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.