While the 2013 Toyota Yaris looks somewhat brawny on the outside, it doesn't have all that much muscle under the hood. The 1.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine in the Yaris makes just 106 horsepower, which is on the low side in this era of direct injection and turbocharging (available in alternatives like the Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Sonic, respectively). On the other hand, the Yaris is one of the lightest entries in this class, at around 2,300 pounds.
Overall, the Yaris feels tepid at best--and that's with the five-speed manual versions, which feel perky around town and give you an extra ratio for quick bursts or passing. The four-speed automatic just doesn't work well with this engine; it's always a ratio or two short of what's offered in other models in this class, and the widely spaced gears and dramatic downshifts aren't at all confidence-inspiring on the highway. Keep the revs up in manual versions and the Yaris feels perky enough. You'll notice more engine noise with the automatic, as well, or whenever you rev it much past the 3,000-rpm mark.
Across the model line, the 2013 Toyota Yaris has excellent electric power steering that's secure on center at highway speeds yet loads up nicely, with a progressive feel off-center—altogether making this small car a joy to drive in the city and secure on the highway. In any of its trims, the Yaris feels nicely buttoned-down for a small car, with much less of the buoyant fore-and-aft feeling we've noticed in former versions.
SE versions also get thicker stabilizer bars and a somewhat stiffer suspension tune—although even that is plenty comfortable. That said, with its light curb weight, we think the Yaris should feel a little perkier than it does, although again that's probably due more to the lack of forward gusto.Brakes on the Yaris are confident, with a firmer pedal feel than you get in some of Toyota's larger U.S. products; opt for the sporty SE and you get rear disc brakes that feel stronger and more evenly actuated than most other models in this class.