The Toyota Yaris lineup includes two unrelated subcompact cars: The Toyota Yaris 3-Door and 5-Door hatchbacks date back to 2007. The Yaris iA four-door sedan, on the other hand, began life as a the Scion iA sedan, a totally different product.
Yaris sedan and hatch models are in the same size class, however, so when Toyota folded the Scion brand in 2016, the Scion iA was relaunched as the Yaris iA.
For 2018, Yaris hatchbacks get a new grille, front fascia, and rear bumper. A black mesh grille with chrome surround goes on Yaris SE versions. Wider taillights are integrated into back doors. Base L models gain a tilt steering wheel with audio controls. Not many observers are likely to notice the changes to the hatch. Even fewer will notice changes to the sedan, because there aren’t any.
Designed and manufactured by Mazda, the Yaris iA has been sold in other parts of the world as the Mazda 2.
Yaris hatchbacks come in L, LE, and SE trim levels, with either three or five doors. The Yaris iA sedan comes in a single trim.
Both cars use 1.5-liter four-cylinder engines that develop 106 horsepower, but the two engines are unrelated. The hatchback engine is Toyota-built, while the sedan’s hails from Mazda. Hatchbacks can have a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 4-speed automatic (one of the few 4-speed automatics that remain available today, as most have more gears now). The iA sedan comes with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.
Toyota has taken the lead in standard safety features, even for its least-expensive models. The Yaris hatchback comes with a suite of advanced safety features, including lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, and automatic emergency braking. Because the iA’s safety equipment was developed by Mazda, lane-departure warning and automatic high beams are not included. Although the hatchback’s automatic braking system works at all speeds, the iA’s functions only at lower velocities.
Safety ratings are good for the sedan, but less so for hatchbacks. The iA sedan has earned top Good scores in crash-testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, awarded a Top Safety Pick designation. The hatchback is marred by a Marginal rating for the small-overlap frontal impact test.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the Yaris iA a five-star overall rating, including five stars in each separate test. The 2017 five-door hatchback rated only four stars overall, with a four-star frontal-impact score and five-star for side impact.
Toyota Yaris 3-Door L hatch comes with a 5-speed manual ($15,635) or 4-speed automatic transmission ($16,385), cloth seats, 15-inch steel wheels, tilt steering wheel, 6.1-inch touchscreen, daytime running lights, and 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $895 destination charge.)
Yaris 5-Door L ($16,760) comes only with automatic.
Yaris 3-Door LE ($17,285) and 5-Door LE ($17,660) come with 4-speed automatic, plus 15-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and keyless entry.
Yaris 5-Door SE ($18,260) includes 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, black mesh grille, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Scout navigation app, and all-disc brakes. Manual gearbox is standard, automatic is available ($19,060).
Yaris iA sedan or automatic comes with 6-speed manual ($15,950) or 6-speed automatic transmission ($17,050), 16-inch alloy wheels, rearview camera, remote keyless entry, pushbutton start, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth, and 7.0-inch touchscreen.
Revisions to the hatchback body for 2018 may be comparatively minor, but every step helps in improving appearance. Several hatchback design details appear to be borrowed from Toyota’s Prius, including the pointed front bumper. Hatchback bodies are rather slab-sided, though the five-door comes across as more appealing.
Toyota hasn’t tried hard to conceal the iA sedan’s inception as a Mazda model. Overall, the iA conveys a tidy look, but with few distinguishing details. Except for the front end, little evidence of corporate Toyota influence can be seen.
Front occupants in either version of the Yaris won’t face a shortage of space for adult legs or heads. Not much difference is evident between body styles, except for wide frames and supportive cushions in the hatchback. Tall drivers might have a hard time achieving a comfortable position in the hatchback, because seats don’t adjust much.
Unfortunately, those two are the only passengers who can expect comfort. Although the hatchback’s wheelbase is comparable to that of Honda’s Fit, the latter provides 6 more inches of rear-seat legroom. Seats in the Yaris SE are a bit more sporty.
The Yaris iA is only slightly better in back-seat space, though a tad more ergonomic in design.
Split-folding rear seats fold forward to increase cargo space, but the hatchback’s load floor isn’t totally flat. With seatbacks upright, the hatchback provides 15.6 cubic feet of cargo volume (15.3 in the three-door). For its class, those are respectable figures. The iA sedan’s trunk holds 13.5 cubic feet.
Neither Yaris version is particularly quiet, though acoustic windows in upper trim levels can stifle some engine thrumming.
Cabins of each Yaris are rather plain and ordinary. Both include touchscreens (6.1 inches in hatchback, 7.0-inch for iA sedan). However, neither Yaris includes Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity.
Appreciation for the Yaris depends on the body style, but both tend to be slow as well as loud. The Yaris iA sedan can be pleasant and even fun to drive.
The Yaris hatchbacks are harder to like. Continued use of a 4-speed automatic, in this era of 6- and 8-speed units, inevitably restricts performance. Undeniably, the hatchback serves as a best-forgotten reminder of the old econobox era, when frugality handily outranked performance.
Both versions deserve credit for keeping a manual transmission available, even though most buyers prefer automatics. With the Yaris iA sedan, the manual gearbox is almost a necessity, to extract every last bit of horsepower from the overmatched engine. The manual is even more essential for the Yaris hatchbacks, compared to the widely spaced gear ratios in its outmoded 4-speed automatic.
At least, the iA compensates for its shortage of power with precise, well-weighted steering and generally satisfying suspension. Ride comfort and handling qualities are reasonably good.
The Yaris hatchback has its merits, too. Relatively soft springs help keep it steady when rolling over bumps and traversing harsher pavement. Handling from the Yaris SE hatchback benefits a bit from a stiffer suspension, but it isn’t sporty.
Fuel economy, as expected, is a plus. With automatic, the Yaris iA sedan is EPA-rated at 32/40 mpg City/Highway, or 35 mpg Combined. Manual shift drops the estimate to 30/39/34 mpg. Hatchbacks are EPA-rated at 30/35 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined, with the 4-speed automatic. With 5-speed manual, the hatchback is just a tad thriftier, EPA-rated at 30/36/33 mpg.
Plenty of smaller cars are available to budget-stretching buyers, promising dependable transportation and reasonably well-equipped. The Yaris hatchback feels built with economy uppermost in mind, and is hard to recommend with either transmission. The Yaris iA sedan promises greater value, along with a higher level of driving delight.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.