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The 2014 Toyota Yaris is the most affordable of Toyota's U.S. models, not counting the similarly sized Scion xD model; and it overlaps somewhat with the Prius C hybrid subcompact that's around its size but aimed at different market segments. It's a competent subcompact hatchback, yet very little causes it to stand out above other subcompacts in this increasingly competitive--and growing--segment of the car market.
The Yaris was last redesigned for 2012, and it offers the unusual option of a three-door model as well as the more customary five-door hatchback. The Yaris sedan that was part of the lineup in previous years, however, has been withdrawn from the U.S. market. And if one of your motivations for buying a small car is fuel economy, it's not particularly competitive--it is rated at 32 or 33 mpg combined, depending on trim level and equipment. While it's a few thousand dollars cheaper than the Prius C hybrid that sits next to it on the showroom floor, that car's 50-mpg rating is pretty much the definition of fuel economy--and at a starting price under $20,000.
Part of the shortfall in fuel economy can be chalked up to its 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It'll move around town fine with the five-speed manual gearbox if you keep the engine speeds up, but its slow, noisy, and outmoded four-speed automatic strains at highway speeds--reminiscent of nothing so much as the old "econobox" cars of 10 or 20 years ago. More modern technologies--direct injection, turbocharging, six-speed or continuously-variable transmissions--are nowhere to be found. This is a technologically Plain Jane car.
From the outside, the Yaris appears brawny without being a caricature (as some Scion models seem to be). The broad front airdam, blunt nose, and distinct wheel openings give it a solid appearance, with the interior being straightforward but unremarkable. Storage space inside is good, and the front seats are comfortable and supportive, with plenty of room. Rear seats are a different story; they're smaller than those in many competitors, particularly the Nissan Versa Note, and the Yaris is more usable for two adults than for four. Neither cargo space nor flexibility are as good as the perennial class leader, the Honda Fit.
The slightly smaller size of the Yaris makes it nimble in city use and easy to park. Its electric power steering is nicely weighted--which can't be said about all Toyota models--and the stiffer suspension of the SE sport model improves cornering without affecting ride comfort. Ride quality is good in general, but the Yaris gets noisy at higher speeds, with the engine taking on a coarse, harsh note when pushed hard.
Since the latest generation of Yaris was launched for 2012, its stiffer structure and nine airbags look poised for better protection; although in reality its IIHS and federal safety ratings have been a mixed bag.
The 2014 Yaris is largely unchanged from previous years. Even the base Yaris L model now includes a six-speaker audio system, 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. With a starting price around $15,000, it's not the single cheapest option in the segment, but it's decently equipped. The SE model adds alloy wheels and stiffer suspension, but several options on other subcompacts aren't available at any price. The Yaris doesn't offer a navigation system, leather upholstery, or heated seats, for example.
- Good city gas mileage
- Nice steering feel
- Smooth ride
- Supportive front seats
- Bluetooth easy to use
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- Noisy, harsh engine
- Outdated four-speed automatic
- Litlte power for passing
- Generic exterior lines
- Steering wheel doesn't telescope