes to keep.

But with the Vios creeping ever upwards in price, is there still some value there for the bargain buyers who have helped make it a success?

Styling

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The new Vios may be marginally bigger than before, but the nose has been trimmed down to give it a sleeker, more aerodynamic shape. We had some good things to say about the looks of the ‘Prime’ variant at launch, with its sportier bumpers and aero kit, but cheaper variants get stuck with the same front end as the Yaris—whose front grille, in the words of a friend, looks a bit like the Joker’s over-the-top grin. As opposed, I suppose, to the previous model’s gigantic frown. Honestly, it’s not so bad when you consider that this black surround is supposed to frame a white number plate, not the black vanity plates Toyota puts on these cars in the showroom.

The rear end works a lot better, with a sporty upkick on the rear edge of the trunk and some nice taillights. The package is capped off with the same 16-inch alloys as the Prime variant, so bodykit aside, you’re not missing much.

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Interior

The interior is unequivocally better-looking than before. Gone is the fake-stitched hard plastic dash topper, replaced by one that’s a little more appealing to the touch. Materials feel better all around, and there are even bits of fuzzy fabric to break up the plastic parade on the doors.

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The center console is better integrated into the design, and some design genius has sculpted the area under the A/C controls into a swoopy, curving, cascading panel terminating in a cupholder cubby. An improvement over the old car, which had a flat tray too shallow to hold a phone in. Unfortunately, there’s no space on that lovely panel for a USB port or even a 12V jack. Instead, you have to plug your charger into the 12V port behind the shifter. Still, as there’s a cellphone pocket beside the shifter and a small covered box behind it, there are lots of other storage options for your gadgets.

Seat material and feel is identical to the Prime’s, with the same supportive blue-stitched pinstriped black seats.

Engine

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The twin-cam 1.5-liter 2NR-FE engine, which replaced the venerable old 2ZZ two years ago, is a smooth operator, with a little kick at the top of the rev range thanks to variable valve timing. We were hoping it would prove more lively with the G variant’s five-speed manual than with the continuously variable transmission in the Prime, but that proved to be just half-true. The transmission drops 0-100khh times to under 12sec, nearly one second quicker than the automatic, and in-gear acceleration feels suitably brisk.

On the other hand, there’s a big delay in throttle response when you step on the gas, and at low engine speeds, the engine sometimes refuses to rev, possibly as a protection against lugging and pinging. Which means you downshift more often, even when you don’t necessarily feel the need to. Fuel economy seems better than what the AT variant can achieve in traffic, but a short final drive means that 20km/L is harder to hit on the highway.

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Driving impressions

As the G shares the same suspension setup as the Prime, down to the 195/50 R16 Bridgestone Turanzas, it drives quite nicely. The steering is still not the most feelsome, but there’s a reassuring weight to it, and the car feels much more confident than before.

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It still isn’t perfect. There’s still some body roll, and big humps will still scrape the underchassis if you hurdle them at more than crawling pace. The brakes on this unit are also a bit grabby, though the Prime we last drove didn’t have the same issue. Refinement overall is good, and this variant is, if anything, a bit quieter than the CVT-equipped Prime. Less whirring under power. The clutch and gearshift are light and easy to use, even when executing twenty-point turns in a parking lot.

On the debit side, there are no backup sensors or camera to aid in parking. Not that the Vios is hard to park, but for newbie drivers, this can be problematic.

Extra features

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What the Vios G does have is the same slew of safety features as the Prime—ABS, stability control, traction control, seven airbags, Isofix tethers, the works. There’s also the same touchscreen infotainment system, with Bluetooth, USB, and Weblink. That last one I still haven’t gotten to work, but with Bluetooth and Spotify, I’m satisfied. Sound is crisp and decent, though not exceptional.

On the convenience side, there’s keyless entry and push-button start, as well as automatic lighting. The new HVAC setup is all electronic. There’s no heater, though, and the thermostat doesn’t go from ‘cold’ to ‘cool’ until you crank the dial up past 27 degrees. Even without tint, passengers in the backseat sometimes complained that it was too cold. Yeah, the old A/C was weak, but this is just plain overcompensation, Toyota.

Verdict

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While it still sits on the same platform as its predecessor, the new Vios is an upgrade in every way over the old car. Except maybe for that Joker-ish grin, which you can cover up with a license plate now that the LTO is working through its backlog. So it’s more expensive than before, but you can still get this well-loaded 1.5 G for under a million pesos–P981,000, to be exact. Plus another P15,000 for the pearl-white paint. Sure, it won’t put you in pole position for the next Vios Cup race. Or any race, for that matter. But it’s a good, solid car that’s painless to drive and won’t ever set a foot wrong.

SPECS: Toyota Vios 1.5 G MT

Price: P981,000
Engine: 1.5-liter petrol I4
Power: 106hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 140Nm @ 4,200rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drive layout: FWD
Seating: 5
Score: 16/20

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PHOTO: Niky Tamayo
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