2014 Toyota YarisToyota has revealed it’s spent nearly £70 million in development, and changed nearly 1000 parts, in an extensive and almost unprecedented mid-life facelift of its best-selling model in Europe, the Yaris.

The scale of the overhaul goes far beyond the changes Toyota normally approves for a facelifted car and comes just three years after launch. What’s more, the project has been wholly led by Toyota Motor Europe, not the Japanese HQ, with all major design and engineering changes being originated here.

It’s the first time this has been done on a project of this scale.

Toyota won’t admit the changes are because the current Yaris failed to hit the spot. Indeed, sales suggest it’s actually been a success, taking markets share up from 4.2% in 2011 to 6.1% in 2012 and 2013.

However, it did face criticism from both critics and customers, particularly for its cheap interior, soggy drive and plain design.

More than 576,000 man hours have thus been spent, says Toyota, on changes that include:

  • Extensive front end reesign with facelifted rear bumper and lights, plus new colours and wheels
  • New dashboard, including better quality plastics and far more soft-touch plastics
  • All-new seats
  • New 1.0-litre petrol engine (shared with the Aygo)
  • 20% stiffer bodyshell (thanks to 36 new spot welds, redesigned tunnel and new wheelhouse area)
  • New suspension components (new torsion beam, springs, dampers, revised EPAS software)
  • New soundproofing materials
  • New Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system

The goal, says Toyota, is to help maintain market share in an increasingly competitive sector; despite the big investment and scale of the three-year project, it does not see more than a 6.5% sector share for the Yaris by 2015.

Toyota Yaris: room to improve…

“We have a lot riding on the Yaris,” said Alessandro Massimino, leader of the 2014 Toyota Yaris project at TME. “Around one in four Toyota sold in Europe is a Yaris, and the success of both Toyota showrooms and workshops depends largely on how well the new Yaris is received.” The current car, he says, is bought largely for rational reasons: “Our aim has been to start talking to the customer’s heart as well as their head”.

Yoshihiko Kanamori, chief engineer of Toyota’s small car platforms, said the analysis of the third-generation Yaris started as soon as the car was launched – including press reports, customer clinics and general market analysis.

“They told us the Yaris was the smart choice, and it scored well with customers for conventional reasons: roominess, powertrains, Toyota Touch infotainment.

“But there was room to improve the emotional appeal, particularly design – both exterior style and interior quality – driving comfort and noise levels.” The Yaris was a success on one level, he explained: “But if we wanted to progress further, we knew what we had to do.”

This, it seems, was to create one of Toyota’s biggest facelifts on record. “The interior design changes and the platform upgrade in particular go far beyond what is expected from a mid-life upgrade,” said Serkan Karaman, senior product manager at Toyota’s R&D centre near Brussels.

“Hence, in some respects, this is almost a new generation model.”