Feeling it: 2017 Toyota Yaris Pulse Plus with CVT.

In case you missed the memo last June, there have been changes to Toyota SA’s Yaris range. Apart from a facelift there was a name change, an engine swap and a new trim level was added.

The facelift: New headlight units, new grilles and simplified treatment of the area around the emblem. Lower door mouldings changed, there’s a new tailgate featuring redesigned light clusters and bumpers and there have been changes to interior upholstery and trims. The air vents are different too.
The name change: They’re all now called Yaris Pulse.

The engines: The one-litre triple fitted to the base model continues unchanged. So does the Atkinson Cycle 1.5, coupled with electric motor, driving the hybrid. The 1329 cc inline four was retired and its place taken by a new 1500. This is not the simplified unit doing duty in Etios. Pulse’s engine features VVT and a demon tweak called –iE. That means Intelligent Electric and allows the phase shifting of the intake camshaft to be controlled electrically whereas that on the exhaust side is hydraulic. Still naturally aspirated, it puts out 82 kilowatts and 136 Newton-metres, making it a bit quicker than the 1300 but with similar top speed.

The range: 1.0 Pulse with five-speed manual, the hybrid with CVT, two 1.5 Pulses with six-ratio manual or (nominally seven-gear) CVT and a new model named Pulse Plus. Available only with the CVT box it features three more airbags, bringing the total to seven; acoustic glass (double glazing that reduces noise); projector headlamps that reduce light scatter to concentrate on what’s directly ahead; a smarter grille and cruise control.
Even lowly versions come with vehicle stability control, front and rear fog lamps, manual air conditioning, 15” alloy wheels, one-touch powered windows, electrified mirrors, remote central locking, ABS with BA and EBD, hill start assist, kid locks and ISOFix, six-speaker touchscreen audio with Bluetooth and USB, follow-me lighting and steering wheel buttons.

Like most writers we approach each new CVT-equipped car cautiously. In the beginning they were, almost without exception, cheap disappointments backed up by indignant PR in which manufacturers blamed journalists for “not knowing how to drive them.” To be fair, it has been found since then that CVTs generally work better with torquey, turbocharged engines.
But we remained open-minded and were pleasantly surprised. Although a senior spokesman declined to commit, this car appears to have the Aisin Model K411 transaxle developed for front-wheel drive cars up to 1.5 litres. It’s a belt-type unit using something called flex-start control.
What that means: When pulling away from standstill it lowers the vehicle speed, at which torque converter lock-up occurs, from 15- to 10 km/h. This minimises torque waste and produces optimum acceleration from lower engine revs for improved fuel economy. Then incline shift controllers use information from various sensors to determine whether the Yaris is travelling up- or downhill.
When travelling uphill, ratio changes are minimised to achieve smooth operation. If the brake pedal is used when travelling downhill, gearing changes automatically to provide appropriate engine braking.
In plain English, the rev counter fluctuates with each change in virtual gearing, the box “kicks down” like a regular automatic whenever the right foot demands action, it doesn’t scream or flare, it’s always in an appropriate “gear” and it’s actually pretty good.
A further surprise was that, despite the car’s outer dimensions being much as they were previously, back seat passenger space increased from “for medium to short only” to “enough for fully grown people.” There was evidently some fettling of spaces in the meantime. Further good news is that the spare has grown from spacesaver to full size even though the boot’s rated capacity stays the same.
This new Pulse runs energetically and maintains speed up long hills, storage for small items is much as it was before although a slot has been added to the right side of the upper dash for a medium sized phone, controls are simple, it isn’t overloaded with gadgets and it feels solid. Fit and finish looks good although we weren’t too thrilled by the number of inserts within inserts that make up the door panels and dash. Let’s look at a used one in ten years’ time.
We were impressed by the 1300 manual version we drove in 2015 and its price back then of a touch under 200-kay. After two years of rampant inflation, a bigger engine, more safety kit and automatic transmission, the new one goes for R250 000 – that’s pretty good.
Test unit from Toyota SA press fleet
The numbers
Price: R249 600
Engine: Toyota 2NR-FKE, 1496 cc, DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder
Power: 82 kW at 6000 rpm
Torque: 136 Nm at 4400 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 11.2 seconds
Maximum speed: 175 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 6.5 l/100 km
Tank: 42 litres
Boot: 286 – 768 litres
Turning circle: 9.6 metres
Warranty: 3 years / 100 000 km
Service plan: 3 years / 45 000 km at 15 000 km intervals.