A top car mechanic and restorer has told me most people will buy any car as long as it looks good. Maybe so. A sportier appearance promises to help sell the 2018 subcompact Toyota Yaris, and its frugal nature may also help move it from dealer lots.
The new Yaris hatchback, which shouldn't be confused with the larger Mazda-based Toyota Yaris iA, comes with two or four doors. (Why some call four-door hatchbacks "five-door" vehicles seems odd. Anybody ever see anyone use the hatch entrance as a door?)
The 2018 Toyota Yaris
looks sportier with a bold front fascia that features a new grille and updated headlight design. The rear has wider horizontal tail lights and a revised lower bumper to give the car a wider-looking "hot hatch" look. The 155.5-inch-long Yaris really doesn't look all that small, although it has only a 98.8-inch wheelbase.
The Yaris comes in L, LE and SE trim levels. I tested the top-line sporty SE, which has a unique front piano black mesh grille and chrome trim. It also has a sport suspension, rear spoiler and 16-inch machined alloy wheels with dark accents that carry wider (50-series vs. 65-series) tires. The SE thus is the most fun-to-drive Yaris version.
My test car had an electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission with a responsive manual-shift feature, although the Yaris is available with a 5-speed manual in the two door L and four-door SE. A four-speed automatic seems old-fashioned, but Toyota probably figures the car's engine works best with a four-speed automatic. Or it's just trying to keep the car's price down. In any case, the automatic's console-mounted shift gate is notchy-likely to prevent drivers from selecting the wrong gear.
List prices, excluding delivery and processing charges, range from $15,635 for the base two-door L hatchback with the manual transmission to $19,060 for the SE four-door hatchback with the automatic. The SE with the manual costs $18,260, and the L with the automatic is $16,385.
All Versa versions have a sophisticated 1.5-liter 106 horsepower dual-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder with variable valve timing. It provides lively acceleration to highway speeds but delivers just average 65-75 passing times. The engine loves to rev but drones when asked to work hard. Still, it's reasonably quiet for a small four-cylinder. Fast cruising in no problem, partly because the car has been given a quieter interior.
Only regular grade fuel is needed, and estimated fuel economy is 30 miles per gallon in the city and 36 on highways with the manual and 30 and 35 with the automatic.
My test SE's thick steering wheel controlled the electric power steering, which was fast (2.65 turns lock-to-lock) and had a firm feel and decent road feedback. The car stayed flat in curves taken at above-average speeds. Its handling was helped by its wider tires, sport suspension, stabilizer bar, vehicle stability control and traction control.
However, the short wheelbase and firm suspension occasionally resulted in a jerky ride. Thus, I wouldn't call the SE a comfortable long-distance car. However, higher-profile tires and such may allow the L and LE versions to have a more comfortable ride.
Four-wheel disc brakes are controlled by a pedal with a linear feel and bite hard.
The base Yaris L comes with standard items such as air conditioning, tilt (but not telescopic) wheel with integrated audio controls, integrated backup camera display and power door locks and windows. Both the L and LE have an Entune Multimedia bundle that includes a 6.1-inch touch screen display, AM/FM/CD player, MP3/WMA playback capability, six speakers, auxiliary input jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, hands-fee phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth and Siri Eyes Free.
The SE gets what Toyota calls a "big-car-kind" of audio upgrade with Entune Audio Plus with connected navigation app using a 7-inch high-resolution touch screen.
The LE adds power mirrors, cruise control and steering wheel audio controls. The SE includes LE interior upgrades and sport-fabric trimmed seats with contrast white stitching, piano black interior trim accents and the audio upgrade.
My test car's doors opened wide for easy entry and placement of child seats. The car is rated as a five-seater, but while three adults can sit comfortably, drivers with long legs will wish their seat moved back further. And a tall occupant behind the driver will want a little more knee room. At least the center of the rear seat has a soft cushion. The large, comfortable front sets offers decent side support.
The hatch opens high and wide, but the small cargo area couldn't hold an average week's worth of groceries. However, flipping the 60/40 split rear seat backs forward greatly enhanced cargo space.
The analog and digital instrumentation can be quickly read, and the touch-screen display is simple to use. Climate controls are conveniently handled by large round dashboard dials, although twin cupholders are placed a little low in the front console, where the automatic shift lever sometimes partially blocks them. Rear occupants get a single cupholder placed at floor level at the end of the front console. The interior is generally attractive but has a good amount of hard plastic, which at least is easy to clean.
The four-door model's front doors have storage pockets, and the dual extendable sun visors have (unlit) vanity mirrors.
A clever feature is a wet-arm windshield wiper system that sprays washer fluid from the base of the wiper arm directly into the blade's path for improved cleaning. (Why haven't other automakers thought of this?) All Yaris versions come with a standard rear window wiper.
There are nine air bags, including side curtain shield bags, lane departure alert, and Toyota's Star Safety System, which includes electronic brake force distribution and Smart Stop technology.
The heavy hood is held open by a prop rod, but the important engine oil filler tube is located front and center.
The Yaris has a rigid body structure that makes it feel ready for tough urban driving wars. The SE is especially handy in such combat.