News about the Toyota Vios always attracts a lot of attention and this is not surprising because, in Malaysia, it’s been the best-selling model in the non-national category for a while. The history of the Vios actually goes back to the mid-1990s when Toyota realised that the Corolla – its best-seller for decades – had become more and more expensive and had priced itself out of the entry-level segment. So it had to come up with a new model line which was engineered using a more regional cost base and more importantly, it had to be built in the region to reduce issues with the strong yen.
The first Vios was actually called a Soluna and was launched in Thailand around the same time as the first generation of Honda’s City, also an effort by the carmaker to offer a lower-priced model. The Thai consumers liked the Soluna as it was comfortable and modern; for them, acquiring one meant a step up from the spartan pick-ups that were dominant in the market. That the car had minimal convenience features like power windows, central locking, power steering, etc was fine.
However, Malaysian consumers had moved further upmarket, so to speak, and the specifications of the first generation were not expected to be appealing.
UMW Toyota Motor’s surveys told them it would be pointless trying to sell the car in this market and they remained focussed on the Corolla which was, in any case, about to make a major evolutionary change with the beginning of the Altis generation.
The second generation which had the name Vios (Latin for ‘to move forward’) was launched in 2003 and it had the right looks, the right specs – and the right pricing too – for Malaysia. Before long, it was leading sales in its class and then overall among all non-national makes.
“The Toyota Vios is an important new model for us as it marks the return of Toyota to the entry-level segment for non-national makes. It has been conceived for markets such as Malaysia where affordability is an important consideration and we are aiming to win over younger first-time buyers who have been wanting to own a high-quality Japanese product that is also one class up from many entry-level products,” said a senior executive at UMW Toyota Motor at its launch.
In 2007, the third generation arrived and it became a more global model, sold in many more countries than the second generation. It was just right for many emerging markets where entry-level models were in demand and a good rival to the low-priced Korean products.
This week sees the fourth generation making its world premiere at the Bangkok Motorshow, an appropriate venue since Thailand is where the Vios originated from. From the pictures, it’s clear that Toyota has finally settled on a certain styling direction as the front end looks familiar enough: it’s already used on models in America, Australia and at some motorshows in China, Toyota has shown prototypes with variations of the same sharp theme.
At a glance, it would seem unchanged in dimensions but official data shows that its overall length is 110 mm more while the width is still the same 1700 mm. The roof is 15 mm higher, suggesting improved headroom inside. The wheelbase is unchanged at 2550 mm and it remains fairly light with the lowest grade weighing the same 1,020 kgs as the current Vios 1.5J with manual transmission in Malaysia.
The platform and powertrain are largely similar, with the same 1NZ-FE 1.5-litre engine. It’s a sure bet that with fuel-efficiency a priority these days, Toyota’s engineers have squeezed a bit more out of each litre consumed by the engine. And it still has a 4-speed automatic transmission…
UMW Toyota Motor is tight-lipped about when the model will be launched in Malaysia. It shouldn’t be long since much more of the car is now produced here; with the current generation, Toyota event set up a stamping plant (Toyota Auto Body) in Shah Alam, Selangor, to do the body panels here and boost local content. Over the years, there has been a concerted effort to raise local content of their most popular model so waiting for parts from suppliers in other countries is becoming less of an issue.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words so here are thousands more ‘words’ about the Vios…
Visit www.toyota.com.my to know more about other Toyota models available in Malaysia
[by Chips Yap]