Toyota’s Yaris sedan is this automaker’s entry in the subcompact market, a segment that’s very strong with younger first-time buyers and also among older folk, possibly retired, who don’t need a large car anymore. The Yaris may be small, but it’s packed with features and quality touches you’d expect to find in a larger model. In other words, it’s a subcompact that doesn’t skimp on features, styling or cabin ambiance.
Compact it may be, but the Yaris is a nice piece of styling and doesn’t have the “cramped” look of some small cars. Look at it from the side and it’s close to being sleek and the elegantly sculptured panels give it a hunkered-down, aggressive, look. The bold headlights are an attractive styling feature but they’re also very bright and safe. The large grille we’ve come to expect from Toyota (and Lexus) is there and it gives the car a nicely modernistic look. It’s a small car, there’s no denying that, but there’s a surprisingly generous amount of space inside, even in the rear seats. The trunk is a decent size too and will take a fair amount of cargo when needed. If even more space is needed, the rear seatbacks split in 60/40 style.
There are two basic models - manual and automatic - otherwise the variants are identical, though there’s a tempting upgrade package on offer and it’s possible to built quite a luxurious Yaris by spending a little more. Yaris sedans start at just under $17,000 MSRP. The auto transmission model can be ordered with a Premium Package which includes audio, comfort and styling enhancements, including a 7-inch touch-screen. The car comes as standard with a surprising number of features, including air conditioning, keyless entry, heated mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth phone link, steering wheel mounted controls, power windows and power door locks. I didn’t have a backup camera on my tester, but it is available.
The Yaris sedan is powered by a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine that develops 106-horsepower and you fire it up with a button on the dash. It’s got ample power for all kinds of driving chores and accelerates briskly and smoothly when called upon. My car had the automatic transmission, which is slightly thriftier on fuel than the manual.
The car is great fun to drive anywhere, but I was especially impressed with the way the Yaris handled freeway driving. Even at 120 km/h (which you can legally do now in BC in some areas) it’s very quiet and refined and feels at least a class higher in that respect. Several passengers commented on this. It sits on the road with great stability even in strong side winds and engine noise is very minimal. I’d be happy to take one on a long road trip, which is not usually the impression I get from subcompact products. The 6-speed automatic is very seamless and doesn’t seem to rob the car of much power - a feature of many transmissions of current design.
The Yaris also handles very well and pitching it into tight freeway ramps proved no problem at all. It sits nice and flat on the road and just safely powers round the curve. Part of this benefit is due to a very rigid body structure and the wide use of high-strength steels. The steering is accurate and predictable and if things do go awry, there’s a long list of safety features that come as standard on all Yaris models.
The Yaris sedan is not the cheapest subcompact around, but it has to be one of the best. You may pay a little more for a Toyota, but for your money, you get the company’s enviable record of durability, reliability and resale value. For many buyers, that’s the clincher.
SPECS AT A GLANCE…
BODY STYLE: Four door, 5-place subcompact sedan
ENGINE: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual
PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx 9-secs
FUEL ECONOMY: 6.4-litres/100 km combined rating (auto)
PRICE: $16,995 base MSRP