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The 2013 Toyota Yaris is a good small car, albeit one with a muddled purpose for the U.S. market. With the Toyota Prius C here and starting below $20k--with an EPA 50-mpg Combined rating--and the Scion xD and iQ models both offering sporty and quirky alternatives across the same sales lot in most cases, it's a little mysterious at first look as to how the Yaris fits in.
Styling is definitely part of it. Although the Euro-chic look of the last-generation Yaris hatchback is gone, there's more of a brawny, rally-racer look in the chunkier-looking air dams, distinct wheels, and color-keyed details of the sporty Yaris SE. It's a little more distinctive than before, perhaps, but also more generic, we think. Inside it's a step in the right direction, with nice materials and detailing plus a straightforward new instrument-panel design, with the gauges directly in front of the driver.
The Yaris' performance treads water at a time when many of its rivals get either direct injection, turbocharging, or advanced transmissions. The 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter DOHC in-line four is adequate with the five-speed manual, but it's weak with the four-speed automatic. The electric power steering is nicely weighted, though, and SE models get a stiffer but still comfortable suspension tune that doesn't sacrifice comfort.
Whether as a three-door or five-door Liftback, the Yaris is sized for tight city streets, and that means that you trade off quite a bit of interior space in the name of maneuverability and parking ease. While front-seat accommodations are right on par with vehicles a class larger, like the Corolla, what you give up is some back-seat space. There are plenty of storage space and bins, although cargo space and versatility is not nearly as 'magical' as in the brilliantly designed Honda Fit. Ride quality is good, although there's too much of the typical small-car engine noise at higher speeds.
The Toyota Yaris Liftback models were completely redesigned last year, and their stronger body structure and additional airbags have earned them some excellent safety ratings--including IIHS Top Safety Pick status.For 2013 Toyota steps up its game with the inclusion of the former Tech Audio package in all Yaris trims--even the base Yaris L. That means six-speaker sound, SiriusXM satellite radio compatibility, HD Radio, an auxiliary input, a USB port, iPod connectivity, automatic sound leveling, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and Bluetooth audio streaming capability are included across the model line--a significant advantage for a model that starts at around $15k. That said, the 2013 Yaris keeps it simple; you still won't find a navigation system, heated seats, or leather upholstery on the options list.