Toyota's internal designation for the car says it all: MC Vios. MC stands for “Minor Change.” Indeed, why mess with success, when the Vios has been the top dog in the Philippine passenger car scene for two successive models? But change is necessary. While the Vios remains the top contender in the field, it now has archrival Honda City and the new Mazda 2 breathing down its neck (or trunk).
Each of those two easily trumps the Vios in the looks department, while matching it nearly point-for-point on the spec sheet. Then there’s the diesel-powered Hyundai Accent providing an interesting alternative for fleet buyers. The company’s prime directive is kaizen, which referes to small, incremental improvements in processes and design that should make the company’s cars superior to whatever preceded them and, hopefully, to whatever the competition can field. That philosophy is perfectly embodied in this version of the Vios.
Squint and you can see the changes made to the Vios exterior. Chief among these is the new grille with chrome accents. This seems to be a calculated move to give it a stronger family resemblance to the Camry. On the rump, meanwhile, are new lenses for the taillights and a wide chrome strip above the license plate cavity. The subtly reshaped bumper and lights, and the new alloy wheels, complete the face-lift. immediately noticeable in the interior of the top-line G is a thick-rimmed steering wheel that’s wonderful to grasp. Those pining for the wheel of a german supercar should be pleased, because the wheel has a attened bottom. The steering column is adjustable for tilt only.
Thankfully, the Vios does not devolve into a treehouse of horrors; no fake wood here, folks. To add some luxury cues, there are gleaming piano-black inserts in the dash and center console, and the shifter insert is now shiny chrome. As a form of cruel and unusual punishment, the mid-grade Vios E does not get an auxiliary jack for your MP3 player, while the G and the base J have it. No matter—fork out a small amount for the proper adaptor cables and you should be grooving to your iPod in no time.
The centrally mounted instrument cluster remains. It certainly looked funky when the Echo debuted this dashboard layout, but a conventional configuration in front of the driver really makes more sense. The Optitron backlighting on the G makes the display more visible and readable in bright sunlight. The front seats are adequate for driving short distances. The rear bench has sufficient legroom for average-height folks (Philippine-size folks, that is), and the width is comfortable for two. Seating three across would require a deeper level of intimacy. The rear floor is at as a pancake, which helps immensely with the seating. The Yaris feels roomier as the door pulls and switches don’t poke into the passenger space as much as they do in the Vios.
As before, there are two choices of propulsion: 1.3- and 1.5-liter gasoline four-cylinders with variable-valve timing. The 1.3 puts out a modest 85hp and 122Nm of torque; the 1.5, 107hp and 142Nm. The big news is the availability of automatic transmission for the 1.3- liter variant. Previously, only those who shelled out for the 1.5 model could rest their left legs.
It’s an acknowledgment that there is a demand for such a combination. We don’t doubt that the 1.3-liter engine can be mated to the automatic and still provide perfectly decent acceleration—that’s been proven since the days of the Echo. Still, we’re glad that we have the 1.5-liter for this story. It’s not really a formula for blazing performance, but rather smoother progress. With the extra horsepower and—more importantly—torque, the Vios G feels quite relaxed pulling away from stoplights and passing sluggish early-morning traffic. There’s no easy way to manually select gears here. There’s no “sequential” shift gate and no paddle shifters, either. The traditional sawtooth shift gate allows for shifting by feel, but no real encouragement for raking through the gears. If you do insist on holding a lower gear, the engine smoothly revs to its redline, with only a hint of boom as the needle goes past 5,000rpm.
The drivetrain does what it does best when left to its own devices in position ‘D’. It then shifts smoothly and unobtrusively. With the engine providing adequate torque in the 2,000- 2,500rpm range, it stays quiet. Our drive shows commendable fuel mileage—about 15km/L in light city traffic.
The Vios rides on the familiar MacPherson strut front/beam-axle rear suspension. The rough edges have been honed away, and the car now absorbs highway joints and potholes with just a soft thump. The Vios drops anchor responsively and firmly, thanks to discs at all four corners. The car also gets an upgrade in safety features. ABS is now standard on all models, save for the base J. A driver-side airbag is standard for all, with dual airbags in the 1.5. What makes the Vios attractive versus the Yaris is the presence of a conventional trunk. Your car won’t be permeated with the pungent smells of fast-food hamburgers or Chinese takeout. (Jason Ang)
Note: This article first appeared in Top Gear PH's May 2010 Issue. Minor edits have been made.