2013 Toyota Yaris Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
November 19, 2012

The 2013 Toyota Yaris holds true to its promise as a maneuverable, economical car for city commuting--with a cheerful, well-designed interior--but highway refinement and weak performance are major drawbacks.

The 2013 Toyota Yaris is a good small car, albeit one with a muddled purpose for the U.S. market. With the Toyota Prius C here and starting below $20k--with an EPA 50-mpg Combined rating--and the Scion xD and iQ models both offering sporty and quirky alternatives across the same sales lot in most cases, it's a little mysterious at first look as to how the Yaris fits in.

Styling is definitely part of it. Although the Euro-chic look of the last-generation Yaris hatchback is gone, there's more of a brawny, rally-racer look in the chunkier-looking air dams, distinct wheels, and color-keyed details of the sporty Yaris SE. It's a little more distinctive than before, perhaps, but also more generic, we think. Inside it's a step in the right direction, with nice materials and detailing plus a straightforward new instrument-panel design, with the gauges directly in front of the driver.  

The Yaris' performance treads water at a time when many of its rivals get either direct injection, turbocharging, or advanced transmissions. The 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter DOHC in-line four is adequate with the five-speed manual, but it's weak with the four-speed automatic. The electric power steering is nicely weighted, though, and SE models get a stiffer but still comfortable suspension tune that doesn't sacrifice comfort. 

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Whether as a three-door or five-door Liftback, the Yaris is sized for tight city streets, and that means that you trade off quite a bit of interior space in the name of maneuverability and parking ease. While front-seat accommodations are right on par with vehicles a class larger, like the Corolla, what you give up is some back-seat space. There are plenty of storage space and bins, although cargo space and versatility is not nearly as 'magical' as in the brilliantly designed Honda Fit. Ride quality is good, although there's too much of the typical small-car engine noise at higher speeds.

The Toyota Yaris Liftback models were completely redesigned last year, and their stronger body structure and additional airbags have earned them some excellent safety ratings--including IIHS Top Safety Pick status.

For 2013 Toyota steps up its game with the inclusion of the former Tech Audio package in all Yaris trims--even the base Yaris L. That means six-speaker sound, 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 are included across the model line--a significant advantage for a model that starts at around $15k. That said, the 2013 Yaris keeps it simple; you still won't find a navigation system, heated seats, or leather upholstery on the options list.
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2013 Toyota Yaris

Styling

The 2013 Toyota Yaris has a refreshingly straightforward, stylish interior, but it fades into small-car anonymity on the outside.

The Toyota Yaris was redesigned last year, and while its exterior became if anything a little more anonymous than before, its cabin design is more stylish and practical than before. Overall, we find the look of the current Yaris to be a step back in design from the version that ran up until last year; the new car simply lacks the exterior charm of the previous model, which has a Euro-hip design that has aged gracefully.

On the outside, the 2013 Yaris has a design that attempts to be edgy, with somewhat aggressive air dams and a more chiseled look to the corners. The bodywork serves to make the Yaris look longer and lower than before (it's only slightly longer), and the big door handles, flared-out taillamps, and pronounced side crease all help to give the Yaris more of a somewhat brawnier, Subaru-like look. Most of note is the chunky rear fascia, which stands out most in the sporty SE model and gives it a rally-racer-ish look.

Inside, the Yaris has a well-styled and generaly well-designed interior, even if the layout doesn't make the most of available space. The centrally mounted oddity of the former instrument panel is gone, replaced by straightforward, cheerful controls--with a more horizontal, shelf-like orientation to the dash as a whole. In a way, we see echoes of the dash design from the Scion FR-S, but it's more upright and has all sorts of built-in practical goodness and storage spots, like a long tray at the bottom of the dash on the passenger side.

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2013 Toyota Yaris

Performance

The 2013 Yaris performs well enough for economy-minded shoppers, but it's not particularly responsive--especially with the four-speed automatic.

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.

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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.
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2013 Toyota Yaris

Comfort & Quality

The cabin of the 2013 Yaris could be quieter and its packaging is far from the most space-efficient; but comfortable seats and a smooth ride redeem it from a passenger standpoint.

With last year's redesign the Toyota Yaris got a number of things that improve comfort and functionality--including a retuned suspension, improved seats, and a better instrument-panel design.

Whether as a three-door or five-door Liftback, the Yaris is sized for tight city streets, and that means that you trade off quite a bit of interior space in the name of maneuverability and parking ease. While front-seat accommodations are right on par with vehicles a class larger, like the Corolla, what you give up is some back-seat space.

Front seats (admittedly, the SE's “exclusive sport seats”) feel much improved compared to what you got before in the Yaris, or what you get in the Nissan Versa. They're somewhat wider and noticeably longer, and have a little bit of natural contouring and side support, and they no longer feel like short benches, cutting off circulation to the thighs. But we did note that the fabric acted as a lint brush of sorts to our clothes, collecting stray pet hair and the like. In either of the Yaris models, there's a relatively high seating position, yet with enough spare headroom for taller drivers. One oversight that could be a deal-breaker for some driver sizes is that there's no telescopic steering adjustment. 

Rear seatbacks fold forward, although not fully flat, and the cargo floor isn't nearly as low as that in the Honda Fit. Cargo space is a respectable 15.3 cubic feet, though--even if you don't fold down the seats, plenty for a modest grocery run.

There's a lot to like in the new instrument panel and dash design, which includes several well-placed bins for storage--including one good for a wallet or smartphone just ahead and to the left of the driver. Ahead of the front passenger is a shallow shelf--with no texturing at the bottom, leaving whatever small items are placed there to slide back and forth.

Last year's changes lengthened the Yaris' wheelbase somewhat, and that, combined with a retuned suspension, brought better ride quality than the previous model--or much of the subcompact alternatives, for that matter--with less of the bobbing motion that you might have grown to loathe in small cars. Unfortunately there are modest amounts of road and wind noise inside, and above 3,000 rpm or above 70 mph the engine note becomes a coarse presence inside the cabin.

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2013 Toyota Yaris

Safety

Safety is significantly improved versus the previous-generation Yaris, and occupant protection is top-notch.

The Toyota Yaris Liftback models were completely redesigned last year, and their stronger body structure and additional airbags have earned them some excellent safety ratings. 

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the Yaris was given top 'good' ratings in all categories--as well as the Top Safety Pick accolade. And in federal NCAP testing, it earned four stars overall, including an excellent five stars for side impact.

With nine standard airbags—including front seat-mounted side bags, a knee airbag for the driver, and roll-sensing side bags for front and rear occupants, the 2012 Yaris is a big step forward compared to the outgoing model, and it's now one of the safest models in its class. 

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2013 Toyota Yaris

Features

By the features list, the Yaris is still a no-frills, price-conscious commuter, although audio and connectivity are impressive.

Over the past several years, small cars have become far more upscale than they had been--particularly with respect to technology features. And for 2013 Toyota steps up its game with the inclusion of the former Tech Audio package in all Yaris trims--even the base Yaris L.

That means six-speaker sound, 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 are included across the model line--a significant advantage for a model that starts at around $15k.

That said, the 2013 Yaris keeps it simple; you still won't find a navigation system, heated seats, or leather upholstery on the options list.

Even 2013 Yaris L models include power locks, air conditioning, and intermittent wipers, while Yaris LE models add power windows and mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry, and steering-wheel audio controls. The Yaris SE includes a special trip computer, six-way adjustable driver's seat, sport seat fabric, fog lamps, a rear spoiler, a chromed exhaust, a color-keyed grille, a sport-tuned suspension, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

Pairing a phone with the Yaris' Bluetooth system is an absolute cinch—done in about 30 seconds following text prompts—and the microphone for the system dealt well with any road noise. The system was also one of the better-sounding systems we’ve heard in HD mode, which can sound compressed and dithered in some situations—although we did notice that HD reception was quite limited.

Also of note is the large single-wiper system, which worked great—seeming more effective with the washer than dual-arm systems. One feature disappointment is that the Yaris was one of the few vehicles we've tested in years that didn't, from what we observed, automatically turn on the A/C compressor when you turn the dial to defog.

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2013 Toyota Yaris

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Yaris delivers on its promises of fuel efficiency in the city, but on the highway you can do better with a number of larger and more comfortable models.

The 2013 Toyota Yaris is a very fuel-efficient small car--especially if you commute mainly in a city or suburban area. For mostly highway driving, you might be better off with a compact sedan.

The Yaris has excellent 30-mpg city ratings whether you get the four-speed automatic or the five-speed manual; but its aerodynamics (and likely the lack of more gears for the automatic) keep it from returning the 40 mpg or higher ratings that other subcompacts like the Hyundai Accent now get. 

To illustrate, in a test of the Yaris, we averaged 30 mpg over nearly all city stop-and-go and short trips; but at a steady 70 mph we could only average 35 mpg.

For 2013, the Yaris has mysteriously--perhaps the result of retesting--gained 1 mpg on the highway with the automatic transmission but lost 1 mpg on the highway with the manual gearbox.

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Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 9
Features 7
Fuel Economy 8
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