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Feature Creep in Reverse .. Toyota Yaris (2007-2014)


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Back in 2008 we traded my wife's Ford Laser on an ex Melbourne Toyota-staff-fleet 2007-build Yaris YRS sedan.
Over the years we've come to appreciate it's comfort, economy, performance, reliability and relative sophistication of the engineering that has gone into the design and build.

This year, looking to downsize from a 3.5 litre 2005 Nissan Maxima STL, I enquired about a new 2016 "frog-mouth" Yaris sedan, only to be told that only the hatchback is available in Australia. Can't say I was impressed with that, the sedan has been great, the boot capacity is actually a litre more than the Maxima, and has also been much appreciated. Apparently a sedan has been released recently in Canada, but I'm told that no date for an Australian release is available. It is alleged to be a rebadged Mazda.

The local dealers are first-rate, so instead, since the first one worked out so well, I again traded the Nissan on an ex-Melbourne Toyota company staff  2014-build Yaris YRS sedan. Most of the important bits (engine, transmission etc) of the 2014 car appear to be the same as in 2007.
However, now that we have two of them, the comparison some of the "feature richness" is a bit disappointing, I'd expected some worthwhile extra features, but was amazed to find that some of the good original stuff had been deleted in the later model.

One thing that was missing in the 2007 instrument cluster, although shown in the handbook, was the shift position (P,R,N,D) indicator. In a dark parking station, it's difficult to see which gear is selected, so I was pleased to see that it was present in the 2014 ... however...
The 2007 door-open warning indicator symbol actually showed which door, including the boot lid, was actually not closed properly. This has been changed on the  2014 to show a just generic symbol that a door is open, not which one, and worse still, there is no monitoring of the boot lid at all. I spent 3 hours at the dealers while a team of mystified service mechanics took the boot latch apart and checked plugs and connections all the way back to the body control computer until the workshop manager checked another Yaris of a similar 2014 build date also lacked both these features along with a missing help list on the radio.

Following current fashion I guess, the side turning indicators have been moved from the bubbles on the front quarter panels to strips on the wing mirrors. The problem with this arrangement (yes, I know Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and all the others have the same) is that their visibility is really little different, they are more vulnerable to damage by supermarket parkers and street damage by passing gangs of drunken junior citizens and the like. Finally, the bulb change on the 2007 side indicators just involves the owner popping out the fairing with a fingernail and fitting a replacement. The same job on the 2014 wing mirrors requires a Toyota workshop booking.

3. The silliest feature of all on the 2014 is the Fujitsu Ten 100184 radio. With an instruction manual of 174 pages, a touch screen, bluetooth and voice recognition being the additions since 2007, supposedly to allow "hands-free" operation of a tethered mobile phone, the CD and radio.
This is arrant nonsense. There are no control buttons provided on the steering wheel. Activating any of the features while driving involves reaching across and fiddling with the various buttons and touch prompts on the unit, which although possible is not really consistent with survival. I can't see any advantage here over the preset buttons on the Nasco radio in a 1963 Holden.
For instance, it requires a button press each time wake it up and get it to provide a voice command prompt, so it's necessary to find and press the middle of a group of 3 small buttons on the left side of the unit.
The voice recognition system does not have a recognition training routine, I'm not sure what accent it would be happy with, but it doesn't work very well, I haven't had much success with Australian, American, either BBC or Stephen Hawking English or even nasal Japanese.
The manual states that help is readily at hand with a complete list of available voice commands by a touching the "help" the touch message on the screen. The message is there alright, but no list of commands, they're printed in the owner's manual.

I'd have thought that in 7 years the company would have been able to add a few useful features, for instance electrically folding mirrors so I don't have to open the passenger's side window in blinding rain to fold it out before I drive off, and maybe a single LED off the interior entry light circuit to illuminate the ignition switch so that I can see the blasted thing to get the key into it in the dark.
Instead, they have removed useful features and added very little of real use. This looks a bit like the phenomenon of industrial decline where production decisions have passed from Toyota engineers to cost accountants, focus groups and fashionistas, or maybe just the lunatics taking over the asylum.


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