2014 Toyota Yaris Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
August 11, 2014

The 2014 Toyota Yaris is built for city commuting, but on highways it reveals some major weak spots.

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 The Yaris sedan that was part of the lineup in previous years, however, has been withdrawn from the U.S. market.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.

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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.


2014 Toyota Yaris


The 2013 Toyota Yaris fades into small-car anonymity on the outside, but the interior is straightforward, even stylish.

The 2014 Toyota Yaris is hardly a striking design from the outside. It can be viewed as a close-to-generic small hatchback, with a family resemblance to other Toyotas and tidy, serviceable lines. The front air dam has a slightly aggressive appearance, and this generation looks brawnier and more chiseled, with a pronounced side crease, large door handles, and taillamps that flare out from the body. The sporty SE model has a chunky rear bumper shield that gives it a rally-car look.

Inside, however, the cabin is far more stylish and practical than previous Yaris generations. The model has finally acquired an instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, where it should be. (Yaris models through 2011 had their instruments in a pod mounted centrally on the dashboard, which proved both distracting and confusing.)

The dash has horizontal, shelf-like lines and the controls are simple, cheerful, and easy to understand. There’s also a large cohort of built-in storage spaces, in the form of trays, cupholders, bins, and the like—including a long tray at the bottom of the dash on the passenger side.


2014 Toyota Yaris


The 2014 Toyota Yaris is an adequate performer, especially around town, but avoid the antiquated four-speed automatic.

The 2014 Toyota Yaris has a more muscular appearance than its predecessors, but that's not backed up by what's under the hood. The single engine option is a 106-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder, which is very little power against competitors with direct-injected or turbocharged engines. Its light weight helps to offset the lack of oomph; at 2,300 pounds, it's one of the lighter subcompacts.

Performance is relatively tepid, and that's if you shift your own gears with the standard five-speed manual gearbox. You'll have to keep the revs up, but the car will move smartly around town, though it starts to run out of breath at highway speeds. Given the light weight, though, the Yaris isn't particularly fast--and it can feel distinctly underpowered when maximum acceleration is required.

That manual has one more ratio than the optional and aging four-speed automatic transmission, which delivers dramatic downshifts to widely spaced gears when asked for more power. The Yaris is the only subcompact carrying on with a four-speed automatic; competitors from Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, and Nissan have five- or six-speed automatics or continuously-variable transmissions (CVTs) and their better fuel-efficiency ratings reflect the newer technology. The automatic also seems to deliver more engine noise, somehow.

The Yaris has better electric power steering than many other Toyotas, which have historically been vague and numb. The steering in the Yaris stays on center at higher speeds but progressively increases the effort at lower speeds--making it fun in the city and confident on the highway. Suspension tuning is good, and the Yaris handles better than you might expect--though it's no German hot hatch, by a long shot.

The SE model has a stiffer suspension and thicker anti-sway bars, which deliver flatter handling without much impact on ride comfort, which is good. Brakes on all models work well, and the pedal is firmer and less mushy than in some competitors. Only the SE model has rear disc brakes.


2014 Toyota Yaris

Comfort & Quality

The 2014 Toyota Yaris has a smooth ride and comfortable seats, but its cabin isn't very space-efficient and it can be noisy.

At age three, the 2014 Toyota Yaris is an improvement on its predecessor, but the subcompact category is a fast-moving one and competing cars are not standing still. Whether you get the three-door or the five-door hatchback, the Yaris is far from the largest car in the segment. Its size makes it maneuverable and easy to park in tight city streets, but rear-seat space suffers as a result. 

The front seats have plenty of room, and feel more comfortable than those of the Nissan Versa. They're wide enough and have long enough lower cushions that even larger drivers won't feel like they're in a small car; we'd say they're spacious enough that they could be in a car one size larger, like the Toyota Corolla compact. The contouring and side support of the SE model's "exclusive sport seats" are especially nice.

The front seating position is high, so drivers sit upright, which also reduces the "small car" feel, but there's still plenty of front headroom. We did notice that the cloth fabric seems to act like a lint brush, trapping pet hair and tiny pieces of paper in a way that other seat fabrics didn't. The steering column tilts, but doesn't telescope, which may make it hard for some to find the ideal driving position.

The rear seats are cramped, lower to the floor, and a pair of full-size adults won't enjoy long road trips in them--although with some horse-trading between front and rear, it's possible to get sufficient legroom in the back. Access to the rear seats is far harder in the three-door model than the five-door, one reason that three-door body styles are a relative rarity in this category. The rear seatbacks fold forward, but the resulting cargo floor isn't completely flat--and it's higher than in some competitors, including the supremely flexible Honda Fit. Still, 15.3 cubic feet of cargo volume is respectable, and there's plenty of space for groceries and the like without folding down the seat.

The instrument panel is straightforward and, unlike previous Yaris generations, puts the gauges in front of the driver rather than in the center of the dashboard. Storage is good, with several well-placed bins, including one ahead and to the left of the driver that neatly holds a wallet or smartphone. The shallow shelf in front of the passenger, however, has no texture at the bottom, meaning small items constantly slide back and forth.

The Yaris has relatively good ride quality for its class, and Toyota's engineers have mostly eliminated the bobbing motions suffered in some small cars with short wheelbases. Suspension tuning is good, if not up to German roadholding standards, but the car suffers from wind and road noise at speed. The engine is coarse and harsh when revved above about 3,000 rpm, and the archaic four-speed automatic transmission doesn't have enough ratios to keep it quiet at speeds of 70 mph or more.


2014 Toyota Yaris


The 2014 Toyota Yaris gets excellent ratings and safety is one of its outstanding aspects.

The 2014 Toyota Yaris is now in its third year on the market; and based on the crash-test ratings available at this point, we might suggest that if safety if your top priority in a small car, there are better picks.

The Yaris five-door hatchback got decent but not stellar safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which gave it a four-star Overall rating, made up of four stars each for frontal impact and rollover, and five stars for side impact.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2014 Yaris five-door hatchback as Good (its highest rating) on its moderate-overlap front crash, side crash, roof crush, and head-restraint/seats tests. But on the newer small-overlap frontal impact test, it achieved a worrisome 'Marginal' rating--only one notch above Poor.

Neither agency rated the three-door Yaris separately.

The current Yaris has than nine airbags as standard. They include dashboard bags, front seat-mounted side bags, a knee airbag for the driver, and roll-sensing side bags for front and rear occupants. And with a stiffer body structure, the 2014 Yaris is likely to do better in real-world crashes than previous generations of the same car.


2014 Toyota Yaris


The 2014 Toyota Yaris has few frills and feels like an economy car, although audio and infotainment features are laudable.

The 2014 Toyota Yaris comes in three trim levels: the base L, the mid-level LE, and the sporty SE. With the expected feature list and overall sophistication of subcompacts growing yearly, technology is particularly important for the segment. One unusual feature is its single-wiper system, using just one large articulated arm rather than the pair found on most other vehicles. It worked very well.

Every model, even the base Yaris L, now comes with a six-speaker audio system that includes HD radio, satellite radio compatibility, iPod connectivity, USB port and audio input, automatic sound leveling, and both hands-free calling and audio streaming via Bluetooth. Pairing a phone took only 30 seconds, and the hands-free microphone handled road noise well. The HD radio had some of the best sound we’ve heard, without the compression or dithering that these systems can suffer from—although HD radio reception remains quite limited. Overall, it’s an impressive package in a car with a base price around $15,000.

The Yaris L also includes power locks, air conditioning, and intermittent wipers—although the windows are hand-cranked, a rarity these days. Moving up to the mid-level Yaris LE gets you power windows and mirrors, along with cruise control, audio controls on the steering wheel, and keyless entry.

At the top of the range, the Yaris SE includes 16-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, six-way adjustable driver's seat, sport seat fabric, fog lamps, and appearance items like a rear spoiler, a chromed exhaust, a color-keyed grille.

The Yaris doesn’t offer some features, however, in any model. Those include a navigation system, leather upholstery, or heated seats. And to our surprise, we observed that the Yaris didn’t automatically turn on the air-conditioning compressor when you turn the dial to defog.


2014 Toyota Yaris

Fuel Economy

The 2014 Toyota Yaris has nowhere near the gas mileage of a Prius hybrid, but it's adquate around the city, if subpar on highways.

The 2014 Toyota Yaris has adequate although not stellar fuel economy for a subcompact. If you’re looking for the most fuel-efficient car in the category, that would be its sibling, the Toyota Prius C—at a price that starts just under $20,000.

The Yaris is rated at 33 mpg combined (30 mpg city, 37 mpg highway) with the five-speed manual gearbox, and 32 mpg combined (30 mpg city, 36 mpg highway) with its outmoded four-speed automatic transmission. It’s one of very few cars left on the market without a five- or six-speed automatic, and that’s likely one of the factors that prevent it from reaching the magic 40-mpg mark on highway fuel economy.

In our road test of the Yaris, we were able to average 30 mpg during a route comprising almost all city stop-and-go and short trips. But in highway use at a steady 70 mph, we could only average 35 mpg.

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February 12, 2017
For 2014 Toyota Yaris

Watch for blind spots

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Overal love this vehicle, it's comfy and compact yet spacious, however there is one issue that has been creating problems with blind spots on many occasions. The frame around the windshield on the drivers side... + More »
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February 12, 2017
2014 Toyota Yaris 3-Door Liftback Automatic L (TMC/CBU Plant) (GS)

Good low priced reliable economy car

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I've had the car for a year, bought it used , and so far it's been very reliable. Gas mileage is in the low 30s in city driving and 40 to 45 mpg hwy. at low highway speeds. The car is basic, but came with... + More »
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Styling 7.0
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