- Standout new front-end design
- Relatively zippy with the manual
- Decent, supportive front seats
- Four-speed automatic is outmoded
- Weak on passing power
- Steering wheel doesn’t telescope
The 2015 Toyota Yaris gets an eye-catching new face, spruced-up interior trims, and a somewhat quieter interior, but it lags behind the current crop of U.S.-market subcompacts in many ways.
The 2015 Toyota Yaris isn't the company's smallest model, but it is Toyota's lowest-priced car. The Yaris slots below the best-selling Corolla and Camry sedans. With some overlap with the same-sized Scion xD and Toyota Prius C hybrid the Yaris takes a more traditional tack on what a small car should be.
Overall, though, the 2015 Toyota Yaris ends up feeling a little lost in the 1990s, when a small economical engine, a low sticker price, and great maneuverability were together enough to appease budget-strapped commuters. The Yaris remains a competent subcompact hatchback, yet one with very little that causes it to stand out above other subcompacts in this increasingly competitive market segment.
Thanks to some design work originating in France, where the Yaris is built for the U.S., this model is more visually appealing, and it gets even more suave, sharp, and Euro-influenced for 2015. The overarching design has been preserved—tall yet nicely proportioned from the side, in either three- or five-door versions—the Yaris gets new detailing, with new hood sculpting, a swooping line of brightwork around a large Toyota emblem, and a larger trapezoidal grille with new black ‘mesh’ design texturing—results in a visual sum that isn’t just bolder, as Toyota likes to point out, but more flamboyant and original, as we see it. Inside, the cabin remains far more stylish and practical than previous Yaris generations (yes, we've *almost* forgotten about the center-mounted gauge cluster of its predecessor). The 2015 revamp also brings soft-touch materials to the instrument panel, a new sport gauge cluster for the SE, and new metallic and chrome accent trim throughout.
Overall, the interior impresses as refreshingly straightforward and intuitive next to the gimmicky interior layouts of some other models in this class. 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 for the passenger.
As impressive as the styling is in reaching out of the comfort zone of Camry and Corolla, it's what's under the hood that lets down the whole package. The only engine offered in the 2015 Toyota Yaris is a 106-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder. Even compared to much of what's now offered in this class, it's remarkably low-tech—no direct-injection or turbocharging here—and trying to access its power zone will feel a lot like you're behind the wheel of a 1990s econocar again. Performance is relatively tepid, and that's if you shift your own gears with the standard five-speed manual gearbox. The four-speed automatic that most will pick is one of the only ones left on the market, with a painfully wide gap between third and fourth gear as it seems, while competitors from Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, and Nissan have five- or six-speed automatics or continuously-variable transmissions (CVTs)—with better fuel-efficiency ratings reflecting the newer technology.
Once you're underway and in the right gear, the 2015 Yaris feels light; and at around 2,300 pounds (it's about 20 pounds lighter yet this year), it's one of the lighter subcompacts on the market. This year also brings suspension improvements that include softer springs, a stiffer torsion beam in back, and stiffer shocks altogether, plus some other engineering improvements. The Yaris has better electric power steering than many other Toyotas, while the Yaris SE in particular 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. If you want rear disc brakes, they're the exclusive domain of the Yaris SE.
The interior is best described as 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. Ride quality is even better than it was, though, and with more sound insulation for 2015, the Yaris is now a relatively quiet cruiser—if you're not pushing the engine.
Toyota has bolstered the Yaris structure somewhat for 2015, although it doesn't qualify as anything completely new, so we're not sure if it will be retested by either of the U.S. safety agencies. IIHS and federal crash-test results have been a mixed bag.
There are essentially just three factory builds of the 2015 Toyota Yaris: the base L, the mid-level LE, and the sporty SE. But the bright side is that there really isn’t much to bump the sticker price all that higher. Top SE models are the ones that really stand out; they add 16-inch machined-finish alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, projector-beam headlights, LED daytime running lamps, a black front grille, a rear spoiler, upgraded seats with sport fabric, a sport instrument cluster, and leather trim for the steering wheel and shift lever.
For 2015, even base L versions of the Yaris include a split-folding rear seat and height-adjustable driver's seat—both items that were only in the upper trims last year—and all 2015 Yaris models gain an Entune Audio system that has a 6.1-inch touch screen, HD Radio, a USB port, an auxiliary input, voice recognition, and Bluetooth audio streaming—complementing Bluetooth hands-free calling. At every trim level you get six speakers; you can now add navigation as a dealer- or port-installed option, although it's worth noting that Yaris models don't get the Entune App Suite connectivity now offered on most other Toyota models.