Kaizen Baby: Toyota Vios (2008)
When the Toyota Echo hit the local market in 1998, it seemed to mark a new approach for the company. Designed for the European market, the Echo was funky, roomy while compact, and fun to drive. As it turns out, the Echo was more of a Marine force that was supposed to establish a beachhead for the established Army, the Vios sedan. The Vios was more of what we have come to expect from Toyota: a refined, well-built, and predictable sedan.
Exciting it wasn't, but it seemed to be just what the market needed for transportation. Over the next few years, its success was not surprising if not exactly assured either, especially as a number of innovative rivals cropped up. The Vios has proven so popular that the outgoing model was still selling strongly as the new one debuted.
The new Vios follows the Kaizen route, delivering incremental improvements in mechanical bits and driving refinement. Even if it doesn’t really break any new ground, the Vios will still prove popular thanks to consumer confidence in Toyota reliability and ease of ownership.
The second generation takes the next logical step in the development of the model. There are slight increases for all three dimensions, including a slight lengthening of the wheelbase. Interior room increases incrementally as a result.
Outside, the Vios follows the large-nosed look of the Camry, with the large bumper extending up into the grille area. It's a smoothened-out version of the previous car; it's an attempt to make the car look larger as well. The top 1.5 model has that de rigueur "luxury car" touch, the side-mirror mounted turn-signal light.
Inside, the familiar Vios styling theme of black plastic and fabric remains. A leather seating option is available at quite a bit of additional cost. There's a smattering of silver plastic on the instrument panel surrounding the audio and air con controls, and on the door pulls. There are plenty of storage spaces, including two glove boxes, and various compartments around the instrument panel and center console.
The controls are neatly housed on a Y-shaped stack on the the instrument panel, just below the center-mounted gauges. The backlit gauges are clear and viewable in bright sunlight, but we still prefer the traditional driver's-side location. Looking at the center position, especially as the gauges are not canted toward the driver, requires too much time looking away from the road. The Vios' hatchback counterpart, the Yaris, feels more modern and less basic, thanks to the color choices and styling of the side panels. 60/40 split-folding seats augment the trunk capacity when needed.
The combination of MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear continues. It delivers a soft, dampened ride. Our test unit was equipped with optional 17-inch tires. The chassis still maintained its composure even with the low-profile tires, and there was an extra measure of grip, too. The Vios 1.5 gets an upgrade to four-wheel disc brakes, equipped with ABS, EBD and brake assist.
The engines are carryovers unit from the previous model. In the case of the 1.5 liter, it's a dohc four-cylinder with variable valve timing, producing 107 hp and 142 Nm. Our test unit came with a five-speed manual shift. An automatic is also available as an option. The combination of a relatively big engine in a small car is not as exciting as we might have expected. Instead, the engine uses its torque to accomplish smooth takeoffs from standstill, and to deliver adequate overtaking acceleration when needed. It will not do a Road-Runner getaway like its diesel-powered rivals, but it is sufficient in most situations. The gearshift is one of the better examples of manual transmission, with closely-spaced gates and a smooth, precise shift action.
The second-generation Vios builds on the strength of the previous one: acceptable looks, presumably durable build and easy-on-the-pocket maintenance. The new one adds a more striking appearance and more interior kit. Though better in every aspect, the new Vios fails to offer anything extraordinary in its segment, perhaps apart from leather seats which are a very pricey option. It's interesting that Toyota has allowed the Vios to overlap the Corolla in price, so the choice for a buyer might be to go for the top model of the Vios, or the base version of the larger car.
On the positive side, for a car of the Vios' configuration and purpose, we are hard-pressed to think of a model which can top this one in terms of refinement and quietness. There are safety features like dual airbags, and some neat touches like time-delayed switches and steering-wheel audio controls, formerly found only on large luxury cars. It also marks a return of the assembly of this model to the Philippines. As the country's best-selling passenger car, it was a logical decision to build the Vios here, and that bodes well for Toyota and our local industry.
Text by Jason K. Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang