The first generation Yaris has been a top performer for Toyota, its sales rising every year from launch in 1999 to the point where it accounts for one in every four of the brand’s models sold in Europe.

It’s a hard act to follow, but in engineering and styling the all-new Yaris, Toyota has not only refined the qualities that have distinguished the original, it has also made significant advances in quality, safety and versatility.

“Big Car Thinking” describes the approach that has shaped the way the new Yaris delivers exceptional levels of interior space and quality. The increase in dimensions is put to good use to provide class-leading room for passengers and their luggage. And thanks to Toyota’s Easy Flat system, the rear seats can be folded down quickly and easily to form a generous and flat-floored load space, a feature that’s unmatched in the Yaris’s class.

Clever design also makes life more comfortable for rear seat passengers: re-routing the exhaust gives a flat floor, removing the central hump that traditionally compromises the middle seat. In the new Yaris, there is space for three adults in the back.

Where safety is concerned, Toyota has met the challenges set by the Yaris’s short front overhangs and created a car that commands the highest five-star rating for occupant protection in Euro NCAP crash testing. The vehicle uses the well-proven Minimal Intrusion Cabin System (MICS) that has helped the Avensis and Corolla Verso achieve similarly high test results, with a basic framework that efficiently disperses and directs impact forces away from the passenger cell.

Up to nine airbags are available, including the segment’s first driver’s knee airbag – standard on all but the entry-level T2 grade.

The new Yaris is available in three and five-door body styles with a choice of three engines. The 68bhp 1.0-litre VVT-i petrol engine is the starting point, delivering up to 52.3mpg in combined cycle driving and carbon dioxide exhaust emissions at 127g/km. Top seller is expected to be the 86bhp 1.3 VVT-i unit, carried across from the previous Yaris, but with modifications for better performance and lower emissions.

The lightweight, all-aluminium 1.4-litre D-4D 90 diesel engine offers substantially more power and torque than before and is capable of 62.8mpg (combined cycle). A five-speed manual gearbox, revised for sharper, more precise shifts, is fitted as standard, but the 1.3-litre VVT-i and 1.4-litre D-4D 90 units can be specified with MultiMode (M/M) transmission for automatic or manual sequential gear changes.

Three grades are on offer: T2, T3 and T Spirit. T2 models come with remote central locking, driver and passenger front airbags, electrically adjustable door mirrors, CD player, electric front windows, rear seats that individually (60:40) slide, recline and fold down with the Easy Flat system and electric power steering. Additional features on T3 versions include front side, curtain shield and driver’s knee airbags, leather-trimmed steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls, air conditioning and an upgraded sound system that can play MP3 files stored on disc.

Top-of-the-range T Spirit grade introduces a keyless Smart Entry and Start system, climate control air conditioning, front fog lamps and 15-inch alloy wheels.

Prices for the new Yaris range start at £8,995 for the entry level 1.0-litre VVT-i T2 three-door model and rise to £13,295 for the 1.4 D-4D 90 T Spirit five-door with M/M.