Mildly redesigned for 2015, the subcompact Yaris is Toyota’s smallest and least expensive car at U.S. dealerships. For the 2017 model year, Toyota has added a trio of Safety Sense advanced features to hatchback models, including lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and automatic high beams. Otherwise, little has changed on the three- and five-door hatchbacks.
However, a new model, the Yaris iA sedan, joined the lineup for 2017. Formerly known as the Scion iA, the Yaris iA sedan is based upon the Mazda2 (no longer sold in the U.S.). Just one version of the iA sedan is offered, and it is more aggressively designed than Yaris hatchbacks and is more refined.
Designed and built in France, the Yaris hatchbacks come in L, LE, and SE trim levels. Yaris L and LE versions come in three- and five-door form; Yaris SE is five-door only.
Engines are similar for the two body styles, but transmission choices differ sharply. Hatchbacks hold a 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 103 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to either a 5-speed manual gearbox or an ancient, outmoded 4-speed automatic transmission. Sedans contain a similarly rated 1.5-liter four, paired with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. Yaris LE hatchbacks come with 6-speed automatics.
In hatchback form, the Yaris is a traditional subcompact, delivering budget-priced transportation and good gas mileage, but little else. Performance, as expected, ranks as modest, though what Toyota claims is a â€œclass-leadingâ€ 31.5-foot turning circle helps with agility. Base L models retain rear drum brakes, but others get four-wheel discs.
Significantly more refined, the Yaris iA sedan is more enjoyable to drive than any hatchback. Gas mileage is reasonably good either way, though not top-of-the-class for subcompacts.
The new trio of standard driver-assistance features improves the Yaris hatchback’s safety stance, though crash-test scores aren’t unblemished. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the hatchback four stars overall. Hatchbacks also earned Good scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, except for Marginal in the small-overlap frontal crash. Sedans got Good scores from IIHS, but Poor in the new headlight test; the iA was declared a Top Safety Pick.
Hatchbacks do not include a rearview camera, but the iA sedan does. Lane-departure alert and automatic high beams are not included in the sedan, and its automatic braking operates only at lower road speeds.
A redesigned Yaris hatchback will arrive as a 2018 model.
Yaris L 3-Door ($15,250) and 5-Door ($16,375) come with 5-speed manual shift, 15-inch steel wheels, fabric upholstery, power windows/locks, single-arm wiper, air conditioning, a tilt steering column, 60/40 fold-down rear seat, and cargo cover. Six-speaker audio with a 6.1-inch touchscreen includes HD radio and Bluetooth connectivity. Four-speed automatic is available ($750). (Prices are MSRP and do not include $885 destination charge.)
Yaris LE 3-Door ($16,910) and 5-Door ($17,285) include the 4-speed automatic, chrome-accented black grille, remote keyless entry, cruise control, power mirrors, and 15-inch alloy wheels.
Yaris SE 5-Door ($17,200) comes with manual shift or automatic ($800), a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, sport analog gauges, rear spoiler, all-disc brakes, and foglamps.
Yaris iA 4-Door ($15,950) has a 6-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic ($1,100), rearview camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, chrome grille surround, power mirrors with turn-signal indicators, keyless entry, air conditioning, pushbutton start, and cruise control. Six-speaker audio includes a 7-inch touchscreen.
Minimally adorned compared to many rivals, the Yaris hatchback has a well-proportioned appearance. More restrained than such subcompacts as the Chevrolet Spark and Honda Fit, the hatchback looks flat and clean, if ordinary. More brightwork is evident up front, and the trapezoidal-shape grille features black mesh.
Because the iA sedan evolves from a Mazda design, appearance differs. A huge grille, also trapezoidal, overpowers the front end. Reaching downward as well as outward, it creates one of the boldest noses in the subcompact category. Chrome body trim mimics the geometric design.
In both hatchback and sedan body styles, front occupants can expect greater comfort than those consigned to the back seat, which is best occupied by youngsters. Adults are likely to feel cramped.
Rear legroom near 33 inches falls below that of some rivals. It’s 6 inches less than a Honda Fit provides. Back-seat access can be a challenge in three-door hatchbacks.
Because the hatchback’s steering column does not telescope, taller drivers might not feel entirely comfortable. Otherwise, front seats are reasonably satisfying, more comfortable than those in the bigger Nissan Versa, though adjustment range is somewhat restricted.
Front-seat bottom cushions aren’t annoyingly short, and are broad enough to suit American bodies. Seat contouring and side support are better in SE trim level.
Along the shelf-like dashboard, controls are easy to use, with soft-touch surfaces evident. Overall, the cabin is logically laid-out and intuitive. Storage areas abound.
Though not fully flat, the cargo floor is higher than in some subcompacts. Cargo volume in the five-door totals a respectable 15.6 cubic feet.
Within the iA sedan’s cabin, materials have an upscale look, belying the car’s moderate price. Ergonomics beat those of the hatchback, yet rear legroom isn’t much better.
Economy-car buyers don’t usually put performance near the top of their preferences. That’s wise, because with either engine, the Yaris trails many rivals in friskiness.
Eking out satisfactory acceleration is possible only by keeping the hatchback’s engine revving fast. But past 3,000 rpm, that engine feels loud and strained. Noise is aggravated by the outmoded 4-speed automatic transmission. Higher-speed downshifts are both blaring and dramatic.
Overall, Yaris drivers get an old-fashioned driving experience. Performance does improve with the manual gearbox.
Two pluses: Ride comfort is comparatively good for a subcompact, while handling is better than might be expected. Well-tuned, if rather soft, springs limit the effect of bumps and ripply pavement. Roadholding improves with the SE’s stiffer suspension, without losing much ride quality.
Driving qualities are more appealing with the iA sedan, which feels perkier than the hatchback. Though the iA’s Mazda-built engine is identical to the hatchback’s in size, it’s entirely different, employing direct injection. With manual shift, an iA can feel almost like a low-budget sport sedan. Unlike the hatchback’s transmissions, both of the iA’s 6-speed units are excellent. Precise steering is well-weighted, and the taut iA suspension absorbs many trouble spots.
Fuel-efficiency could be better. Hatchbacks with 4-speed automatic are EPA-rated at only 30/35 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined. With 5-speed manual, it’s 30/36/33 mpg. Gas mileage rises with the iA, EPA-rated with automatic at 32/40 mpg City/Highway, or 35 mpg Combined (30/39/34 mpg with manual).
Yaris hatchbacks provide a traditional subcompact experience at a modest price, marred by sluggish performance and noise. Not only is the new iA sedan more satisfying to drive, it’s better-equipped and thriftier on gas â€“ with a starting price comparable to that of the hatchback.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.