The Peugeot RCZ, the Citroen DS3 Racing and the Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R are three impressive French cars that I would be thrilled to see sold in North America, but that won’t happen. Instead we get the Toyota Yaris.
|Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 106-hp and 103 lb.-ft. of torque Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic Fuel economy: 30 MPG City, 36 MPG Highway 32 MPG combined Price: Starts at $15,670, As tested: $17,705|
Yes, you read that correctly because the Yaris is built in France and shipped here. For 2015, it gets a number of upgrades and tweaks to keep it fresh. Toyota says the Yaris is meant to be more than purely functional transportation.
Where’s the new Yaris?
The biggest change to the Yaris is its exterior. New bumpers at the front and rear give it a sportier look compared to the previous model year. The front looks like the car is wearing a wrestler’s mask, foreshadowing the Yaris’ future. While the current car is made in France, the next generation model will actually be made in Mexico by Mazda. For now though, this 2015 model easily the most aggressive the Yaris has ever looked.
Sadly that aggression is only skin deep because the powertrain is almost unchanged. That means you get a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic.
That’s right, while Toyota’s competition moves to continuously variable transmissions that offer improved efficiency, the Yaris can still be equipped with an ancient four-speed auto. Still, weighing in at 2,335 lbs., the automatic Yaris is a lightweight and just 20 lbs. heavier than the manual model. Power is up to 106 hp at 6,000 RPM and 103 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 RPM.
Official estimates peg the Yaris at an average 32 MPG. During a week of mostly heavy city driving, the car returned 28 MPG. Throttle and transmission responsiveness is surprisingly good. The Yaris reacts quickly to your right foot, although it runs out of breath quickly. Highway passes are challenging and require the little engine to give all it can, which brings its own set of problems. Any time it spins faster than 3,000 RPM the buzz of the overworked small four-banger is hard to ignore.
For a car that says it’s unlike the stripped down experience of others in its segment, the Yaris is disappointingly noisy to drive even with the upgraded aerodynamics and additional sound deadening Toyota touts.
Stiffer Steel, Superb Steering
But it isn’t all bad because the Yaris is pleasantly responsive and easy to maneuver. It isn’t fair to call it sporty, but at least it’s entertaining to drive. The suspension is re-worked and Toyota opted to make the car less prone to body roll while maintaining a fairly soft ride over bumps. Steering is wonderfully tactile with a nicely defined feel.
In the city, the car is peppy and nimble at low speeds. It’s easy to navigate through traffic and a breeze to park thanks to a tight turning radius and good visibility. Keep in mind that the turning radius increases with larger wheels. That’s important because the base model uses 15-inch steel wheels and the LE model gets 15-inch alloys while SE-trimmed cars get 16-inch aluminum wheels that will make it harder to pull tight U-turns.
Interior and Pricing
Finally, the 2015 Yaris gets a refreshed interior. The car looks very much like the previous years, but it feels better because the dashboard is made of a soft touch material. SE models also get piano black trim accents along with leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
The seats use a rough feeling cloth material and ferrying passengers around is an intimate experience, especially for those in the rear seats who will likely be rubbing knees. Cargo space is 15.6 cubic feet, which is less than what’s available in Mitsubishi Mirage and Nissan Versa Note.
Standard features are sparse, but the car includes air conditioning while cruise control and fog-lights cost more. Heated seats would be nice, as would a sunroof, but Toyota misses the mark with available options.
All models get a touchscreen audio system that looks good, but performs poorly. The virtual buttons are small and hard to hit while driving. Additionally an unrelenting rattle kept coming from where the head unit was mounted.
Three-door base models come in at $15,670 while our five-door LE model priced in at just $17,705. Top-spec SE models come in at $18,445. For perspective, a fully loaded Hyundai Accent SE features a sunroof, automatic headlights, more cargo space and more power for $19,105.
Were it not for Toyota’s generally Sterling track record for reliability, it would be hard to see the value in buying a 2015 Yaris. Even still, its lack of features and pokey highway acceleration would be enough to make us buy something else.