Return of the King: The all-new Toyota Vios is here to claim its throne

Will it be 2018's best-selling vehicle?
by Niky Tamayo | Jul 20, 2018

'The new Vios fixes many of the sins of the old car, in a package that's more stylish and cohesive than before.'

The dust hasn't quite settled from the launch of the Rush, and Toyota is already pulling the trigger on its second model launch for the year. This one's The Big One. Spy shots have been circulating on social media for months, and over a hundred thousand people have signed up for a chance to attend the public launch party--though few of them will actually get in. 

For the sake of secrecy, we're shooting atop an isolated parking building. At two in the morning. In the rain. The shops around us have long since closed, and the light drizzle keeps threatening to break out into a full-blown rainstorm.

The crew are scrubbing furiously to remove residue from the duct tape used to disguise the car during daytime transits. Talk turns to non-disclosure agreements, as we snatch furtive bites of cold dinner between photo sessions. Hard to imagine this much hype over a car starting at a measly P659,000. One that already broke cover internationally last year.

The Vios is just that kind of car.

Does this look like a fleet special to you? PHOTO: Igor Maminta/Location: ETON Centris

When the Corolla 'Lovelife' was superseded by the super-sized 'Altis' in 2000, Toyota's best-selling sedan grew a whopping 215mm. With 135mm of that extra length between the axles, it was a much roomier car. But also much more expensive. Which is why the 'Lovelife' soldiered on after its retirement, serving taxi fleets until 2003, when Toyota launched the Vios. 

Although shorter, the Vios was roomier than the Lovelife, thanks to a longer 2,500mm wheelbase. It was more economical, too, thanks to its modern 'NZ' fuel-injected engines. Thus equipped, the Vios would eventually come to dominate the market, becoming the best-selling car in the Philippines by the time the larger second-generation car launched in 2008. 

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That's a title the Vios would hold for nearly a decade, losing it only last year, as SUV buyers went on a panic-buying spree due to impending tax reforms. I have a feeling the Vios will reclaim the crown this year, however. Especially considering this facelifted third-generation model starts at just P30,000 more than the outgoing car, all while offering so much more. The top-of-the-line 1.5 G "Prime," however, stickers at P1.095 million, some P50,000 more than the outgoing TRD special edition.

We'd still get aftermarket wheels. PHOTO: Igor Maminta/Location: ETON Centris

Fittingly, Prime is dressed in searing "Super Red" paint that grabs your eyeballs and refuses to let go. The styling is nearly identical to the Thai model, but ours has a nicer front bumper, with sharply defined foglight surrounds looking like brash kanji characters and LED daytime running lights bright enough to serve as headlights. There are also stylish 16-inch aero-spoked wheels, one inch up on the old car, and a subtle body-kit that adds P55,000 to the Prime's price over the 'regular' 1.5 G, including a rear spoiler that sits flush with the trunklid.

Thank God no more fake stitched leather. PHOTO: Igor Maminta/Location: ETON Centris

The overall look is more Corolla-lite now, with a sleeker, sweptback profile and a lower nose. While this is technically just a facelift of the current third-generation car, it's 30mm longer and 15mm wider. The only seemingly untouched exterior panel is that familiar double-bubble blister roof.

The inside also gets a total makeover. The dashboard drops the fake 'stitched leather' embossing in favor of a more minimalist look. There’s still a preponderance of hard plastic, but the durable finishes have never been a problem from an ownership point of view. A flat dash topper with darker textures promises less glare in direct sunlight. The A/C vent cupholders, which date back to 2008, have sadly been deleted to save space.

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While legroom is similar, thanks to the unchanged 2,550mm wheelbase, the seats are firmer and better bolstered, making for more long distance comfort. Isofix child seat anchors now come standard, along with seven airbags, including side curtain airbags and a knee airbag under the steering column. Even on taxi fleet models! Sadly, the steering wheel still doesn't telescope, but a shallower instrument gauge cowl improves visibility at all wheel positions.

The biggest question is fuel economy. PHOTO: Igor Maminta/Location: ETON Centris

I press the start button and prod the gas pedal to hear the engine rev. The 1.5-liter 2NR-FE was introduced back in 2016 as a response to criticisms over poor fuel economy. The old 'NZ' engines, despite excellent economy in previous cars, were a poor match for the heavier third gen. The more modern 'NR,' mated to a long-legged continuously variable transmission (CVT), improved economy noticeably.

While the engine, along with its modest 106hp output, remains the same, some changes are visible underhood. There's an extra resonator--a random plastic noodle stuck to the air intake tube--to quell some of the engine's harsh buzz. There's also a revised airbox, and more shrouding around the radiator, but it's hard to spot other changes without a side by side comparison.

The previous gen's A/C was pathetic. Let's hope this is better. PHOTO: Igor Maminta/Location: ETON Centris

Either way, the proof is in the driving. After a few hours circling an empty parking building, I jump at the chance to drive the Vios back to the garage. It's three in the morning. No need to tape the car back up. I tether my phone via Bluetooth, dial up some tunes, and we're off. Toyota's 7-inch touchscreen infotainment unit now offers third-party WebLink connectivity in lieu of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but that's a test for another time. All that matters right now is that the speakers are stronger and clearer than on the old car. Still not audiophile quality, but the snare hits are acceptably crisp, and the bass notes drive home hard.

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The drive itself is dead easy. There's a satisfyingly damped feeling to the suspension over the lumpier parts of EDSA. Gone is the bobbling feeling under braking, as well. The steering is still less than communicative, but more direct than before. There's a general sense of sure-footedness and sharpness compared to the old car. Some of that courtesy of a firmer suspension. Some due to lower-profile Bridgestone Turanza tires--a welcome upgrade over the old Yokohama dBs. Stability control and traction control now come standard, but such is the basic competence of the package that we never get to test them out.

The shooting-at-3am look. PHOTO: Igor Maminta/Location: ETON Centris

Wind noise is well muted, as expected, and the engine, while still vocal, doesn't sound as thrashy as before when the high lift cam lobes kick in at 4,000rpm. Thank you, anonymous plastic noodle! The 'seven speed' continuously variable transmission is still slow from a stop, despite the new 'Sport' mode and paddle shifters, but shifts feel smoother and power delivery is more direct. Settle into an 80kph cruise, and the engine turns a mere 2,000rpm, making for a quiet and uneventful drive down south after the chaotic excitement of EDSA.

Granted, the Vios isn't what you'd call sporty or exciting, but what's exciting is that Toyota isn't resting on its laurels. The new Vios fixes many of the sins of the old car, in a package that's more stylish and cohesive than before. And the bundled safety features--and five-star ASEAN NCAP crash rating--propel it to the top of the class in terms of safety. 

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Yes, the hype is a bit overblown, but if you're a Vios fan, there is good reason to be excited. We bet Toyota is excited, too. Even if only half of the people who signed up for the launch party end up buying one, the Vios's return to bestseller status seems assured.

Will it beat the Fortuner in sales this year? PHOTO: Igor Maminta/Location: ETON Centris

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