When the Yaris first arrived on our shores as the Echo, its massive interior space gave it awkward, bubble-like styling, However, it steadily built a fan base by combining its practicality and Toyota’s superb build quality. The Yaris’ 2012 redesign finally fixed the styling, but is it enough to fend off a long list of new competitors in the subcompact market?
The car is offered in two door and four door hatchback body styles; Toyota decided to drop the trunk option last year as sedans only accounted for 30% of sales.
Buyers can choose between L, LE and SE trims. While most base model subcompacts leave out everything to let the automaker advertise a low starting price, the L includes a long list of equipment including rear windshield wiper, power door locks, air-conditioning, tilt steering wheel, Bluetooth, a fold down rear seat and a trip computer. The LE adds power windows, keyless entry, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls and a 60/40 split fold down rear seat. The sporty SE, available only on the four door, combines the LE’s equipment with a stiffer suspension, 16 inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, fog lamps and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
A base L model starts at around $14,000, while a fully loaded SE passes the $19,000 mark. That price range would be in line with the car’s competitors if it wasn’t missing some key equipment: GPS navigation isn’t offered, nor can the car be equipped with a backup camera.
The SE trim’s suspension, brakes, wheels and shorter ratio steering rack make the car feel significantly more lively, but it comes at the expense of ride quality and noise. The bigger rims also increase the turning circle from 31 to 37 feet, making the SE much less maneuverable in town.
The sole engine choice is an indirect injection 1.5 liter producing 106 horsepower and 103 ft-lbs. of torque, a motor that was first used in the Echo fifteen years ago. While this is adequate power for a vehicle this size, its performance is hampered by equally dated 5 speed manual and 4 speed automatic transmissions. Overall, acceleration is fine in town, but the car quickly runs out of steam at highway speeds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 30 mpg city / 38 mpg highway for the manual and 30 mpg city / 35 mpg highway for the automatic, in line with the bigger, more powerful Corolla.
Comfort and Style
Inside, the awkward center-mounted gauges of the previous Yaris have been replaced by a traditional cluster in front of the driver. The dash layout is much like the Prius C, stretching horizontally instead of vertically for easy reach of the controls. Many of the L’s cheap plastic interior pieces are replaced by soft touch materials in the LE and SE.
The car’s wheelbase has been stretched three inches, providing rear seat legroom is is surprisingly good for a car this size. However, tall people will have problems with head room. The softer suspension in the L and LE gives the car a compliant ride, while the longer wheelbase reduces jitteriness at high speeds. The SE’s sport seats offer plenty of support for cornering without compromising comfort.
Interior noise is average for the segment, but with only four gears available, the automatic will drop to third and even second gear quite often at high speeds, bringing with it the drone of the engine.
While there are buyers who will get this car based on Toyota’s reliability alone, it’s hard to see any other reason to pick this car over its rivals. Despite being redesigned last year, everything about the car seems dated from the low power and fuel economy of the aging engine and drivetrains to the lack of a modern infotainment system.
There isn’t a single thing about the Yaris that some competitor doesn’t do better. The Nissan Versa Note provides more space, better fuel economy, and higher levels of technology at about the same price. The Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent share a direct injection engine with 32 more horsepower than the Yaris while still besting the Toyota’s fuel economy, while the Chevy Sonic ups the ante with the option of a turbocharged engine. The Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta handle better than the SE trim-equipped car without the compromise in ride quality, and the Fiesta Platinum offers luxury levels of equipment for the same price as the SE.
For those who are still interested in this car, opting for the manual transmission makes the car a lot more livable and fuel efficient, while choosing a trim is mostly a matter of deciding between the comfort of the L and LE or the handling of the SE.