With over 505,000 units sold in Malaysia across three generations, the Toyota Vios is a very important bread and butter model for UMW Toyota Motor (UMWT). This may surprise you, but while the first two generations of the Vios hung around for between four to six years each, the third-generation model has been on sale for nine years.
First introduced in 2013, the third-generation Vios underwent two facelifts – one in 2018 and another in 2020 – to keep it relevant. Even so, there’s no denying that a total overhaul was needed, especially when the Vios’ closest rival – the Honda City – upped the ante in its fifth generation.
Thankfully, an all-new Vios was exactly what we got to see last August with the debut of the fourth-generation model in Thailand. We have had to wait a little while for the latest Vios to be launched in Malaysia, but on March 20, 2023 at 8pm, Toyota’s B-segment sedan will officially go on sale – estimated pricing is between RM90k to RM96k across two variants.
Ahead of tomorrow’s launch event, we had the opportunity to try out the fourth-generation Vios (designated AC100) in Langkawi to experience just how much of an improvement it is over its predecessor and how it roughly stacks up against a fellow heavyweight in the B-segment sedan ring.
Daihatsu bones, Toyota skin
Even before the AC100 Vios came to light, it was heavily reported that Daihatsu would be involved in the model’s development (the project was internally known as D92A). Daihatsu’s parent company is Toyota, and in 2016, both parties announced the establishment of an internal company called the ‘Emerging-market Compact Car Company’ or EMCC.
EMCC is responsible for the development of the AC100 Vios, and the joint development product that resulted adopted the Daihatsu New Global Architecture (DNGA). With the new platform, the Vios has grown slightly, measuring in at 4,425 mm long (+5 mm), 1,740 mm wide (+10 mm) and 1,480 mm tall (+5 mm).
Of more significance is the wheelbase, which has been increased by 70 mm to hit 2,620 mm. For context, the City’s wheelbase is 2,600 mm, but measures 4,553 mm long and 1,748 mm wide – the height is slightly less at 1,467 mm.
The lengthy wheelbase is reflected in the styling, with a side view showcasing the promise of a roomy interior. Visually shorter overhangs are also part of the profile, and Toyota is keen to point out the Vios’ fastback design with its gently sloping C-pillars – do you agree with this claim?
Up front is where the Vios is most distinctive given its new face that looks modern and less curvaceous than the outgoing model. A large gaping mouth is still present, but the surrounding elements help to make the design easier on this eyes, at least for this writer.
Highlights include sharper headlamps that appear to be “hanging” by the tip of the L-shaped daytime running lights, with the effect further emphasised by the thin black bar running through the Toyota badge. This also acts as a divider between the large lower grille and body-coloured trim trailing from the clamshell bonnet, providing a less “busy” look compared to the previous model.
The lower apron also gets a few neat touches like a spoiler lip and functional air curtains (with ‘VORTEX GENERATORS’ printed on them), with the latter serving to channel air for improved aerodynamics and is also claimed to help cool the front brakes.
The front lip is part of an aerokit that also comes packaged with side skirts, a boot lid lip spoiler and a diffuser-like element for the rear bumper, the last of which also gets air curtain-like bits, although they are purely decorative. Also at the rear are angular taillights (with sequential turn signals!) linked by a black trim piece that houses the reverse camera and boot release button.
The popular consensus among the motoring media is the Vios looks kind of like a “baby Camry,” which is somewhat merited. To my eyes, the new Vios also gets a little bit of Corolla and is a radical departure from its predecessor. Of course, looks are a subjective matter, so feel free to pass judgement and compare it to the City in the comments below.
Premium interior with familiar bits, some inconveniences
Just like the exterior, the Vios’ interior also gets overhauled and now features a simpler dashboard design that is devoid of the previous car’s many lines and complex shapes. Taking centre stage is a 9-inch touchscreen head unit that is strangely off-centred in its placement, so OCD folk might feel a little uneasy.
Positioning aside, the head unit similar to the one you find in Corolla Cross, meaning you get a high-resolution display that is impressive for a car in this segment. Even more impressive is the support for wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which is a feature that is uncommon in the realm the Vios lives in – the City relies on a wired connection. During the media drive, my Samsung Galaxy S21 easily connected to the system for Android Auto and did not suffer any dropouts as we navigated from place to place.
The head unit is surrounded by soft-touch material, which is also used for the armrest on the door cards and centre console as well as the driver’s knee pad. These contribute to the premium feel, but you’ll still find some basic plastic components in most areas, although certain pieces are made to be glossy black and textured.
Another change from the previous car is the raised centre console that has no cupholders. If you want somewhere to place your drinks, there are now cupholders at the corners of the dash much like in the Perodua Ativa, with the one on driver’s side being a little fancier with a push-to-deploy mechanism.
The new centre console also houses two small storage cubbies and controls for an electronic parking brake (with auto brake hold) that is making its debut on fourth-generation model. There are also two buttons for the 64-colour ambient lighting system, although this only illuminates limited areas in the cabin.
At the tail end of the centre console under the armrest is another storage area that contains a wireless phone charger, but you’ll have to mindful about how thick your phone is to use it. My co-driver’s S22 Ultra with a thicker case couldn’t fit into the slot, but an S21 with a Spigen Liquid Air had no such problems.
Given Daihatsu’s involvement in the AC100 project, you’ll notice quite a few familiar bits like the steering wheel and gear lever look exactly like what’s in the Ativa. Elsewhere, the configurable 7-inch TFT instrument cluster display is pretty much identical to the one in the Ativa, albeit with Toyota-specific animations and graphics.
As for life in the rear, the Vios also finally gets rear AC vents in this generation, which is likely a feature many have been waiting for, and there are ergonomically placed cupholders to complement larger storage pockets on the door cards.
There are also two charging ports – one USB-C and one USB-A – for rear passengers, but those at the front only get one USB-A on the head unit. There are no dedicated USB charging outlets at the front of the cabin (unlike the Vios/Yaris Ativ in Thailand), so you’ll have to invest in a charger to plug into the 12-volt power socket that curiously has blanked out sections flanking the all-seat seatbelt reminder.
Alternatively, you could just plug into the rear outlets and drag the cable to the front, which is what we did. It isn’t elegant, but when you’re pressed for time and absolutely require high-wattage fast charging – which the rear outlets can provide – it sure beats a wireless charger.
Meanwhile, legroom is generous thanks to the wheelbase, even when the driver’s seat is adjusted for my co-driver’s 178 cm frame. However, rear headroom was an issue for my drive partner as his head was touching the headliner when sitting upright. With my 170 cm height, there was a little more space – about one to two fingers worth – but I had to slouch slightly to actually be comfortable on the move.
Curiously, this was less of an issue in the previous car as well as the City, so maybe the fastback shape is more form over function. Perhaps deeper concaves in the headliner – as seen at the front – would help remedy this.
Another shortcoming is the removal of a folding rear bench, so trying to load long pieces of flatpack furniture will be an issue. We were told by the engineers that the rear seat bench would be too thin if it could be folded down, so a decision was made not to provide the feature – there isn’t a rear armrest either.
On boot space itself, you do get 475 litres (down from 502 litres) and a large entry aperture, so getting wide items in shouldn’t be too much of hassle. With the boot tray and floor lifted, you’ll get even more space to stow items, although there’s no room for a spare tyre. The amount of room under the boot floor is certainly enough to accommodate hybrid components, and a Vios Hybrid has been said to make its debut sometime this year.
Capable engine, new CVT
The switch to the DNGA platform also sees the Vios be powered by the 2NR-VE, which is Daihatsu’s version of the 2NR-FE that comes with 1.5 litres of displacement, four-cylinder, DOHC and Dual VVT-i. Delivering 106 PS at 6,000 rpm and 138 Nm of torque at 4,200 rpm, the 2NR-VE is marginally less powerful than the departing 2NR-FE that made 107 PS and 140 Nm. Against the City, the Honda wins with its 1.5 litre NA i-VTEC four-cylinder engine that makes 121 PS at 6,600 rpm and 145 Nm at 4,300 rpm.
Paired with the 2NR-VE is a CVT that comes with seven virtual speeds and paddle shifters (new for the Vios). According to the Vios’ development team, the transmission is essentially Daihatsu’s D-CVT (Dual mode CVT) with a split-gear system that combines belt drive with a gear drive – we’ve detailed the technology before. This combination, along with the more aerodynamic exterior, is claimed to deliver a fuel consumption of 5.2 litres per 100 km.
Driven in a civilised manner, the setup delivers power smoothly to get up to common speeds most would be at on their daily drive. In situations where immediacy is needed, say for overtaking rapidly or charging up Gunung Raya, the CVT drops virtual gears to bring the engine revs up and you get to hear quite a bit of noise from the engine as it attempts to pile on speed.
The transmission decides when the gear drive kicks in based on how much of the accelerator pedal is depressed, but there’s still some rubber banding effect felt, although it isn’t as severe as what would experience in older CVTs. Acceleration is competitive enough versus the City in a demonstrated drag race and is helped by the fact that the DNGA platform (and lack of a spare tyre) trims around 110 kg off the Vios’ weight compared to the outgoing model. In the case of the G variant we spent all our time in, the kerb weight is listed as only 1,035 kg – the previous G was 1,145 kg.
With expectations set right and a gentle right foot, the powertrain remains relatively quiet and pleasant to use in most cases, but there will be moments where the transmission sees fit to kick down and you’ll be hearing the more of the 2NR-VE that you would like to. The Vios also comes with three drive modes (Normal, Eco and Power) if you need to force the engine to be more responsive (holding the engine at higher revs) or reserved (less responsive to throttle inputs for fuel efficiency).
Improved comfort and handling
Other touted benefits of the new platform are improved handling and comfort, both of which were on display on a closed course with a slalom and quick lane change. In both exercises, the Vios remain composed and assured with quick directional changes, helped along by its wider 205/50 profile Continental PremiumContact C tyres wrapped around 17-inch wheels – the largest for the model yet. As before, the suspension continues to be MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear, but the chassis is stiffer.
During our runs up and down Gunung Raya, the Vios felt agile through the corners and provided good brake feel (i.e. not too mushy). The electrically assisted steering is accurate enough but there’s not much in the way of feedback, with the focus more on making it light and easy to manoeuvre.
On normal roads, the Vios was compliant to be more comfortable than its predecessor. Primary ride was good, with the car remaining composed over large bumps, while secondary ride was well handled so it doesn’t feel too obnoxious to the point that we’re bounced around. The manually operated seats were also supportive and provided sufficient comfort, although a longer drive would be more conclusive.
Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) were also much improved over the previous generation thanks to the fitment of acoustic glass for the front windscreen. Certain areas of the chassis also get foam inserts to help dampen out unwanted intrusions, further improving NVH.
Toyota Safety Sense made better
When the third-generation Vios got its second update, the Toyota Safety Sense suite was added to improve its safety chops, but only came with two systems: Pre-Collision System (autonomous emergency braking) and Lane Departure Warning.
The latest model takes things many steps further by adding Lane Departure Prevention, Front Departure Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Control and Auto High Beam. You even get Pedal Misoperation Control, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, a 3D panoramic view monitor, front and rear parking sensors as well as a multi-view reverse camera.
These are on top of the standard six airbags (the previous driver’s knee airbag is now gone) and list of passive systems (VSC, ABS, EBD, brake assist, hill start assist, etc.) In today’s world where such active safety systems can be found on cars that cost less, it was inexcusable if the Vios only offered only the basics, but thankfully, this isn’t the case.
A winner in many ways with some faults
Compared to its predecessor, the fourth-generation Vios is a major leap forward in many aspects, particularly in terms of ride and handling as well as NVH. The comprehensive feature set also complements the premium interior feel, while the expanded list of safety features is an absolute necessity and warmly welcomed. As for the new powertrain, it doesn’t post higher figures, but it does well enough in most driving situations if you taper expectations.
However, there are some things related to practicality that car buyers might find to be an issue with like the headroom limitation for particularly tall rear seat passengers. The inability to fold the rear seat bench down is also a point of contention, especially when the City offers this as standard across its entire variant line-up – the previous Vios 60:40 split-folding rear seats on the E and G variants. These are viable concerns for those who rely on only one car to meet as many needs as possible, including ferrying people and/or cargo.
Toyota took their time with the AC100 Vios and the end result is a product that impresses in many ways and better suited to compete against the two-year-old-plus City. It’s not without faults, but there are plenty of positives and improvements that some may overlook the shortcomings.
GALLERY: 2023 Toyota Vios media test drive official photos
GALLERY: 2023 Toyota Vios official photos
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