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.