The Toyota Yaris is a five-seat, subcompact car available as either a three-door or five-door hatchback. Yaris touts utility, able handling and a simple design.
Yaris was completely redesigned for the 2012 model year. For 2013, Yaris gets only minor changes to the lineup of standard features. The 2013 Yaris comes standard with the previously optional Tech Audio sound system, which includes a CD player, auxiliary jack, USB port, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio capability and iPod connector.
Though it has seat belts for five, it's really a four-passenger vehicle.
Yaris comes in three trims: L, LE, and SE (five-door only). The base Yaris L and the top-line, sport-tuned Yaris SE come standard with a 5-speed manual gearbox. The optional 4-speed automatic transmission seems dated compared to the 6-speed automatics that come on other cars in this class.
Under the hood is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 106 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 103 pound-feet of torque in a broad curve peaking at 4200 rpm. A 0.29 coefficient of drag helps Yaris slip through the air.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 30/37 mpg City/Highway with the 5-speed manual transmission, 30/36 mpg with the 4-speed automatic. These numbers are average for the subcompact class.
Electric power steering on the Yaris results in good road feel without losing easy low-speed maneuvering for parking in tight spaces. The suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and torsion beam in back, for a decent ride and tighter corning. Standard wheel size on the L and LE models is 15 inches, while the SE gets 16-inch wheels and tires.
The Yaris SE is the hot rod of the lineup, with quicker steering, more expressive styling and a sportier interior. Its front disc brakes are larger, and it's fitted with alloy wheels and wider profile P195/50/R16 tires.
Yaris has nine airbags, including four curtain airbags. The front seats are as sporty and comfortable as any we've found in the class. The front seats feature Toyota's Advanced Whiplash Injury-Lessening (WIL) design, supporting the upper body from head to lower back. Like all new cars nowadays, the Yaris uses an impact-absorbing structure with high-strength steel to better distribute collision forces.
As a result, the Yaris is rated four out of a possible five stars in government crash testing for both overall crash protection and total frontal-impact protection, and five stars for total side-impact protection. Yaris is gets a top rating of Good in frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is supported by the insurance industry.
Yaris competes against many attractive and efficient subcompact hatchbacks, including the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa.
Toyota Yaris was all-new for the 2012 model year, longer, lower and wider than its predecessor.
Yaris comes as a three-door or five-door liftback. A sedan version is not available. After decades, it seems the eminently practical hatchback/liftback body style is starting to prevail over the smoother looking but less functional compact sedan.
Though small, the Yaris presents an aggressive stance. Yaris features a bold nose and head-on view, with wide headlamps and integrated turn signals. The side profile shows a steep beltline and curving shoulders that flow to the rear. Yaris's lines are cool enough that in black or gray metallic, it actually looks powerful, in a subcompact sort of way.
The Yaris SE looks sportier with its wider tires, alloy wheels, spoilers and diffusers, and body-colored touches.
We love the sport seats in the Yaris SE. The high-quality fabric is rugged and the fit is all-around excellent. The bolstering is always there for you, without grabbing you. The seats are wide enough, but you don't slide around in them. They're designed to reduce fatigue, and although we didn't take any long trips in our Yaris, we can't imagine backaches being a problem. The Yaris chassis and ride feel solid, and we think the seats have a lot to do with this. There's good legroom in front, 40.6 inches.
Rear-seat roominess is decent for a subcompact, with 33.3 inches of legroom. The rear bench seat in the Yaris L model folds flat with one knob, while the Yaris LE and SE models have a 60/40 split folding rear seat. You can fit a lot of stuff in the Yaris, thanks to a cargo capacity of 15.3 cubic feet on the 3-door and 15.6 cubic feet on the 5-door, with the rear seats in place.
The interior offers a high level of detail, with a pleasing dashboard, and the speedometer in front of the driver.
There's a nice, small tachometer to the left of the speedo, which has good clear numbers with a digital window showing time, temp, odo, twin trip meters, clock, fuel mileage, and average speed. The instrument lighting glows red at night. The flat-bottom steering wheel stays out of the way of a driver's knees when climbing in and out.
Cabin conveniences are especially important in a subcompact, and the Yaris has good ones. Climate control knobs are as simple and easy as they come. It's got a roomy glovebox, six cup and bottle holders, door pockets, and cubbies near the shift lever, although no center console between the seats, where the emergency brake lever is located.
The audio system uses small buttons and icons, and we found the interface confusing. We also found the reception on the AM/FM radio was lousy. On the plus side, the Yaris L comes standard with an auxiliary jack and USB port, as well as Bluetooth audio streaming, so you can skip the old-timey broadcast stations and play your own tunes.
One of the best things about the Yaris is that it's quiet inside. The engine isn't buzzy, and there's tons of new sound insulation.
We got a chance to drive the Yaris in the snow, and it performed well. Traction was better than we expected up a steep slippery street, and anti-lock brakes delivered security on the way back down.
Secure and solid would be good ways to describe the Toyota Yaris. It's not big on the outside, It's not as quick and sporty feeling as the lightweight Mazda2 or the Ford Fiesta, and it doesn't have the exciting jackrabbit throttle response of the Mazda; but the Yaris handling is lively enough, while feeling a bit more substantial.
The ride is solid, too: comfortably firm, not comfortably soft. Yaris is wonderfully smooth on the freeway at 75 miles per hour, but begins to feel its size when the bumps and patches come along. This might be a challenge on city streets with a lot of potholes, though with the small nimble Yaris you can more easily dodge them.
The 1.5-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder DOHC engine with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) produces 106 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 103 pound-feet of torque in a broad curve peaking at 4200 rpm.
Fuel economy is good but not spectacular with an EPA-estimated 30/37 mpg City/Highway with the 5-speed manual transmission and 30/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.
As for power, the Toyota 1.5-liter engine has come a long way. We found ourselves pushing 80 on an uphill freeway, foot on the floor and the engine loving it. Its 106 hp is enough for everyday driving, and the 103 pound-feet of torque is available over a broad range peaking at 4200 rpm. Torque is that force that propels you up hills and away from intersections. A broad torque curve means responsiveness when driving around town.
Uphill at 80 it was hungry for more, not straining. Eighty miles per hour equals 3400 rpm, and at that speed you can't hear the motor. You hear the tires, but hardly even any wind noise. Toyota has done an excellent job with the Yaris's aerodynamics and sound insulation.
We loved the 5-speed manual gearbox. It shifted quick and tight. Unfortunately, we have to wonder if the 4-speed automatic is outdated nowadays, considering most automakers are using at least 6 speeds for improved power management and fuel efficiency.
A quiet ride, lively and secure cornering, great seats and attractive interior help make the Yaris a competitive subcompact hatch.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Yaris in the Columbia River Gorge; Laura Burstein reported from Los Angeles.