The Car Connection Toyota Yaris Overview
The Toyota Yaris is likely to show up on consumers' shopping lists next to the Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic, Mazda 2, Nissan Versa Note, Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Mirage, and Hyundai Accent.
The current generation Yaris can be had in either three or five doors, but the four-door Yaris sedan is no more. The hatchback Toyota Yaris is one of the most reliable cars on the market and is the brand's smallest and least-expensive U.S. offering.
A new Mexico-built Yaris is expected in a few years.
MORE: Read our 2016 Toyota Yaris review
The new Toyota Yaris
In the expanding market of subcompact cars—what we used to call "economy cars"—the Yaris faces off against an all-new Honda Fit, as well as the hatchback models of the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, and the Nissan Versa model known as the Note. Few of them offer the simpler three-door body style, which is less expensive but also somewhat less practical—even if it's only ever driven by a single person who may want to toss her or his backpack into the rear seat via a rear door.
In Toyota showrooms, the Yaris also competes with the Prius C, which offers an entirely different five-door subcompact design and the famous Prius 50-mpg gas-mileage rating. But the Yaris is thousands of dollars less than the Prius C, meaning that drivers who cover relatively few miles each year will come out ahead with the Yaris.
The Yaris remains one of the lightest vehicles in this class, at around 2,300 pounds, making it seem like a good choice for those who want a light, tossable subcompact. Yet, in an extended drive we found its 106-horsepower 4-cylinder engine to be underwhelming. That said, sporty SE models get a stiffer suspension for a more responsive feel (plus four-wheel disc brakes). Engine noise remains an issue at highway cruising speeds, and we've found the current Yaris to be fuel-efficient in the city, but no standout for mileage on the highway. The EPA has rated the Yaris at only 30 mpg city, 36 highway, 32 combined when paired to an automatic transmission. The new Yaris is strong on safety, with nine standard airbags, but lacking options like heated seats and touchscreen navigation. Bluetooth hands-free features are delightfully simple, though, and USB ports and aux plugs are standard for all.
With all-new styling, the current Toyota Yaris Liftback goes in a somewhat sporty, but also somewhat more ubiquitous direction, losing some of the Euro-chic charm of the previous hatchback. It does gain a few inches of length, for better cargo capacity especially. Engines and transmissions essentially carry over unchanged from the previous generation, but interior design and ergonomics are quite different, with gauges moved back directly in front of the driver and seats getting more generous bolstering.
For 2013, Toyota made the former Tech Audio Package (Bluetooth, USB, iPod connectivity, HD Radio, satellite radio compatibility, and six speakers) standard on all models.
The Yaris received a mid-cycle refresh for the 2015 model year, which brings even more aggressive styling to go along with the new faces being grafted on most other Toyota products. Changes included more soft-touch materials inside, a retuned suspension, and some added feature content. Toyota made further tweaks to the infotainment offerings as well, including a dealer-installable navigation system that somewhat makes up for the lack of a factory solution.
A new Yaris is expected in a few years. It will be built in Mexico and will share its architecture with the next Mazda 2 subcompact and a new sedan model, both of which will be products of the same factory. The next Yaris will be based on the Mazda 2's platform and will share that car's 1.5-liter engine and transmissions, as well as some interior and exterior styling.
Toyota Yaris History
The first-generation Yaris, sold in the U.S. from 2006 through 2011, supplanted the homely Echo in Toyota's lineup and was lauded—especially in hatchback form—for its more stylish, urban-chic appearance. Initially, the Yaris was offered either as a three-door hatchback or a four-door sedan, each with its own set of interior and exterior design details. While the hatchback had a more radically styled instrument panel, with a thin center stack and central speedometer, the sedan came with a more conventional look. Likewise, the Yaris hatchback received different front-end details that made it look cuter in the opinion of many, whereas the sedan's front end and proportions were closely related to the contemporary Camry's and Corolla's.
Both models came with the same engine—a 106-hp, 1.5-liter 4-cylinder paired with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. In either version, this worked out to be plenty to move the lightweight Yaris quickly—though the automatic cars were a little sluggish with a full load. The first Yaris was sprightly and maneuverable around town—and capable of fitting into some of the tightest parking spaces—with light, responsive steering and compact dimensions, but its soft suspension calibration meant that it didn't feel sporty on a country road. Ride quality was soft and absorbent, with a bounciness that came out on some road surfaces.
While the interior of the 2006-2011 Yaris was stylish, it made clear concessions to cost in the materials and trims that were used. There were hard, scratch-prone plastics throughout, and the upholstery felt bargain-basement. Sedans were more than a foot longer than hatchbacks; they didn't have that much more leg room, but getting in was a lot easier, and they did have a surprisingly roomy trunk. For 2009, Toyota introduced a five-door hatchback body style, which some might find the best compromise between the hatchback's stylish appearance and the sedan's practicality.
Equipment on that original base-model Yaris hatchback was basic. Air conditioning and keyless entry were included in all models, but nearly all other common features—such as power windows—were optional, while cruise control was only offered on top models. Safety wasn't a strong point for this Yaris, with crash-test scores unimpressive and many cars leaving the factory without anti-lock brakes. ABS became standard along with electronic stability control for 2010.
The Yaris was closely related to the Scion xA and somewhat related to the Scion xD; the xD in particular has more appealing interior materials, as well as a stronger 1.8-liter engine from the Corolla, but it burns more fuel as a result. The Yaris has proven to be one of the most reliable vehicles on Consumer Reports' annual survey, has good resale value, and has been rated as being among the cheapest to own, considering aspects like insurance, maintenance, and depreciation.