2013_Toyota_Vios_review_ 008

Yes, it was time the game moved on. All automakers know that it’s a bad idea to lose the buying public’s interest – to have them saying that all cars look the same. So we’ve seen some gentle bumps and bulges in the norm-defying envelope as a bit of self-expression tries to break out. The Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic, to name but two.

But the trick is to be really bold and really mainstream simultaneously; to be truly outrageous with your biggest-volume product. It takes someone as big as Toyota to do that. And Toyota, after the turn of the Millenium, is not quite known to be forward-looking or edge-designing. But it’s confident now that it has done exactly that.

Recently, it was goodbye the well-loved executive-like XV40 Camry and hello the edgier, younger-looking XV50 Camry. Oh dear, the public isn’t quite ready yet, as the declining sales figures would suggest. Now it’s goodbye tedious and boring Vios, hello new, third-generation 2013 Toyota Vios. Are our streetscapes really going to look like that?

2013_Toyota_Vios_review_ 005

There’s no danger of mistaking the new Vios for anything else. It pushes this edge business as far as it’s safe to go. Further than Toyota did with the Camry softening-up exercise, but not quite as far as with the contrived and slightly overdone Lexus IS. It’s a largely successful redesign, avoiding many of the old Vios’ numerous stylistic downfalls.

From the outgoing Vios, it inherits enough of the rounded face not to look totally alien, but its profile and high-strutting stance are all-new for a mainstream B-segment family sedan. The cabin is just as full of lines and sweeps, and there’s the newfound bump in refinement and comfort to think about, too.

The 2013 Toyota Vios has just been launched in Malaysia, and as expected, there’s already a long queue at every Toyota dealership in the country. Should you join the line, though? That’s what we’re about to find out.

Undoubtedly the biggest car launch of the year, bar Malaysia’s own Proton Suprima S, the new Vios sports a new look that is light-years ahead of its predecessor. That’s important, because Toyota, beyond anything else, makes much of the new car’s athletic looks rather than its actual athleticism.

Automotive enthusiasts, including those that are reading this, incline towards the fast and entertaining, but don’t be encouraged by the sporty bodykit fitted to the car here. This is a top-level Vios 1.5 G automatic, the most rounded variant UMW Toyota sells. Above it is the TRD Sportivo model, which is the Vios’ optimum let’s-play guise, but adds little to the drive.

Thankfully, the extensive body add-ons are optional on all but the TRD Sportivo model. Let’s look at it as an attempt to make the Vios look less like a retiree-targeted sedan to begin with, but by the looks of it, UMW Toyota shouldn’t even have bothered. Like the Camry before it, the bodykit detracts rather than enhances the car’s basic shape, appearing more like an aftermarket project than an in-house design.

It really doesn’t look much like the old Vios that everyone loves to hate, does it? There’s no more thick-set rear three quarters, and those sleek lamps, both front and rear, really does visually lengthen the vehicle. The new car is actually longer than before, of course, by 110 mm, but it looks much larger than that.

Big, bold, quasi-rectangular headlights, similarly-elongated taillights hoisted high on the rear quarters, a waistline that starts high and gets higher without being awkwardly so, little chrome signatures all over… Clearly, a good time has been had at the design studios. It’s not what we’d call naturally beautiful, and you may call it something else, but it’s intriguing. As it’s a Vios. And it looks like that!

There’s function to the form, too. It certainly looks sleeker, that’s obvious enough, but it cheats the wind more efficiently too. It’s a lot more aerodynamic now, to the improvement of both fuel economy and cabin refinement. You’d expect a Toyota to excel in both departments, and this one truly does.

2013_Toyota_Vios_review_ 103

The new Vios is taller than the one it replaces, though it hardly appears so. It’s a good deal roomier inside, particularly in rear legroom. That’s a good achievement, considering the wheelbase has not changed. But you’re more likely to notice the dashboard, with its instrument panel back where it belongs rather than smack in the middle, as in the past two models.

There are a lot more fine detail changes than there is room here to describe. Lines, angles and sweeps, that’s the new idea, with a black and cream (or Ivory, as Toyota insists) combination that’s all too pleasing to the eyes. It’s a big departure from the basic just-all-you-needed approach in the last Vios.

It’s a fair bit more modern, then. Hard plastics pervade, but you do get a more refined finish on every surface that’s visible. The new steering wheel design is as good to hold as it is to see, with thick rims covered in soft leather. Pity that the plastics on the steering boss looks to have the worst finish in the entire cabin, ruining what is otherwise a fine interior for this class.

There’s an emphasis on perceived quality here. Everything looks premium. It’s straight-laced but high-class, right down to the leather “stitching” across the dashboard trim pieces. The illusion falls apart when you examine closely, knocking on each panel as you would in showrooms. The plastics used are all hard, but at least they’re nicely textured and good to the sight.

Toyota has gotten it right yet again, securing a huge improvement in the desired look and feel department. Well, maybe not the feel part. Yet, as far as showpieces go, this one nails it. If it looks premium, it is premium, as they say. Just don’t touch the fake stitching too much.

Let’s get a move on then, shall we? First thing you notice is the engine, because it’s remarkably quiet. That used not to be a strong point of the Vios, but fine detail updates to the engine mountings and sound insulation has almost silenced the motor. It has made a big difference. It spins up with barely a quiver, and delivers its power in an easy, evenly spread way.

2013_Toyota_Vios_review_ 053

Say all you want about it, but the 1NZ-FE 1.5 litre VVT-i engine is as reliable as they come, and it’s not that far down on power either. Its 109 PS at 6,000 rpm and 141 Nm of torque at 4,200 rpm are class-competitive, and Toyota claims a 5% improvement in fuel economy on what is already an efficient car.

The gearbox – yes, that old four-speed automatic transmission – is just fine in this application. The Vios’ target audience wouldn’t care if it had any more gears, so changing it would have been wasteful. It’s the same story with the engine. The tried-and-tested combination sells more than a technologically-advanced, yet unproven machine fitted with all new features known to man would. Just ask the Ford Focus.

It may not look pretty on the spec sheet, but it still works well within its limits and crucially, will continue to do so until the world ends, or when you chose to end it. Ten, twenty years down the road, a perfectly working car, any car, will look far prettier than those parked by the side of the road, halted, with angry-looking owners.

2013_Toyota_Vios_review_ 003

What is less known but is in fact undeniable, is that a four-speed transmission, if done right, is all you need. Nothing more, of course, but no less either. In the new Vios, the antiquated gearbox works better than before, fitted with updated software settings. The throttle uptake is far less rubbery, giving the engine better response and measured-by-the-seat-of-your-pants performance.

Shifts remain ultra smooth, unless you have the throttle pedal mashed on the floor, where you’d feel the large gaps of power surge between the slow gear changes. Drive it like you actually own the car (and put money on it) though, and it performs just as a well-executed comfort-oriented family sedan should: well-mannered, smooth, quiet and comfortable.

The new Vios is faithfully built on its hugely successful predecessor’s rock-solid identity. Much has changed in terms of looks, but underneath the fancy new metalwork lies the same old Vios running gear that thousands have loved and cherished. Remember the adage, “if it ain’t broke?” There’s simply no reason for Toyota to recreate what it has already established to be an immensely successful formula.

2013_Toyota_Vios_review_ 023

Next, the steering. Toyota has made much of its EPS advances over the past few years, but it hasn’t always given the last word in steering feel, despite their undoubted good manners. The new Vios’ helm, though, is the best expression yet of the technology.

It feels devoid of rubber interface, crisp and linear and exactly proportional in cause versus effect. You can’t feel what’s going on underfoot, but the point is that the steering is always faithful, whatever you do. You don’t react to it, because there’s nothing to react to.

The Vios is a car you’d least likely take for a back road blast, just for the hell of it. It’s just not that kind of car, nor would its owners have penchant for such inclinations. Though better than before, the Vios is neither incisive nor interactive enough through the bends, as reflected by its soft-edged but adequate power delivery.

2013_Toyota_Vios_review_ 025

You just don’t buy a Toyota Vios to go hard through every corner. If you did, then you’ve bought the wrong car. Driven as it should, there’s not much to comment on the car’s handling other than that it’s perfectly livable with. And to Vios owners, that’s just perfect.

The revamped suspension (still torsion beams in the back) is good at filtering out road noise too, and low friction moving parts help towards a ride which, despite having a firmer set-up compared to the old car, is as good as the squidgier-handling Nissan Almera.

It’s by no means sporty, this car, with a lot of elasticity in its handling and lots of suppleness in its ride. The latter is one of the Vios’ biggest strengths, as it does ride with a more confident, more accomplished serenity than its predecessor. Gone is the clunky, slightly crashy ride, replaced with a surprisingly sophisticated quality never before associated with an entry-level Toyota.

2013_Toyota_Vios_review_ 013

You’ve probably guessed the verdict. It goes well, handles predictably enough, rides fluidly, makes little noise and feels good to sit in and, most importantly, makes a big visual statement. The new Toyota Vios does all that, especially the last one. You can’t not have an opinion about this car, that’s how big of an achievement this is.

If there’s any doubt, the prices should clinch it. Yes, others may offer faster, cheaper, safer and better equipped alternatives (in some cases, all of them together), but the fact remains that the previous Vios was by far and away the leader of its class in terms of sales, and this new one is better in every possible way, without being any more expensive to buy.

It’s great to look at, or at the very least better than before, holds up to customer expectations to touch and is delightful to own and live with. On a visceral level, it’s not really in the running, but we know that already. Look at it this way: if it had a brand new engine and a six-speed gearbox, would a car enthusiast really want a Toyota Vios?

The 2013 Toyota Vios is, at the end of the day, a perfectly suitable choice for a large majority of motorists. It may not appeal to you or me, but to others, the Vios remains the obvious choice. With its grand new looks and improved road manners, rightly so too.

For full prices specifications, read our comprehensive 2013 Toyota Vios launch report here.