New & Used Toyota Yaris: In Depth
2015 Toyota Yaris - First Drive, September 2014Enlarge Photo
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The Yaris is the Toyota brand's smallest and least expensive U.S. offering. In its current generation, the Yaris is offered in two hatchback configurations, with either three doors or five. A four-door Yaris sedan was offered in the last generation, but it was phased out after one year of simultaneous sales with the newer hatchback models. Toyota also offered a two-door version of the Yaris's predecessor, the Echo.
In the expanding market of subcompact cars--what we used to call "economy cars"--the Yaris faces off against an all-new 2015 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 several thousand dollars less expensive 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 performance 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 new Yaris is strong on safety, with nine standard airbags, but lacking options like heated seats and touch-screen 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 this year 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, which will be a product of the same factory. A Scion model will also be spawned off of the same underpinnings.
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 a 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 got 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-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder, paired with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. In either version, this worked out to be plenty to move the lightweight Yaris quickly—though the automatic version was 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 legroom, 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—like 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 is 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.