Toyota Motor Philippines has been on a Triple Crown roll for almost two decades now — 18 consecutive years to be exact. In the automotive world, a triple crown is being No. 1 in passenger car sales, No. 1 in commercial vehicles sales, and No. 1 in overall sales.  

This kind of domination means that Toyota lords it over its competitors in just about every automotive category: mini hatchback (Wigo), subcompact sedan (Vios), midsize sedan (Camry), small SUV (Rush), midsize SUV (Fortuner), large SUV (Land Cruiser), MPV (Innova), family van (Hiace), and pickup (Hilux).  

There are, however, two notable categories that Toyota didn’t sweep last year: compact sedan and subcompact hatchback. Compact sedan honors go to the racy Honda Civic. But it’s been a seesaw battle between the Civic and the Altis for almost 20 years.

The category that Toyota has never won is in subcompact hatchback sales. Its Yaris has always played second fiddle to the Honda Jazz. Which is really a big wonder considering the origins of each car — the Jazz is basically a Honda City without a trunk while the Yaris is the trunk-less version of the Vios.

Think about that for a moment. The Vios is the absolute bestselling car in the Philippines every single year for over a decade. It trounces the City — yet the Jazz turns the table on the Yaris. The Yaris has the exact same 1.3- or 1.5-liter engines as the Vios. It has the same manual or CVT gearboxes as the Vios. It has the same MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension and braking system. Enter the cabin and you’ll see virtually the same dashboard, door panels, consoles and seats. They share the same 2,550mm wheelbase. 

I recently got to drive a new Yaris. Since the subcompact hatchback genre isn’t as popular as it once was, the Yaris tuned quite a few heads. As if its sheer novelty wasn’t eye-catching enough, my Yaris 1.5S test unit came in a searing shade of Citrus Mica Metallic. Not only that, it was decked out in full TRD body kit composed of an aggressive front airdam (with a Mini Cooper JCW- or Golf GTI-like red accent on the lower part of the air intake), side skirts, rear wing, and rear bumper aprons. The racy kit is matched by mesh-type 17” TRD alloy rims wrapped by low-profile 205/40R-17 Bridgestone Potenza rubber (up from the stock 185/60R-15 Yokohama DB tires). You can’t find much higher performance tires than these Potenzas.             

Don’t let the hot-hatch tuner styling fool you, though. The Yaris is not going to be running with a Golf GTI or even a stock Mini Cooper any time soon. Power comes from the same mill as your everyday Vios, which means either a 1.3- or 1.5-liter DOHC VVTi engine developing 90ps/121Nm or 107ps/141Nm, respectively. The Citrus Mica shade comes only with the top-of-the-line 1.5S variant (which only comes with a CVT).

Having said that, the Yaris is still plenty fun to drive. It will reward an enthusiastic driver with spirited performance. CVTs are usually sluggish, but the DOHC Dual VVT-i 1.5-liter engine is torquey and rev-happy enough to push the hatch with gusto. And if you’re attacking corners on a winding road, you can also switch the Drive Mode from Eco to Sport and play with the 1.5S’ paddle shifters.

The best news is, all this spirited driving does not come at the expense of a harsh ride. Despite the 40-series rubber, the softly tuned suspension soaked up bumps and potholes without the expected jarring sensation on your spine or bottom. Don’t expect Toyota 86-levels of cornering power, though. The soft suspension tuning is good for comfort but also results in notable (but not unstable) body roll on cornering.      

TRD appendages aside, the latest model is the best-looking Yaris yet. The hatchback’s front end benefits from the latest Vios’ aggressive front fascia, with mean-looking headlamps (made even meaner with the Yaris 1.5S’ projector-type lenses), big blacked out air intakes with integrated LED DRLs, and the hockey stick-shaped foglight openings. LED taillamps lend an upscale feel to the rear.  

Inside is a stylish and well-crafted interior that uses a lot of plastics but manages to not feel cheap or plasticky. The all-black dashboard and steering wheel (in leather and with audio controls) are livened up by silver accents. The black fabric-covered manual-adjustment seats have red-and-black graphics in their centers with matching red stitching (which also appears on the door panels). Gloss black finishing is used for the center console. 

A decent amount of storage areas as well as cup and bottle holders are found inside. There’s a long and narrow center console box between the front seats, which is commendable as a center armrest but unfortunately eats up legroom for the middle rear passenger.   

The Yaris 1.5S boasts push-button start and six speakers for the 7” touchscreen infotainment system with CD/MP3/Aux/USB/Bluetooth/iOS and Android Weblink connectivity. It also features Toyota Vehicle Security System (TVSS) with alarm and immobilizer as well as smart entry with speed-sensing door locks. Like the Vios, the new Yaris is now equipped with seven airbags across all variants. 

The Yaris 1.5S (minus the TRD body kit) retails for P1,065,000 (the Yaris starts at P900,000 with the 1.3E MT). With the Vios 1.3 Base starting as low as P662,000, it’s obvious why Toyota’s locally made bestselling sedan sells way more than its imported hatch sibling.

But it’s hard to fathom why the Jazz has always outsold the Yaris (even if the Jazz is an absolutely brilliant car; remember the City-Vios conundrum). The Thai-made Jazz now ranges from P868,000 to P1,088,000, which is right in the ballpark of Yaris pricing. The Yaris is a Toyota, after all—and we all know how that priceless brand name transcends pricing, styling, performance or a host of other issues for a lot of buyers. 

The ultimate factor, in my opinion, is the model name. “Yaris” just doesn’t seem to resonate with Filipinos. You know what name would resound for this oft-overlooked yet extremely capable hatchback? Vios Hatch. 

Or even Vios Sport Hatch. Then there would be instant recognition for this car. In Western markets, the Vios is actually called the Yaris Sedan. So why not the other way around for the Philippine market? 

The Toyota Vios Sport Hatch. Sounds like a Triple Crown winner in my book. No need to reinvent or reengineer this car. Just rename it and they will come.