The 2019 Toyota Yaris XLE’s price tag hadn’t really come into my mind until we passed a Ferrari F12. There it was, cruising well below the speed limit on 95 South in the right lane while we were booking it in the far left lane. Here we were, in a car that costs short of $20,000 (even in the top-level XLE trim we were in), passing a supercar that is well above the average price of a house in the U.S. After that encounter, I had a lingering question in my mind for the rest of my time with the Yaris: Is a car really worth 18 times more than another?
To me, that answer is an obvious no. To others, that may not be the case. Going a step further, I don’t think there are a lot of cars out there that are worth two or three times more than the Yaris either, because it punches way above its weight. And if it weren’t for a few issues and everyone’s love affair for SUVs, this would be the vehicle that I would recommend for any urbanite, new-car buyer on a budget, or someone that works for one of the major ride-sharing companies.
Now we should make this apparent, but Toyota sells two Yaris models. One is a hatchback that’s a pure Toyota and the other is the sedan, which we review here, that’s actually a Mazda. The Yaris sedan has an engine from Mazda, a chassis from Mazda, a Mazda interior, and is built by Mazda in Mexico. That’s always been the case for the sedan variant, which originally belonged to Scion under the iA name. This distinction makes things a little messy for the Yaris, but the sedan is the much better vehicle.
Mazda is known for making some of the prettier, mainstream vehicles on the market and Toyota, well, isn’t. Striking, sure, but elegant? No. The Yaris manages to blend cues from Toyota, Scion and Mazda to be a funky, handsome little thing. The fish face is a little odd, but the rest of the sedan, especially the rear end, is like a miniature version of the old Mazda3 sedan.
The range-topping Yaris XLE that we drove is the sportiest of the bunch, with things like LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, a rear spoiler, 16-inch dark gray alloy wheels, and fog lights. There’s nothing here to make an enthusiast excited, but it’s a nice way to add some flair to the most expensive trim without straying too far from the others.
For a sub $20,000 subcompact car, the Yaris doesn’t look or feel cheap. That’s probably due to Mazda’s designers, which, once again, continually bring some of the most aesthetically pleasing interior designs to the market. The clean dashboard that features circular vents is quintessentially Mazda, while the 7-inch touchscreen is straight from the brand, too. The infotainment system is also Mazda’s, which is a good thing, because it’s simple to use and easy to get used to. It’s noticeably better than Toyota’s latest Entune system.
While the Yaris looks like a much classier car on the inside, it can’t compete with them when it comes to features. Heated seats aren’t available, automatic climate control is only available on the range-topping XLE trim, and leatherette is the nicer upholstery. The most glaring omission is the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The lack of features won’t bother everyone, but the Yaris’ rival, the Honda Fit, does offer a lot of these features.
The other issue is passenger space in the back. While our 50-pound pit bull was more than content on drives, sliding behind the driver’s seat with it in my position revealed that my knees were rubbing against the back of the seat. For the average human, sitting in the back of the Yaris won’t be comfortable for more than 20 minutes.
Indicative of its size, the trunk is tiny, too. While we were able to accommodate our dog’s crate, bed, food, and a small bag full of other necessities, it’s not exactly spacious with just 13.5 cubic feet of available cargo space.
With Mazda’s chassis underneath, the Yaris is truly an enjoyable vehicle to fling around tight corners. The suspension, which is on the firmer side of things, shines on a curvy road, and there’s decent feedback coming through the steering wheel. With vehicles continuing to grow at a rapid space, the Yaris’ tiny footprint makes it even more enjoyable on a good road.
Normal driving, unfortunately, isn’t as much fun. The Yaris is powered by a Mazda-derived 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The motor pumps out a modest 106 horsepower, which means you’re looking at a 9-second time to sprint to 60 mph. Despite the Yaris’ miniature size, the sedan is achingly slow. The six-speed automatic isn’t very quick to rifle off shifts, either, which highlights the issue. A six-speed manual is available, and that’s the gearbox we’d go with.
Around town and in a city, the Yaris’ power really isn’t an issue. You’ll be too busy darting around traffic to notice the woefully slow engine. Getting up to speed on a highway, on the other hand, is something of a white-knuckled event. If you find yourself on a highway on a windy day, the Yaris will be pushed around like a ragdoll. A fair amount of wind and road noise makes its way into the cabin at higher speeds, too. So if you’re looking for something as a long-distance cruiser, the subcompact sedan might not be the best option.
What the powertrain does really well is get good fuel economy. The sedan has an EPA rating of 32 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway, and 35 mpg combined. Those are great figures for the segment.
Gas won’t continue to be this cheap forever. There will be a tipping point when it reaches crazy prices again. And when it does, consumers will be cursing under their breath for not going with a subcompact vehicle like a Yaris. But the Yaris, at least in its sedan form, is so much more than just an efficient car.
The Yaris is really fun to drive, the ideal size for urbanites that need something small that’s easy to park, and an incredible value when it comes to what you get for your money. After driving one, there are a bunch of consumers that would benefit from owning a Yaris, but you have to be looking for something small.
All Toyota, or Mazda, needs to do, is add some more power, high-tech safety features, and minor creature comforts to make the Yaris perfect starter car. At the moment, it’s one of the best vehicles on the market for consumers looking for a no-frills type of transportation. Adding a few more things into the mix, even if it comes at an added cost, will make it an unbeatable bargain.