2019 Toyota Vios First Drive

The king was quiet on his throne for a couple of years now. He merely looked on the neighboring kingdoms of Honda and Suzuki that brought out a City and Swift Dzire, respectively, while the Germans entered the fray with a Santana. People thought the king was eclipsed with these new warriors until one day, he stood on the balcony.

"Today, we move forward!"

The all-new Toyota Vios came out of the drawbridge with a grin on its face, ready to join the sedan wars again. For its first quest, Toyota ordered the Vios to go from Manila to La Union and finally settle in Baguio. I was one of the witnesses as the all-new Vios was pushed to its limits in this 300+ kilometers of highways, winding roads, and hill climbs. Sit back, play Plastic Love on Youtube, and read on.

(I spent most of my time with the 1.5 G Prime to suit the premium travel experience of Toyota's Ride and Drive for the Vios that placed us cozy accommodations and great local food.)

There's a small debate on whether the latest Vios is new or all-new. Many said that since it has the same engine, transmission, and chassis like the former model, it should be just new. In tradition, that is true but it's like your former high school classmate you saw during college. She had her hair cut and colored, got new clothes in a different style, and now wears a smile. She's the same but you couldn't see her past self anymore. The same can be said for the all-new Vios.

Its stoic appearance was replaced with cheerful looking headlights and a smile courtesy of the bumper design. With the prime variant, you'll have more plastic upfront due to the fog light housing. I don't exactly like it but that's coming from someone who refrains from mainstream stuff. What I liked about it is the minimal use of chrome which is something rare these days.

The side has sexy lines while the rear has taillights that graciously lead your eyes to the logo at the trunk. Other Prime exclusives are a modest side skirt, black side mirrors, chrome-plated door handles, a small strip of plastic at the rear skirt for the reflectors, and a rear spoiler. 

Inside, Toyota made improvements that made the Vios feel more premium. Sure, the dashboard is still made from the plastic a DJ would love to scratch, while the infotainment screen is surrounded in the same smooth material used in the Wigo. However, these didn't bother me at all since I'm not in contact with it most of the time, which is our keyword for the interior.

Toyota improved the contact points for the driver and passenger. A black, lightly-padded cloth was placed on the door panels for your elbows. The Wigo-ish plastic they used to surround the window buttons were replaced with a piano black cover which felt really solid. As expected with these finishes, it's prone to scratches and fingerprints but I'll still prefer this over the previous material. The steering wheel felt nicer thanks to its softer grip. It’s more reminiscent of leather now and had real stitches, rather than just looking the part.

Some changes were done to the dashboard like increasing its height to accommodate the touchscreen and cluster gauge, instead of them sticking out. The gauges were also replaced with 'Optitron,' not related to Megatron, that gave it a more contemporary appeal than the sticker-looking one of the previous model. What bummed me out was the removal of the coin holder in front of the gear level. It was replaced by two cupholders that they removed from the dashboard and behind the center console. Now I have to use a real coin purse like a normal human. There's still no rear camera, not even rear parking sensors, but all 1.5 variants will get a push-start button to compensate for one less cupholder and coin holder.

The biggest change was done to the aircon control. It ditched the rotary knobs in place of a digital screen flanked by big square buttons for the temperature and fan speed, while below it are the small buttons for various air controls. It has a premium feel, modern look, and retains the analog familiarity of touching solid buttons that made it easier to operate during driving. We should all bow down to whoever thought of this. Now I forgive them for removing one cupholder and the coin holder.

Toyota continued its contact improvement with the steering that's now lighter and a bit more responsive. The engine and transmission were carried over from the previous model, as mentioned before, but I find that the all-new Vios has a better throttle response on flat roads. Sure, it's still far from the good ol' cable but I appreciate the effort.

"But can it go to Baguio" you ask? Yes, manong, we did. There are caveats though.

You already know the Vios can slug it out in the city but up in Baguio, things were a bit different. I was in Sport mode the entire time since normal mode wasn't enough to pull us quickly. Hill-start Assist and paddle shifters proved their convenience in inclines, especially in uphill traffic and overtaking.

Pro tip: If you use Waze in Baguio, make sure you'll be going through the main roads. The app led us down a tight, residential road that has absurdly steep slopes. The Vios was challenged and needed 6,000rpm on first gear to pull through and it did. We were able to buy tasty ube jam in Good Shepherd and had some strawberry taho in Mines View, but swore to ourselves to only use main roads from then on.

Aside from that wrong turn, the Vios did pretty well in the country’s Summer Capital. Even in Camp John Hay where there are lots of climbs, the Sport Mode was able to work it out without me flooring the pedal. Brakes were great even if I stepped on it a bit late. Once back in the hotel, the fuel economy was at 6.6km/l, worse than the Vios' average during rush hour on EDSA crawl (around 8-10km/l). For a car with an engine meant for the city and the amount of climbing it had to deal with, that figure was expected. 

We rode a 1.3 E model in going back to the city, yet there's really no difference in suspension and insulation components. The Vios still has that 'tita rocking you to sleep on her shoulder' suspension that suddenly goes HOY! if you go through a pothole at speed. It’s very smooth on asphalt and good enough on unfinished concrete roads. On the highway, there's a bit of wind and road noise that comes in but its very negligible, especially if you're talking to someone or playing music. We encountered rain while on the expressway and even then, it's not a shouting match inside the cabin. The only challenge I encountered on the highway was during one of my merges. There were five of us (well, my weight counts for two) and the trunk was filled to the brim. This, together with the lack of Sport Mode, made the Vios struggle a bit in going to 80 km/h from rest.

Once back in the metro, the Vios felt at home. It was never meant for the mountains anyway, not even spirited driving. The Vios is for practical city dwellers who have enough dough to move on from the basic subcompacts. The 1.5 G Prime might be a little steep at P1,095,000 especially that you're only given aesthetic additions that pique a certain visual taste. The standard 1.5 G CVT is easily the better deal since you're getting 98% of the Prime but for P55,000 less. If that's still beyond budget, you can go for the 1.3 E CVT. You'll lose a bit of engine power, paddle shifters, eco and sport mode, automatic aircon, and push-start button. However, it still has Vehicle Stability Control, seven airbags, and Hill-Start Assist - and these go down to the 1.3 Base model.

Whatever variant you choose, the Vios will get you from point A to B to Z in a decent amount of space and comfort without sacrificing fuel consumption and a few crucial amenities. Gone are the days where you'll have to go for a top variant just to have peace of mind while driving in Manila's chaotic roads. The all-new Vios has safety in its core and in any place you live in, safety is practical.

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