Pesos and sense: Toyota Vios 1.3 E

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By Ulysses Ang

IT’S HARD to get excited about driving the Toyota Vios — it’s the quintessential commuter car, after all. However, there’s also no doubting its contribution to Toyota Motor Philippines’ bottom line. And among all the Vios variants, it’s the 1.3-liter that’s most important. Therefore, it’s time to cast all prejudice aside and find out if the latest Vios is all it’s cracked up to be.

Let’s tackle the most obvious thing about the car: the styling. Toyota officially refers to this as the “fourth-generation model,” but it carries over the same platform and even hardpoints as the previous one; thus, it’s probably closer to being Version 3.99 than Version 4.0. Still, kudos to Toyota for coming up with a fancy new packaging with the same Vios experience.

Of course, taste is entirely subjective. The front clip looks over-styled, toned down slightly because of the Prime variant’s full aero kit that adds some contours to the predominantly jellybean shape.

For all of the Vios’ highly stylized front end, inside it remains a pretty somber affair. Yet, what it lacks in sexiness, it delivers in quality. The materials are typical Toyota — crisp and sturdy; while the build quality is pretty convincing for its class.

Ergonomically, it’s pretty much a facsimile of the third-generation model and for that, it’s comfortable. The basic layout remains the same as before and all the controls, stalks, and buttons are clearly marked and chunky enough to be operated by feel. Seating comfort is also solid as is the visibility. The Vios is one easy car to place on the road, even without proximity sensors or cameras.

Keeping the same wheelbase and overall interior packaging as before, the Vios pretty much retains its interior space vis-à-vis its predecessor. Space, front or back, is quite generous.

Under the hood, the Vios 1.3 E Prime offers a respectable 98 horsepower and 123 Nm of torque. It’s a carryover engine from the previous model and the performance remains more of a relaxed than spirited affair. The initial pickup is good up to around 3,000 rpm making it perfect for the city commute. There’s no doubting that this is the quietest car in its class.

The accompanying CVT is also tuned for sensible driving, too. Gently tapping the accelerator keeps the revs down and the fuel efficiency reasonably high. With no changeable driving modes though, pressing down on the gas confuses the transmission easily and always feels like it’s a step behind. It will let the engine spin for a split-second before dropping the revs as it gets into rhythm. Paddle shifters or a manual override would help.

Like its powertrain, the Vios is made to be more safe and secure rather than sporty and spirited. Quietness aside, it’s extremely pliant and capable whatever the road surface. The steering is well-balanced, making it easy to drive and stable on the highways. Additionally, the well-damped suspension helps it absorb the heaviest road cuts and cracks easily. On the twisty bits, it tends to understeer more, but remains obedient. Plus, compared to other subcompacts, there’s an unmatched feeling of heft and solidity. No less than seven air bags, ABS with EBD, and Vehicle Stability Control all come as standard equipment.

Those looking for a fun, maybe slightly naughty car might “pass” on the 2019 Vios. However, for everyone else, it’s a solid decision. The latest version tries hard to look snazzier, but in the end, it’s the same no-nonsense car underneath. Toyota says most buyers choose this car for its design, but realistically, it’s because it’s safe, efficient, easy-to-drive, and comfortable. Those aren’t exactly poster-worthy marketing blurbs, but it’s what made the best-selling Vios what it is now.