A competitor in the crowded subcompact segment, the second-generation Toyota Yaris hatchback provides reliable and economical transportation for those in need of an inexpensive ride. While it isn't the performance car of its class, the Yaris offers a sensible combination of space, fuel economy and traditional Toyota quality.
The Yaris is available as a three- or five-door hatchback. Both body styles come exclusively with a 1.5-liter inline-four that produces 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. While that isn't class-leading power, gas mileage is appropriately high: 38 miles per gallon on the highway with a standard five-speed manual transmission and 35 mpg for an extra-cost four-speed automatic. City mileage is 30 mpg regardless of transmission.
The Yaris can be had with three distinct trim levels starting with "L," which serves as a low-priced base model. The L trim level includes a fairly high level of standard equipment" electric power steering, power-assisted ventilated front disc brakes, power door locks and USB connectivity. Other standard features include air conditioning, six cup and bottle holders and a storage cover for the cargo area.
Newly standard on the L for the latest model year is a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system with HD radio and an AUX input jack, as well as hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth.
Stepping up to what Toyota deems the "value-packed" LE trim level adds standard power windows with driver's auto-down, power mirrors, cruise control and a remote keyless entry system with an Engine Immobilizer.
The top-dog of the Yaris family is the SE, which Toyota bills to be "sport-tuned." To warrant this claim, Toyota engineers modified the vehicle to feature a sportier suspension and quicker-ratio steering while also switching from 15- to 16-inch wheels wrapped in P195/50R16 tires and adding a more driver-oriented interior. The SE features both front and rear disc brakes, with the front disc nearly an inch larger in diameter than L and LE versions.
Of course no modern "sport-tuned" car is complete without cosmetic upgrades to match, and in this area the SE offers up smoke-trim multi-reflector halogen headlamps, integrated fog lamps, color-keyed grille with sport mesh insert, color-keyed front and rear underbody spoilers, rear spoiler and rear diffuser and a chrome exhaust tip to round out the changes.
Inside, a sporty instrumentation package faces the driver, with an analog speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and digital Multi-Instrument Display. The leather-trimmed tilt three-spoke steering wheel includes audio controls and standard cruise control. Exclusive sport seats help add shoulder-level support for more comfort and control. The Yaris SE also includes a six-way adjustable driver's seat and four-way adjustable passenger seat with sport fabric trim.
Almost counter-intuitively, however, Toyota says the SE trim level will only be available on the five-door variant - not the three-door model.
Despite its modest size, the Yaris is fairly capacious inside, with 15.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats in the three-door and 15.6 cubic feet in the five door. Yaris L models feature a one-piece folding rear seat, while LE and SE editions include a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat
Starting with nine standard airbags, the Yaris offers an impressive array of safety features. Standard driver and front-passenger dual-stage airbags are complemented by front-seat mounted side airbags and a knee airbag for the driver. Roll-sensing side airbags are fitted to both front- and rear-row seats.
As with all Toyota vehicles, the Yaris features Toyota's Star Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control , Traction Control , ABS, Electronic Brake-Force Distribution and Brake Assist. The Yaris also features Smart Stop Technology, Toyota's brake-override system, as standard.
Finally, the Yaris also includes Toyota's Advanced Whiplash Injury-Lessening (WIL) front-seat structure. The design helps to ensure that all areas from the head to the lower back are equally supported, helping to reduce whiplash-type injuries during certain types of collisions.
The subcompact Toyota Yaris hatchback competes with a mostly fresh lineup of entry-level cars including the Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda Mazda2 and Hyundai Accent Hatchback.