The Yaris entered the Toyota lineup in model-year 2007 as a replacement for the dorky Echo. Offered initially in both a two-door hatchback model—which Toyota calls “Liftback”—and a sedan, the Yaris is generally considered the leader of the subcompact triumvirate, which includes the Honda Fit and the Nissan Versa. A four-door hatchback body style was added in 2009. This gives the Yaris an immediate advantage over many other subcompacts, simply for the reason that it offers three separate variants (unlike the Fit and Versa). And visually, what sets the Yaris apart is its deliberate urban persona. Originally designed for the tight metro centers of Europe and Asia, the Yaris is highly citified.
If you’re thinking about buying a Toyota Yaris, you might also consider a Honda Fit or Nissan Versa. Compare these vehicles.
For 2011, styling carries over from 2010. The only new feature is a sunvisor extension for the two hatchbacks—a small item, but needed because of the large glass area.
Due to its efficient four-cylinder, 106 horsepower engine, the Yaris is certified as an EPA Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV-II) achieving fuel economy numbers of 29 city/36 highway with its five-speed manual transmission. The four-speed automatic comes in at 29 city/35 highway. Those figures top both the Nissan Versa (28/34) and the Honda Fit (28/35).
The Yaris’s urban flavor makes it a favorite among city-dwellers. It picks up many styling cues from its Scion cousins. The Yaris looks more refined and spirited than most other subcompacts, with its snub nose, wide stance, and unique geometry.
From front to back the two hatchbacks measure a taut 150.6 inches, making them by far the smallest of the three majors. They are almost 19 inches shorter than the Nissan Versa, and about seven inches shorter than the Honda Fit. Weighing in at slightly over 2,300 pounds, the Yaris hatchbacks are the most lightweight among their friends. That kind of trimness is indicative of just how waste-free this automobile is.
And for what it’s worth, the four-door hatch probably is the best looking of the three offerings, and the body offers the greatest versatility from the smallest footprint, an advantage for in-town maneuverability.
The more traditional-looking Yaris sedan is a much longer vehicle—169.3 inches versus 150.6 inches—sharing few body parts with the hatchbacks. Toyota kept the overall shape and design of the sedan a little less playful looking with a higher arch on the roofline and a slightly thinner stance.
At the 2011 Geneva Motor Show Toyota took the wraps off the Yaris Hybrid, expected to go on sale in Europe next year. The sophisticated exterior design is a dramatic departure from the current edition with a monoform shape emphasized by a long, sweeping roofline. There is no word if or when it will come to the U.S. or if a gasoline model will be part of the lineup. The new look would go a long way to spark Yaris sales, which have been sliding downwards of late.
The hard plastic materials used in the Yaris shout “basic transportation.” Though Yaris replaced the Echo, it kept one feature that should have been dropped when Echo was. The gauge cluster is positioned in the top center of the dash rather than the more orthodox—and easier to see—position directly in front of the driver. There is also no meter to view fuel economy, which shoppers for such a car would probably want to know.
On the plus side, all three versions have tall rooflines for comfortable, upright seating and generous headroom. Visibility through large glass windows and unobstructed sight lines make the Yaris an easy car to drive.
That great maneuverability of the hatchbacks translates into micro-wagon cargo versatility, something to consider in an automobile barely 12 feet long. While back seats can easily accommodate either front- or rear-facing infant seats, the small 9.3 cubic feet cargo area is not well suited to haul strollers and other baby paraphernalia.
The rear seatbacks do fold down to expand cargo capacity from 9.3 cubic feet to an adequate 25.7 cubic feet in the hatchback models, but when lowered they are several inches higher than the cargo floor. The sedan offers 13.7 cubic feet, the same as the Versa sedan. For comparison, the Fit’s total cargo volume is an expansive 41.9 cubic feet, a significant advantage in this area. If carting gear is your primary concern, the Yaris may not be your first choice.
On the Road
Getting from Point A to point B, performance is about what is expected from a 106 hp four-cylinder engine, not great, but not awful, considering the power-to-fuel-consumption trade-off. The four doesn’t have a lot of muscle, but the Yaris’s light weight provides adequate, though leisurely acceleration. The five-speed manual transmission works best with the engine to mange power to the front wheels. Unfortunately there is no tachometer on the sedan, so shifts are made by engine sound and seat-of-the-pants feel. (Tachometers were added to hatchbacks last year.) The outdated four-speed automatic, with its poky shifts and widely spaced ratios makes the engine work hard to keep up with traffic—a behavior that reduces fuel economy.
Yaris is a great around town car and feels, in typical Toyota fashion, solidly built. Turns feel secure as long as speeds don’t exceed the moderate grip of the narrow 15-inch standard tires. And ride quality over bumps and potholes is fairly compliant for such a lightweight.
It is less at home on the open road, however, with lots of steering corrections to maintain your intended path. It also doesn’t react well to cross winds or a passing semi truck, which can abruptly nudge the little car sideways, requiring two hands on the steering wheel at all times. Road, wind and engine noise are not very well suppressed, so it isn’t a pleasant highway cruiser.
Safety in small cars is an important consideration, and Toyota elevated safety features on the Yaris to equal its competitors. Standard safety gear on all three cars now includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, an anti-skid system and head-protecting curtain side airbags.
With wallets still hurting and fuel prices heading back toward “arm and a leg,” the Yaris looks to be in the right place at the right time. But before you head out with checkbook in hand, that low price and high mileage mean making some sacrifices.
Yaris pricing starts at $12,955 for the two-door hatchback, $13,255 for the four-door hatch. The sedan has a sticker price of $13,715. But keep in mind, the base models are bare bones, and the price will climb quickly when you start to add options (which you most certainly will). The Fit, in comparison, comes with more standard equipment for its higher base price.
For the base price you’ll have to do without such basics as a radio and CD player. For that you’ll have to come with $840-$960, depending on model and transmission choice, for the Convenience Package. Want power windows, door locks and mirrors? That’s $1,525-$1,780 for the Power Package but does include an AM/FM/CD audio system.
Among the top subcompacts, the Yaris (29 city/36 highway) is virtually the most fuel-efficient gas engine car on the road. And it has a travel range close to 350 miles between fill-ups. That’s about as good as it gets for a non-hybrid vehicle. Add to that the low price and perhaps the most refined design of all the subcompacts, the Yaris is both economically and stylistically impressive. That’s difficult for competitors to top.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.