With the recent influx of economy minded products from both rivals as well as the dearly departed Scion brand, it is easy to assume at first glance that the humble Toyota Yaris gets lost in the shuffle. But does this tiny hatchback still have what it takes to stand out in this crowded segment? Or does it come up just a bit short?
The exterior styling of our 2016 Barcelona Red LE grade test car (2017 models have minimal changes) certainly made our car stand out in a crowd, and also helped it have a sporty flair. This is enhanced further by the optional Black Pearl accents that adorn the upper half of the car. The front fascia is a curious interpretation of sportiness, with the bold headlights and prominent Toyota badge balanced out by a massive lower grille that looks awkward from some angles. The rear fascia meanwhile pulls off the look better, and features handsome tail lights that branch out into an attractive rear fascia that balances functionality and youth oriented style. When compared with rivals such as the Honda Fit and the Ford Fiesta in overall aesthetics, the Yaris falls roughly in the middle which is not bad for an economy minded car.
The interior of our tester also continues the theme of youthful sportiness, but it is here where the Yaris begins to stumble. Our LE grade test car featured cloth seats that were a bit too firm for our tastes, and also lacked lower back support. The exterior's compact proportions translate into an equally cramped cabin, but the car still featured good amounts of legroom as well as commendable headroom. Controls and switches are also clearly marked, and the Yaris impressed us with its ergonomics and overall interior layout.
The same could not be said for interior storage with our tester lacking a center armrest and accompanying storage area, as well as having a relatively small glovebox. This is enhanced further by its small amount of rear cargo space which trails the Honda Fit even with the rear seats folded down. Thankfully, liftover is not too high, and loading cargo into the rear is relatively easy. The interior's cheap plastics also highlight its budget oriented mission, but our favorite feature is the standard Entune touchscreen interface for the stereo. While inputs were occasionally laggy, the screen's crisp display as well as the simple layout for various menus helped it become our favorite attribute of the Yaris's interior.
Performance for our tester comes from a 1.5 liter four cylinder engine that is good for 106 horsepower and also serves as the biggest weakness that the Yaris has. The noise from this engine is reminiscent of a lawn mower, and the leisurely 10.2 second trip to 60 mph is far behind some of its rivals especially the Ford Fiesta and the Honda Fit. Not helping matters is the outdated four speed automatic which is hopelessly outmatched by the six speed units in nearly all of its rivals. Despite it missing a few gears, the transmission does redeem itself by offering smooth shifts, and helps the Yaris hit 36 mpg on the freeway which should please fuel conscious buyers.
We suspected that the tiny engine was pushing into the upper reaches of the rev band in certain situations especially on the freeway. However, we will never know for sure if that is indeed the case since our tester did not come equipped with a formal tachometer. For those that consider the tachometer a crucial part of the driving experience (this author included) Toyota does add one on the top of the line SE model.
Pricing for the 2017 Yaris starts at $15,250 which makes it the thriftiest Toyota model the Japanese car giant has to offer. Our lightly optioned LE grade tester had a final sticker of $16,930. This pricing makes it compelling to first time buyers, but also puts the Yaris in an awkward position due to the recent addition of models from the former Scion lineup. In the Yaris's case it faces internal competition from the newly renamed Toyota Yaris iA which gets higher freeway mileage, and its $15,950 base MSRP is also roughly on par with its hatchback counterpart.
Furthermore, the iA's Mazda 2 based underpinnings also allow it to outshine the Yaris hatchback on the street, though it does give up some cargo space as a trade off. Meanwhile, the Ford Fiesta also has a similar pricing ladder, and not only offers more gears in its transmission, but also a spicier performance model with the range topping turbocharged Fiesta ST.
When it all comes down to it, buyer preference will ultimately help with the final decision, and if you are looking for a compact that does not offer much frills, but can effortlessly get you from Point A to Point B everyday then the 2017 Toyota Yaris hatchback will be the right fit for your garage.