When it comes to appliances, Toyota knows what they’re doing. They’ve been able to clean up with their Corolla by building a reliable, albeit terribly bland and uninspired, vehicle. Those that care less about flashy features and styling, and just want to get from point A to point B without having to worry if their car will start, have relied on the Corolla and its stablemates for decades. One of those stablemates is the lowly Yaris, which is Toyota’s entry-level vehicle.
The Toyota site’s splash screen for the Yaris screams “EPIC RELIABILITY”. At first glance, it appears there’s little else to say about this thing, since it appears pretty basic on paper. I spent a week with one to see what you get for your money. First of all, there’s the price. That’s key in this class, and if you’re OK with rowing your own gears (and can manage without A/C and a couple of other basics), you’d be able to get into a Toyota Yaris for under 15 grand.
Pricing: 2014 Toyota Yaris
Base price (LE trim): $14,895
Options: $1000 4-speed automatic transmission; $1100 Convenience Package (A/C, power windows, cruise control, keyless entry)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $18,590
The Yaris is a very compact car – it’s short with a low roofline. Yes, it is blandly styled but it’s not particularly horrible either. I wouldn’t say the exterior is going to offend anyone, but it certainly won’t warrant second looks either. Up front there’s an upper and lower grille flanked by swept-back headlight pods. It’s simple and clean. The rear gets a large lower bumper, which makes the car look more substantial and wider from that angle. The wheels are pushed out to the corners, particularly in the back, which ends up giving the engineers a decent amount of room to work with inside. The Yaris has a massive single windshield wiper (that works well, may I add) and some rental-car wheel covers cladding the 15-inch rims, shod with little 175/65-sized donuts.
Under the Hood
Obviously you can’t expect the engine bay to offer a ton of inspiration either – not in this class, and not at this price. Toyota’s 1.5-litre 4-cylinder sits side-saddle here – it puts out 106 horsepower at 6000 RPM and 103 lb.ft of torque at 4200 RPM. What baffles me is that Toyota still sells us a modern automobile with a 4-speed automatic transmission in it. Not only that, but you have to pay extra for it! That cuts deep, but I see the business case as well as the conversation around the boardroom table. “Well, Jim, we could throw our 6-speed in there, or come up with a 5-speed, but why would we? The commoners keep buying the Yaris with the 4-speed. Let’s keep milking this as long as we can.”
Of course, it’s front wheel drive, and of course this 1,020 kg (2,249 pound) featherweight gets pretty good fuel economy. It’s rated at 6.8 L/100 km (35 mpg) in the city and 5.5 L/100 km (43 mpg) on the highway. I made no attempt to drive economically and averaged an excellent 7.2 L/100 km (33 mpg) during my week with it while mostly commuting in the city and occasionally hitting up the freeway for a couple of kilometres. The fuel tank holds 42 litres.
When you get in, the Yaris’ cabin feels spacious, and it offers outstanding headroom in the front. It should be no surprise that the materials feel pretty entry-level – the cabin and the dash are created out of mostly hard plastics, with little splashes of padded areas in a lighter grey colour. I found the cabin, while spartan and somewhat low-tech, to be refreshingly simple and reasonably effective when it comes to ergonomics. You do get the basics – power locks, windows and mirrors.
The rubbery-feeling steering wheel is adjustable for height, but does not telescope – you will find no buttons or controls on it. That’s fine, since everything is within reach. Behind it is a large central speedometer with a driver information screen on the bottom, flanked by a tach on the left and a fuel gauge on the right.
The fabric seats, manually adjustable, are reasonably comfortable and supportive in terms of bolstering. The centre of the dash holds the media system which manages your audio and phone functions – you won’t find a screen, just text-based information. For this price, the audio system sounds OK and plays from plenty of sources: AM, FM, CD, auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth streaming audio.
Below it is a basic climate control system using three rotary knobs. Simple and it works. The console is home to a couple of cupholders, the gear selector and a parking brake lever.
Back-seat passengers will find three seats, each with a headrest and seatbelt. The seats are flat but generally comfortable, and legroom is surprisingly generous for a car this small – at 5’10”, I could comfortably sit behind myself. The middle position is, as expected, narrow, raised and hard, but the floor is flat so it’s actually usable for an adult if absolutely necessary. I found headroom to be tight – it was barely enough for me – anyone taller will be feeling the pinch. There is a small drop-in bin and a single cupholder at the back of the centre console, and a single seatback map pocket – that’s it.
The Yaris has two sets of LATCH anchors for your kids’ seats. Our kids were comfortable back there, but with two of their seats and three of their bums fighting for real estate, they felt a bit cramped width-wise.
Cabin storage is decent. There is an open drop-in bin at the front of the console with a 12V plug above it, a usable glove compartment and small door bins. The driver will find an angled cubbyhole to the left of the gauges and another small one on the underside of the dash – neither is rubberized, nor are they really deep enough to be truly useful.
The trunk is small at 286 litres, but a nice high load floor makes it convenient to use and the hard parcel shelf that swings up with the tailgate adds some storage space for road trips. Toyota doesn’t disclose the bigger capacity of the cargo space when you fold the 60/40-split rear seats down.
Obviously the Yaris is not a fast car. It has minimal get-up-and-go, and you don’t want to find yourself trying to dart into traffic. Getting up to speed quicker than normally is a chore and you’ll find your palms getting sweaty on the wheel as you see the minivan behind you coming closer and closer as the Yaris labours to get to 60 km/h. The same goes for passing at highway speeds – if you have to, leave yourself enough time and space. But with that said, it’s fine for everyday driving around town.
The $1000 automatic transmission is insulting enough, and the fact that it occasionally gets a bit herky-jerky between gear changes and is downshifts at glacially slow rates just adds to the misery. Gears can’t be shifted manually, but the gear selector has old-school detents for each gearbox position (D, 3, 2 and L). Welcome to 1980.
The Yaris’ ride is pretty good – bumps and dips are absorbed pretty well and it is firm enough so the car doesn’t feel sloppy. I found that you do hear things like expansion joints as the tires thump over them, though it’s not intrusive. The handling is also fine. Though there’s plenty of body roll thrown in for your amusement park pleasure, the car grips competently in corners and remains predictable. The weak point, as is the case with many Toyotas, is the numb steering. It’s floppy on centre and requires more adjustments and input than I expected.
I thought that the Yaris can be surprisingly quiet for an entry-level vehicle. Engine noise becomes noticeable when you hit higher RPMs, it’s never loud or thrashy. You do get some vibration coming through the pedal and floorboards under throttle. I think the road noise can be partially blamed on the tires more than anything, as it was quite variable pending on the road surface. Once I hit higher speeds, the road noise was constant but never overwhelming. Wind noise showed up at highway speeds, especially at the base of the A-pillars.
The brakes are powerful enough – they’re a bit grabby at lower speeds. Visibility out of the front and sides is great, but shoulder checking is hampered by the fat rear pillars, and the rear view is constricted by the back headrests which don’t fold down.
There was a plastic-on-plastic buzz coming from the dash over most road irregularities, which means I heard it at least a few times a minute while driving. Irritating!
It’s hard to get excited about a vehicle like the Yaris. But that’s not why Toyota designed or built this car. The point here is offer basic transportation at a reasonable price. The Yaris can also boast “epic reliability” and that is something that matters.
I give the Toyota Yaris a 6.5 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was pretty low. She did not go for the exterior styling, although she noted the interior was fine for a beginner car. She was choked when she saw the tiny trunk, as it wouldn’t nearly accommodate her daily shopping habit, but the final straw was the lack of lit vanity mirrors.
The Yaris competes with a number of vehicles out there, all of which provide reasonable amounts of space, entry-level cabin tech, acceptable levels of performance, good fuel economy, highly subjective styling and variable reliability records. Whether it’s the one for you depends on which of those factors are most important to you.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.
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