No Wallflower

The 2018 Toyota Yaris SE

August 30, 2017
by David Miller

Images: Peter Bleakney

From the August 2017 print edition

Toyota’s perky little Yaris Hatchback may be the smallest and least expensive car in the Japanese automaker’s stable, but it’s no visual wallflower. The Yaris comes at us with an angry, gaping maw that looks ready to ingest anything in its path. It’s just a ploy. This easy-driving subcompact hatch is more pussycat than junkyard dog, providing economical motoring at a fairly relaxed pace.
Power comes from a 1.5L four-cylinder that makes 106 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque. You won’t be winning any drag races here, but for an inner-city runabout, the Yaris does just fine.

The 2018 Toyota Yaris Hatchback starts at $15,475 for the base CE three-door with a five-speed manual transmission (add $1000 for a four-speed auto). For this, we’re getting a decent amount of standard kit: heated front seats, steering wheel audio controls, back-up camera, 6.1-inch Display Audio, power windows, Bluetooth, nine airbags, and new-for-2018 Toyota Safety Sense C. The latter is a camera/laser-based suite that incorporates three active safety technologies—lane departure warning, automatic high beams and a pre-collision system that warns the driver of a potential collision, and will automatically apply the brakes if the driver does not respond.

While the five-door hatch models start at $16,815 for the LE with air conditioning, cruise, powered-mirrors, keyless entry and five-speed manual, the volume model is the next-up $17,815 LE 4A that adds auto transmission.

The interior design is somewhat pleasing with several soft touch plastic surfaces.

Tested here is the top-trim $19,510 SE 4A that ramps up the proceedings with snazzy 16-inch alloys, six-speaker audio (up from four), leather-wrapped steering and shift knob, fog lamps, projector headlamps with LED running lights, rear spoiler and front sport seats. The only mechanical upgrade for the SE is the adoption of rear wheel disc brakes over the standard drums.
For 2018 the Yaris Hatchback gets slightly revised styling both front and rear, and it must be said, this tester in Absolutely Red actually turned a few heads. Or maybe it was that in-yer-face, er…face.

The Yaris’ interior isn’t ritzy but the design is somewhat pleasing featuring a number of soft touch plastic surfaces, and the sport seats in this SE proved comfortable and supportive.

The standard 6.1-inch touchscreen is bright, logical and easy to use, and the trio of large rotary knobs for climate control are a welcome sight. I was also pleasantly surprised with the sound of the SE’s six-speaker AM/FM/CD/Aux audio with USB. It filled the cabin with a rich, warm and natural sound, which in this class of car could be considered a rarity.

Some might find this hatch’s driving position a bit odd, as the tilt-only steering wheel seems too close to the dash. I did get used to it, and the Yaris’ upright and airy cabin provides good outward visibility. For a subcompact, the Yaris gets top marks for backseat room and comfort. It also does well with cargo space, thanks to the wide hatch opening, 60/40 splits seats and an almost-flat load floor when the seats are folded.

The Yaris does well for cargo space, thanks to a wide hatch opening.

The front-drive powertrain in the Yaris Hatchback has been soldiering on for a while, and its fancy-named 4-Speed Automatic Super Electronically Controlled Transmission harks from another automotive era. Yes, the Nissan Micra uses a four-speed auto too, but these gearboxes down a cog or two from just about every other competitor.

That said, for zipping around town, the Yaris with four-speed auto works just fine. It has a perky step-off and it nips and tucks its way through the urban jungle like a pro. When looking for real acceleration on the highway, however, the big steps between gears has the little four-cylinder soaring into its not-so-sweet-spot. Anything above 3500rpm gets thrashy. With the right foot firmly planted, the Yaris can make more noise than progress, yet once up to speed on the highway the cabin is surprisingly serene thanks to Toyota’s targeted sound insulation.

Official fuel economy numbers for the Yaris Hatchback with four-speed auto are 7.8L/100km city, 6.6 city and 7.3 combined. My test week ended up at 7.1L/100km.

It’s interesting to note the Yaris HB is built in France, and it sees input from Toyota’s European operations. The styling and suspension upgrades are coming from European engineers, and as we know, this part of the world takes its B-segment cars (subcompacts to us) very seriously.

The Yaris gets top marks for backseat room and comfort.

As such, this wee hatch shows considerable dynamic poise on the road. The structure feels solid and it courses through bends with precision and confidence. For a little car, the ride is quite grown up, and the electric steering is quick and accurate too.

All this plays into that classic Toyota easy-driving signature that makes this automaker’s wares so popular with those looking for no-fuss A-to-B transport. The 2018 Yaris Hatchback, especially in top SE trim, asks little of it pilot or passengers. It does everything in a smooth, efficient, comfortable and, well… wholly inoffensive way, and for those who will be spending long hours in the saddle, these are welcomed attributes. Roll Toyota’s expected reliability into the mix, and the Yaris Hatchback, although aging, presents a strong argument.

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