The 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is part of a dying breed. It’s one of just a handful of five-door subcompact hatchbacks you can still buy new in the U.S., accompanying the Chevrolet Spark, Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Mirage, and soon-to-be-discontinued Honda Fit in the slow march toward irrelevancy. But Toyota might just have the most fun option of the bunch, because it’s not actually a Toyota at all.
The 2020 Yaris uses the not-for-North America Mazda2’s sporty underpinnings, a peppy 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, and Mazda's decent infotainment system. The XLE Hatchback we tested even sports faux leather seating with real leather accents on the steering wheel and shift knob. And you can get it all for under $20,000.
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Even for a brand infamous for its oversized grilles (see: Avalon), we're not huge fans of the Yaris' gaping maw. But this car is pretty adorable otherwise. The pint-sized hatchback has an angry face, courtesy of aggressively sloped headlights, clean 16-inch alloy wheels, and a simple rear-end. Only keen eyes will notice the Mazda2 taillights out back, the car with which the Yaris shares its base.
The Mazda ties are a bit more obvious inside. The tacked-on, 7.0-inch touchscreen from older Mazdas carries over (new Mazdas get a nicer 8.8-inch screen), as does the rotary controller, volume knob, and virtually all of the components of the dash and center console. But we're not complaining, the cloned cabin makes the inside of the Yaris look more upscale than its predecessor, as well as most of its subcompact competitors. Only the Nissan Versa comes close in terms of overall quality and looks.
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The Yaris doesn't have great sound deadening, which makes it pretty loud on the highway. Nor does the tiny hatch offer tons of interior space; its 38.2 inches of front headroom and 41.9 inches of front legroom are some of the worst figures in the class, and make the front compartment feel tight. Only the Mitsubishi Mirage has less leg space up front (41.7 inches). The rear bench feels especially cramped for your six-foot-tall author, too. The Yaris' 15.9 cubic-feet of cargo room is acceptable, but still a bit below average for the class.
But there is some good stuff here otherwise. The imitation leather seats on our loaded XLE tester are pretty nice. Replacing the standard cloth seats on the base LE model, the upgraded buckets are soft, supportive, and do a good job of imitating real cowhide. There is real stitched leather elsewhere in the cabin, too: on the steering wheel, shift knob, and parking brake. And while not the highest of quality, those touches do add a bit more of an upscale feel.
Like we’ve already mentioned, the Yaris' standard 7.0-inch touchscreen is a direct carryover from previous Mazda products. And it's a perfectly acceptable setup here, on par size-wise and from a functionality standpoint with most of the other options in the class. The home screen has a concise layout that's easy to navigate via the rotary dial (dubbed “Commander Knob”) mounted in the center console, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. And there are two tiny screens on either side of the instrument cluster, but they only display basic readouts like fuel economy outside temperature.
This is where the Yaris finds its footing; the Mazda underpinnings make this Toyota the most fun to drive car in the class. Powered by a lively 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the Yaris is good for 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. While not the punchiest on paper (the Nissan Versa doles out 122 horses), the Yaris' four-cylinder delivers power exceptionally well. Lots of low-end pep makes it an eager city companion, an available Sport driving mode (on XLE models) gives it better throttle response.
The excellent suspension tuning and well-weighted steering make the Toyota super fun to fling around, too. This Yaris has a sharp turn-in (for the class) and keeps mostly flat in the corners, even when pushed. Our only gripe? The hatchback has a lone six-speed automatic transmission, while the sedan gets a six-speed manual option.
Considering Toyota is so good about active safety equipment elsewhere in its lineup, it’s odd that the Toyota Yaris only offers a low-speed forward collision warning, front automatic emergency braking, LED headlights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Not even our loaded XLE model gets optional active safety like lane-keep assist or rear cross-traffic alert.
Compare that to the top-trim Nissan Versa, which has an optional Safety Shield 360 suite that offers all of that mentioned equipment and more, and the Yaris fails to meet the mark. At least the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Yaris the best possible five-star rating in the overall, frontal- and side-impact categories.
The Toyota Yaris XLE hatch nets 32 miles per gallon city, 40 highway, and 35 combined on regular 87-octane fuel. That fuel economy figure matches the Nissan Versa (32/40/35) but falls a step behind the Mitsubishi Mirage and Kia Rio (33/41/36).
The base Toyota Yaris sedan starts at a thrifty $15,650. By comparison, the Chevrolet Spark LS ($13,220), Versa ($14,730), and Mirage ($14,994) are each a touch more affordable. Our tester, though – a loaded XLE Hatchback – costs just $19,695 after destination and handling feels. Compare that to the loaded Versa we drove ($21,490); even though the Yaris lacks some of its rival more advanced safety features, the hatch is nearly $2,000 more affordable in top trim than the comparable Nissan sedan.
Gallery: 2020 Toyota Yaris XLE: Review
2020 Toyota Yaris XLE Hatchback