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Wheels Australia Magazine|November 2021
THEY ARE THE SURVIVORS OF THE DECIMATED LIGHT-CAR CLASS – ‘PREMIUM-LITES’ THAT SUGGEST YOU LOOK PAST THE PRICE TAG, AND FOCUS ON FORM AND FUNCTION
LOUIS CORDONY

AMONG MELBOURNE city’s towers, the all-new generation Toyota Yaris lapping the block for photography is just a small blue dot. One that’s almost lost among the toxic-green bike lanes and dinging trams that rumble through the city streets.

But it’s much harder to overlook the significance of the Yaris’s rebirth in the light-car segment. New powertrains and advanced safety technology have almost priced the nameplate out of the entry-level segment it’s belonged to for so long.

Go for a base Toyota Yaris today – still offered in Ascent trim as before but no longer with a manual transmission – and it’ll cost you $23,630. That’s a generational price increase of over $7K; a staggering 35 percent.

Upgrade to SX trim for $3390, then tick the box for the hybrid-assisted 1.5-liter three-cylinder petrol powertrain, adding another $2000, and suddenly you’re looking at $29,130 before on-roads to buy our tester. Add $600 for Eclectic Blue paint, and that’s a grand short of an equivalent trim Corolla.

However, this swell in price is not contained solely within Toyota’s ranks. With the segment losing everyone from Honda to Holden and Hyundai in the last five years, taking a cluster of sub-$20K models with them, it’s rocketed the average vehicle price from around $23K to $31K. And the rearranged territory brings fresh conflict.

Cue the Citroen C3. Coming from a single-variant model range built in Slovakia, it hasn’t always been priced at $28,900 – despite its European pretensions and style making it easier to accept that idea. When the third-generation model debuted here in 2016, it was only $400 more expensive than the then top-of-the-range Yaris, at $22,990.

To keep in step with competition, Citroen has slowly built up the C3’s specification list over the years, increasing its price slowly alongside it.

Whether oblivious or ignorant to the paradox of an expensive ‘affordable’ small car, our pair share more than just awkward market positioning. Each five-door hatchback drives the front wheels through an automatic transmission married to a three-cylinder engine. However, their styling finds sophistication in different ways.

Details massaged into the Toyota’s sculpted bodywork offer new cohesiveness. Zoom in on those taillights, for starters. The darkened element between each taillight pulls down the rear window. Its raised contour follows character lines carved into the rear doors, separating the rear guards into almost muscular haunches.

You’d struggle to find anything so sophisticated on the last generation Yaris or packaging so clever. Built on the B version of Toyota’s TNGA platform, the new Yaris grows its wheelbase 40mm while sitting 5mm lower than before while shaving 5mm from its length. And despite pumped front guards and the gaping-wide grille, the width remains unchanged at 1695mm.

To me, the Yaris apes a Mazda 2’s striking proportions. But while it looks groomed by the wind, the C3’s cutesy bubble shape looks swollen with as much volume as possible. Unsurprisingly, the C3 is slightly longer and broader than the Yaris, but rides on a shorter wheelbase and is a touch lower.

As both cars stride up and down Dockland’s main street for our snapper Alastair Brook, it’s obvious the C3 is not at risk of going unnoticed. It dials up the flair with a two-tone paint job and Airbumps on its doors, while the separated head-, fog, and daytime-running lights exaggerate its divisive styling.

For this mid-cycle update, Citroen tweaked the C3’s wheel design, updated the Airbump, and patterned the meeting point between roof and body color. It’s also restyled the front bumper design – but only the eagle-eyed will catch the differences in chrome highlighting and light shape.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s designers should have channeled the C3’s enthusiasm into the Yaris’s interior. There’s nothing wrong with the layout or sweeping curvature in everything from the dash to the door handles, but the mix of the matte and black plastics, plus drab cloth seats with unsupportive foam do nothing for aesthetic appeal.

Things do improve when you grab the leather-stitched steering wheel. Its gauge and diameter are perfect, and the driving position is excellent. Toyota’s tilted the steering wheel forward six degrees while extending its reach and rake adjustment range by 10mm. The lower cowl permits lowering the driver’s seat, while also moving the driver’s seat back 60mm to improve legroom, allowing a relaxed, outstretched posture.

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