The Yaris is proof that affordable cars can still be fun.
Remember when car companies built “econoboxes?”
Pepperidge Farm Toyota remembers. While its grown-up lineup is now more advanced than ever, the five-door Toyota Yaris Liftback is an affordable relic of Toyota past. Although it’s gone the way of the dodo this year, left-over Yaris hatches still populate dealer lots. (If you can wait a little longer, a Toyota-badged variant of the Mazda 2 hatchback will reportedly join the Toyota lineup for the 2020 model year).
The Yaris Liftback isn't heavy on equipment or tech, but what it lacks in features, it makes up for with personality and price. For less than $20,000, the Yaris is competitive for its ultra-affordable class.
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Good luck finding an entry-level 2018 Yaris Liftback at your local dealer. The $15,635 starting price is a farce to get people into dealerships. That's okay, because the well-equipped Yaris Liftback SE – $18,260as tested – is the trim most buyers actually want.
Options include a four-speed automatic ($800), a two-tone paint job ($895), and a few dealer-installed accessories. Otherwise, the Toyota Safety Sense C system (which includes a lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, high-beam assist, and automatic emergency braking), cloth seats, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift lever all come standard. Loading a Yaris Liftback to more than $20,000 is pretty much impossible – and totally foolhardy. The SE model has more than enough equipment.
The funky five-door Yaris has some personality. A gaping triangular-shaped grille and pointy nose help it stand out versus other more plainly styled subcompacts, while a trendy two-tone paint job (a $500 option)looks neat, and sharp 16-inch machined alloy wheels give it more style over the hubcap-bearing base Yaris. Even for a subcompact, the Yaris isn't cartoonish. It's a clean-looking, inoffensive five-door dusted with unique elements.
Although the interior isn't flashy, it is functional. The heapings of soft-touch black plastic on the dash, door panels, and center console aren't entirely offensive to the eye, even if it is a bit plain. At least the matching black cloth seats have a unique vertical design pattern that sets them apart.
As far as economy cars go, the Yaris is pretty comfortable. The front seats are cushy, well-bolstered, and contour to the driver more than most in the class. Even if the driver and front passenger are over six feet tall, the Yaris’s 39.2 inches of front headroom feels plentiful – it's more than the Kia Rio 5-Door (38.9) and Mitsubishi Mirage (39.1 inches). Rear headroom falls slightly to the five-door Rio (37.6 versus 38.0), though, but still bests the smaller Mirage (37.3). Hopefully, you don't have long legs as the Yaris's 40.6 inches of front legroom is down noticeably to the Rio 5-Door (42.1 inches) and Mirage (41.7 inches).
The Toyota Yaris SE's 7.1-inch touchscreen is a pinch larger than infotainment screens of competitors. The Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Mirage, Honda Fit, and Chevrolet Spark all have 7.0-inch screens. But bigger isn't always better and the Yaris’s system’s graphics are outdated and the layout is cluttered. Touch responsiveness is slow and it's easy to accidentally hit the wrong icon. There is Bluetooth connectivity, at least, but neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto are included.
Just because a car has a manual transmission doesn't mean it's better. The Toyota Yaris is proof of that. The sloppy five-speed manual and springy clutch feel totally unnecessary in a car this basic. Even if it is an $800 extra, the four-speed automatic is probably better than the standard five-speed.
While the five-speed subtracts from the Yaris's score some, it's not all gloom and doom in the performance department. The tiny hatch has respectable moves. Toss the Yaris into a corner and it reacts pleasantly. There isn't a ton of body roll given the sky-high seating position (thank the sport-tuned suspension that’s standard on the SE), and the steering is light and responsive.
The 1.5-liter four-cylinder, which produces just 105 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque, is acceptable in most situations. Only at highway speeds does the underpowered engine struggle. Don't expect even lukewarm hatch levels of performance at this price point, though.
Toyota commits to standard safety equipment throughout its lineup – Yaris included. The SE has Toyota Safety Sense C standard, which includes lane-departure warning, forward collision alert, high-beam assist, and, even on the lowest trim, automatic emergency braking. Standard automatic emergency braking in this segment is scarce – competitors like the Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, and Honda Fit only offer it at a price. Outside of automatic high beams, automatic emergency braking the only piece of active safety equipment on the Yaris, though, and the hatch also gets dinged for its four-star crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
As with most subcompacts, the Yaris is a fuel sipper. The frugal 1.5-liter four-cylinder achieves 30 miles per gallon in the city, 35 on the highway, and 32 combined. That said, it’s only a bit better than the Kia Rio in the city (28/37/32), and down by a good margin to both the automatic Honda Fit (33/40/26) and Mitsubishi Mirage (37/43/39).