By Brendan McAleer
We all know what’s happened of course. Toyota’s design team has been glancing longingly across the hall at the Lexus studios. Here’s the thing Toyota: because Lexus stuffs monstrous V8s behind their gaping grills, they can back up the Battlestar Galactica look. What you’ve done here is taken a friendly little eco-friendly, angel of a car and given it the face of an angry beast.
We don’t need a Toyota Yaris that looks like it was designed to make mincemeat out of pedestrians.
Normally I wouldn’t bang on about styling so much – just look at the pictures and make up your own mind – but this sort of thing has to stop. Just stop. I give up. Our cars don’t all have to be so aggressive all the time.
It’s a great shame really, as the Yaris is otherwise quite a likeable little tyke. Unremarkable it may be, but it’s quite pleasant. This being the base LE five-door model, we have 15-inch wheel caps, all the door handles and the mirror caps are body-coloured, and the splash guards are all there. Basically, as the Toyota ad used to go, it’s a car. There isn’t anything missing or cheap-feeling.
The same can also be said about the interior, which is actually quite pleasant for such an inexpensive car. The dash has a nice soft-touch material with plenty of useful cubbies, and the seats are pleasantly comfortable. The front end evokes fear, while the interior gives off a calming vibe.
Passenger space is really quite good, front and rear. Cargo-carrying capacity, on the other hand, is not great and when compared to something like a Honda Fit, not quite competitive. It you pop up the floor tray you’ll see why – the spare tire is sitting at an angle, using up precious load height. If you regularly carry plenty of stuff in your trunk you don’t use often (chains, jumper cables, lubricants etc.), then perhaps this isn’t such a big deal. It you’re trying to get three friends to the airport, then they’ll have to carry their luggage on their laps.
Up front, the driver settles into a slightly unusual driving position. Because the steering wheels tilts, but doesn’t telescope, one assumes the straight-armed posture required by a truck driver. Okay, so it’s not quite that bad, but the Yaris feels like it would suit a driver shorter than my 5’11”, preferably a young lady. Headroom, however, is excellent, and there’s height adjustability as standard.
The dash layout is tweaked, but the basics are still all here. These include nicely chunky dials for the HVAC controls, standard cruise control (five door only), power windows, and power door locks. The touchscreen interface is a 6.1-inch display that’s easy to navigate, and the Yaris comes standard with USB plug-in located just above the cup-holders, with a smartphone-sized bin right where it’s needed. There are cheaper cars out there missing some of these essentials, and while you’d have to move up to an LX model in the Honda Fit to get the USB port, it’s worth reiterating that this is the most-basic five-door Yaris. It has everything you could possibly need, right out of the box.
Underneath that truncated hood is the reason for that gaping grille, a 750 hp, 27.7L Pratt & Whitney nine-cylinder radial engine out of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. No, just kidding. The front cooling on the Yaris is almost entirely none existent, and the motor is a 1.5L four-banger pumping out a modest 106 hp at 6,000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The choice of transmissions is either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.
The chassis on the 2015 Yaris is slightly stiffer, thanks to some extra welding points, and with a total curb weight of just 1,050 kg. This little car is light on its feet, but still comfortable over the rough stuff.
It has to be said, that it’s pretty slow, but if you push those 175-series all-season tires, there’s plenty of grip on offer. The electric power-steering, like pretty much every system out there, offers not much in feel, so you drive the car by the seat of your pants. A manual version in the SE trim with a bit stiffer suspension would likely be an interesting little machine to fling down a back road, even if the powertrain would complain a bit on the hillier sections.
Obviously the engine isn’t the most-refined power-plant to ever leave the Toyota factory, especially when paired to the humdrum four-speed automatic, but this little car is remarkable in a few other ways. Get it out on the highway at a steady speed, and it’s surprisingly stable, and really very quiet. As a commuter vehicle, it’d do very well – it’s comfortable, and relatively roomy, and even the wind noise is not too bad.
Even if the Yaris has only four-speeds to work with, the gearing is tuned well for moderate-speed cruising. The fuel gauge needle clings to the F as if it was painted on. Official figures are rated at 7.8 L/100 km in the city and 6.6 L/100 km on the highway, and while these are relatively unremarkable figures, the Yaris hits them without difficulty.
Efficient, comfortable, intelligently packaged with regards to equipment – wrap these Toyota standbys around a powertrain that’s simple and durable enough to last through a succession of maintenance-averse owners and you’ve seemingly got a winner. It’s not as clever as the Fit or as cheap as the Micra, but the Yaris has a certain sensible charm.
And then they’ve gone and given it the mug of a robotic catfish. If you can get past the grille, there’s goodness here. If you can’t, well, I can hardly blame you.
Pricing: 2015 Toyota Yaris
Base Price (LE 5-door): $15,965
Options: $1,000 (Four speed automatic transmission)