Subcompact cars have become increasingly popular in recent years and most major automakers have at least one model in their ranges. And while many buyers are young people, possibly enjoying their first car, the class is also popular with retired folks who no longer need a larger vehicle and seek something practical and economical that doesn’t take up too much space. Another benefit is a low staring price for most of them and Nissan even has a product in this segment for less than $10,000. As you would expect, Toyota has a solid contender in its Yaris, an attractive little four-door or three-door hatchback that’s roomy, inexpensive to operate and fun to drive. Interestingly, the Yaris was engineered, designed, developed and is built in France - it’s all part of the globalization of the auto industry. The French, as many auto buffs will know, have many decades of experience designing subcompact vehicles. The 2015 Yaris boasts styling upgrades inside and out plus performance tweaks.
The Yaris is a good looking little car and very much tied in with current styling trends. Basically a wedge shape, it even has the big black grille that has become a Toyota recognition feature of late. For its size, the doors are nice and wide and the little car is easy to get in and out of. Get serious with the options list and you can end up with a small car with all the features you’d expect from something a couple of classes bigger. The hatchback and 60/40 folding rear seatback means that cargo space is very generous and greater than might be expected given the car’s dimensions. Buyers can choose five-door and three-door variants with the three-door expectedly filling the entry-level spot at a base price of $14,545.
The engine for these Toyotas is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder developing 106-horsepower, more than enough to make the Yaris responsive and fun to drive. Transmission-wise, there’s a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. Driving in urban areas and even on the freeway, the Yaris is plenty fast enough to keep up with all traffic and acceleration from a standing start is very good, though this isn’t intended to be a sports car.
The interior is up to Toyota’s usual high standards with high grade materials, lots of soft-touch mouldings and comfortable seats. All models have a big 6.1-inch audio and information screen and even the least costly Yaris has power windows, which is a nice touch. Bluetooth capability is standard on all Yaris models and it’s easy to set up with your phone or iPod. Despite the car’s diminutive size, it’s very comfortable to sit in and drive and doesn’t feel as small as it looks from behind the wheel. The five-door is available in two trim levels - SE and LE - with the SE being an upgraded version of its stablemate, adding air conditioning, tach, cruise control, keyless entry, power mirrors and several other goodies.
Many buyers worry about safety if they choose a subcompact model, but in fact, the Yaris has all the features you’d find in larger and more expensive automobiles. There are nine air bags along with child seat anchors. Toyota’s Star Safety System is part and parcel of the Yaris package and this includes vehicle stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and smart-stop technology.
The Yaris is a fun little car, sprightly for its fairly modest power unit and very thrifty on gas. It handles very well and is extremely easy to park - you’ll find yourself backing into spaces you’d never dream of trying in a larger automobile. Given Toyota’s reputation for quality, durability and resale price, it’s well worth paying a little extra money to invest in a car like this.
SPECS AT A GLANCE…
BODY STYLE: 3-door or 5-door hatchback
ENGINE: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, 106 hp
TRANSMISSION: Five speed manual or four-speed automatic
PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx 8.5-secs
FUEL ECONOMY: 6.7 litres/100 km city; 5.5 litres/100 km hwy. (automatic transmission)
PRICE: $14,545 base