The Yaris is Toyota’s smallest and cheapest offering here in the United States, and it has long been a favorite of urbanites and college kids. With strong opposition coming from the Nissan Versa, the Chevy Sonic and an updated Ford Fiesta, Toyota decided that for 2015 the tiny hatchback would be getting a full visual refresh inside and out and to keep it interesting and desirable for buyers until the new car arrives in a few years.

Toyota wrapped the whole front in a new and interesting fascia that is closer to the family lineup, added more sound dampening materials to decrease NVH, and equipped every car with a new Entune stereo system. Our very own Mark spent a few days earlier in the year at the official press launch and came away impressed, but now it’s time for the real test. I have the new 2015 Yaris sitting in my driveway away from the glitz, glamour and watchful PR eyes of the press event. I have a full week on my local roads to give the new car a thorough test.

Are the upgrades enough to keep the car interesting in an increasingly competitive market? Read on to find out.

Continue reading to find out more about the 2015 Toyota Yaris

  • 2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    106
  • MPG(Cty):
    30
  • MPG(Hwy):
    36
  • Torque @ RPM:
    103
  • Displacement:
    1.5 L
  • 0-60 time:
    9.0 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    110 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    17620
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The new flat nose gives the Yaris a more squat appearance when viewed from the side.

The outside of the Yaris is mostly new for 2015 thanks to the new refresh. The new nose is angry and wild with a two-tone color scheme that uses lots of black in a dominating new “X” pattern from the grill downward. I am not entirely sure it is what I would call a “pretty” car, but it certainly looks interesting and different; that is something I always appreciate.

The new flat nose gives the Yaris a more squat appearance when viewed from the side. The wheels are stretched to each end of the car, making it look a little longer and lower, and the slowly sloping roofline gives it a feeling of speed. The alloy wheels on our tester also look great with their two-tone color design and funky spoke shape.

To the rear of the new Yaris you will find a small hatch spoiler that cuts drag, a small squared rear bumper and an interesting backup light that is integrated into what looks like a rear diffuser. It sits low and is very wide, giving it a similar design feel to the lower reflectors on the Scion FR-S. The most boring part of the whole exterior is the bland rear lights that look like they came from the 1980s with their massive amber lower sections.

Interior

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven Interior
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2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven Interior
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2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven Interior
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The door panels have large storage pockets, the glove box is pretty large, and above the glove box there is a pair of small cubbies perfect for things like pens.

The inside of the Yaris is far from luxurious, but it is smartly laid out, and there are some great features in regards to comfort and quality materials. The dash is split into three sections with a large black slab of plastic on the top and the bottom, separated by a huge flat plane of gray in the middle. This grey material is not hard plastic, but rather it is a padded piece that feels better to the touch than expected. With all of the main infotainment controls mounted to a screen that is placed in the center of this large padded piece, your hand will rarely graze a cheap feeling trim piece during normal use.

Even the seats are nicer than expected with an interesting looking stitching pattern, ample bolstering and a nice contrasting thread that trims the outside edges. When the door shuts it does sound substantial for a car in the price point, and Toyota is quick to point out that it has upped the levels of sound dampening materials to improve things like NVH. The doors themselves have the same gray padding near the armrest, but the majority of the panel is plastic.

In a nod to its position as a practical car, the interior of the Yaris is very open and airy, and there are plenty of storage options. The door panels have large storage pockets, the glove box is pretty large, and above the glove box there is a pair of small cubbies perfect for things like pens. Of course there is a solid collection of cup holders for passengers. On the cargo capacity side of things, the Yaris fares a bit worse than some of its competition. The rear trunk is on the small side due to Toyota’s focus on passenger space, but the rear seats fold to open things up for more cargo.

Powertrain

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven Drivetrain
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The side effect of having such a small engine should be apparent on the fuel economy side.

Under the hood of the 2015 Yaris you will find the same familiar 1.5-liter engine that powered the last model. Horsepower sits at just 106 ponies with torque coming in at 103 pound-feet. While Toyota will sell you a Yaris with a clutch pedal and five forward gears, our tester was saddled with the ancient four-speed automatic. If you want to know why journalists hate slush-boxes, this is a pretty great example.

The gears are widely spaced so you are revving much higher than you expect in normal city driving, and response is slow, especially on the downshift for things like passing maneuvers.

The side effect of having such a small engine should be apparent on the fuel economy side, but the rating isn’t all that great for a car of this class though with EPA-estimated mpg ratings of 30 city, 36 highway and 32 combined. During my testing I ended up right at that 32-mpg mark, but I felt that my driving was a bit more skewed toward highway.

Price

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The starting price for a five-door SE model Yaris like our tester is $16,820 for a five-speed. Getting the automatic bumps the price up by $800 to $17,620. Ours came with no options to push that price higher, but after destination charges we still ended up with a final price of $18,445. Not a bargain for the class, but not an outrageous amount of money either.

Driving Impressions


The only thing that most competitors can’t match is the Yaris’ nine standard airbags.

Driving the new 2015 Yaris is an interesting experience. The car is fun and flingable in all the right ways, like a subcompact should be, but vague steering and that wonky transmission conspire against you when you are trying to have fun. Then there comes the worry with competition. In a vacuum, the Yaris is a perfectly capable compact car that is great for urbanites, college kids, and anyone looking for a cheap runabout. In the real world though, the Yaris offers absolutely no standout features over any of its rivals other than a Toyota badge on its nose.

Acceleration is acceptable, but not as fast as the Chevrolet Sonic. Steering feel is worse than the Ford Fiesta EcoBoost. Interior cargo space is less than a Nissan Versa Note. The list goes on. I enjoyed driving the little Yaris a lot, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that almost every other car in its segment is a better option in terms of fuel economy, horsepower, handling abilities, space or equipment. The only thing that most competitors can’t match is the Yaris’ nine standard airbags.

If Toyota would give the Yaris just 10 more horsepower, a tighter steering rack and a better brake feel, this would be one heck of a great thing to drive. It just lacks that little something extra.

Competition

Ford Fiesta

2014 Ford Fiesta High Resolution Exterior
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The Ford Fiesta is easily one of the most interesting and appealing cars in the subcompact segment. Thanks to available features like MyFord Touch, the Fiesta has some of the best equipment, the car is sold with a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, there are three engine options, and the most fuel efficient model comes with an EPA highway rating of 43 mpg. Lets not forget about the crazy Ford Fiesta ST with its nearly 200-horsepower engine and six-speed manual for the performance buyer. On the price spectrum you can get a Fiesta hatch for as little as $14,365, with the sedan model coming in a few hundred dollars cheaper still.

The Fiesta also takes the cake in performance across the board with the least powerful motor, the base 1.6-liter, producing 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. The fuel-sipping, 43-mpg, 1.0-liter EcoBoost is even more powerful with 123 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of twist.

Nissan Versa Note

2014 Nissan Versa Note Review - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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If you want a car that is more closely matched to the Yaris in terms of power and performance the Versa Note is a solid fit. With a 1.6-liter motor producing 109 horsepower, the Versa Note only holds a three-horsepower advantage over the Toyota. Both cars also come with a five-inch display in the dash to handle radio functions, and both cars have large, open interiors.

That is where the similarities end though. The Versa has more interior space for passengers, more cargo space, and with standard features like a backup camera, it is better equipped. Thanks to its CVT transmission the Versa snags a much higher 40 mpg highway rating from the EPA, and with a starting price of just $14,180 is cheaper than any Yaris available in three or five-door configurations.

Conclusion

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The 2015 Toyota Yaris is a step in the right direction, but in such a competitive market the updates just fall a little flat. On its own, the Yaris is a great compact car with plenty of smart features, solid fuel economy, and acceptable performance. When compared to the massive collection of subcompacts for sale in the U.S. today, the little Toyota loses some of its luster. The Yaris is still a great car, and if you prefer seeing a Toyota emblem on your key fob, I can see why you would drive one home. For me though, I will head for something a little faster, a little roomier, or a little better equipped.

  • Leave it
    • Underpowered engine
    • Ancient four-speed automatic transmission
    • No real standout features compared to competition
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