There’s just something oddly special about subcompact run-abouts that intrigue me. Perhaps it’s the small size and nimbleness that comes along with it, or maybe it’s the whole value proposition idea. Or maybe it’s just how wildly juxtaposed they are from some of the high-dollar machinery that often graces my driveway. Maybe it’s all three.

Well, I recently spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel of a 2015 YarisToyota’s version of the entry-level sub-compact hatchback. Between the normal running around town and hauling the family to hurtling down the interstate for a weekend-long concert I was somehow running late for, I guess you could say I gave the Yaris a pretty fair shake.

The Yaris may come in a three-door version, but the five-door is the more practical choice for young families or a college car. That’s how my tester came; decked out, in fact, in the Yaris’ top SE trim. Two-tone 16-inch alloy wheels, projector-beam headlights, and fog lights with chrome accents dress up the hatchback into something your high school friends wouldn’t have laughed at.

So how’s the Yaris to live with? Glad you asked. Let’s jump into the details down below.

Continue reading for the full driven review.

  • 2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    Four-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    106 @ 6000
  • MPG(Cty):
    30
  • MPG(Hwy):
    36
  • Torque @ RPM:
    103 @ 4200
  • Displacement:
    1.5 L
  • 0-60 time:
    11 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    105 mph (Est.)
  • Layout:
    front engine, FWD
  • 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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Is that a Fu Manchu in the grille?

The Yaris is strangely handsome, especially in its range-topping SE trim. The 16-inch alloy wheels look decidedly up market, as do the headlights that incorporate the grille design and carry it into the front fender. The car’s tall greenhouse means the windshield and side windows are delightfully large. Even rear visibility is fantastic.

A center-mounted reverse light helps give the Yaris’ hind-end a more sporty look, as does the forward-slanting taillights. Generous approach and departure angles keep the bodywork from hard from curbs sloping driveways.

One aspect of the Yaris’ design that I cannot unsee is its Fu Manchu front grille. See it? Well, you’ll never be able to see the car the same way again. Sorry about that.

Interior

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Interior
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2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Interior
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2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Interior
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Practicality is the name of the game here. The Yaris provides a no-nonsense approach to its design, materials, and versatility. The dashboard offers little frills and craziness – just a simple layout with easy-to-use controls and two small storage bins on the passenger side. The grey, soft-touch plastic offers a somewhat upscale feel to an otherwise hard plastic cabin.

The Yaris provides a no-nonsense approach to its design, materials, and versatility

Ergonomics up front work well enough for a car at this price point, but does leave a lot to be designed on long trips. There is no center armrest, the cup holders are too small and too few in number, and the infotainment system is very clunky to operate. It’s the same head unit found in other Toyota and Scion products, but its slow response to touch inputs and lack of tone adjustments leaves much to be desired.

However, the Yaris does a great job at being a five-door hatchback. Rear seat room is decent with comfortable seats and legroom for all but the tallest of adults. Fold the rear seats down, and the already sizable cargo area opens up. Pack well enough, and you might be able to get an entire dorm room’s worth of stuff in there.

Power windows and power adjustable mirrors are the only electronically operated creature comforts found inside. Manually folding seat adjustments work just fine, though and save on complexity and cost. The radio does come with steering wheel-mounted controls and cruise control is present.

Drivetrain

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Drivetrain
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Motivating the Yaris is a modest 1.5-liter four-cylinder. The naturally aspirated engine makes 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of toque and is mated to either the standard five-speed manual or the optional four-speed automatic. No CVT offered here. My tester came with the four-speed.

The Yaris is one of those slow cars that begs to be driven fast

Those power levels aren’t outstanding in anyone’s book, but somehow the Yaris feels peppier than it ought. That’s surely due to its 2,335-pound curb weight. What’s more, the horsepower doesn’t peak until 6,000 rpm, making the hatchback scream for all its worth during hard acceleration. That, combined with an honest automatic transmission with actual gears, makes the Yaris a hoot to drive.

Fuel economy is rather impressive thanks to its low curb weight and conservative engine. The EPA rates my tester at 30 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined. Imagine what a six-speed automatic would do for this car.

Driving Impressions

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Like I mentioned earlier, the Yaris is a hoot to drive. Of course, no one will mistake it for a hot hatch with a performance package bolted on. Even still, this standard hatchback provides plenty of rewarding feelings during the drive. The steering feels direct and the skinny 195/50-series tires do a great job at communicating road fell into the car. The brakes work very well, pulling the car to a stop with surprising authority. Understeer is a problem, but only when pushed hard.

The Yaris is a hoot to drive

Acceleration is where things get dicey. Freeway passing must be planned well in advance. However, once up to speed, the Yaris does a great job of maintaining its momentum. Cruising at 75 mph is no big deal, though NVH starts becoming an issue. Speaking of which, the Yaris is loud. Road imperfections, engine noise, and other vehicles can be heard with surprising clarity. Sound deadening would go a long way into making the car even more comfortable.

Regardless, the Yaris makes for a great driving little car in its own unique way.

Safety

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the Yaris at four stars overall. However, it earns five stars for the driver side during a frontal crash and both front seats during a side impact crash.

Nine standard airbags, stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, and several other features work to keep occupants safe.

Price

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Much of the Yaris’ appeal is its low price tag, but don’t confuse it with a penalty box of an economy car. The Yaris is actually fun to drive. Anyway, pricing for the three-door model starts at $14,845. Opt for the five-door version, and the price increases to $15,945. My tester with its SE trim package, starts at $17,620.

One option was selected: floor mats for $180. Tack on the $825 destination charge, and the final MSRP comes to $18,625.

Competition

Scion iA

2016 Scion iA High Resolution
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New on the market for 2015, Toyota’s own Scion iA takes a shot at the Yaris’ market. Targeted at younger buyers, the iA offers plenty of creature comforts, outstanding ergonomics, and a great driving feel – all at a smart price. Much of the credit for the iA belongs to Mazda since the four-door sedan is basically a rebadged Mazda 2.

Still, if you’re looking for an economical car and don’t want a hatchback, the iA is worth looking at. It carries a starting price of $16,495 and tops out under $18,000. That’s hard to beat.

Read more about the Scion iA here.

Ford Fiesta

2014 Ford Fiesta Exterior
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Dearborn’s answer to the Yaris is the Fiesta. Offered both as a sedan and five-door hatch, the Fiesta is a solid choice in the segment that offers plenty of interior room, loads of tech features, and impressive fit and finish. Fiesta customers can opt for a wide range of trim and powertrain levels, as well. Ford offers everything from a three-cylinder to the 197-horsepower Fiesta ST.

Prices start at $14,090 for the sedan and $14,390 for the hatchback. If driving is important to you, the ST is the one to get. It starts at $20,970.

Read more about the Ford Fiesta here.

Conclusion

2015 Toyota Yaris - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The Yaris is a surprising little hatchback that looks good, drives well enough, and offers plenty of room for people and their stuff. Shortcomings are present, especially in interior refinements and creature comforts, but that’s to be expected from a sub-$20,000 hatch.

And for me, that’s the appeal. The Yaris is a no-nonsense ride that offers reliable transportation from A to B without a fuss. It’s simple, smartly designed, and cheap. Its fuel economy further solidifies its budget-friendly design while nice features like Bluetooth, projector beam headlights, power windows, and alloy wheels make the Yaris – at least in its SE trim – feel like a bargain.

In a world full of expensive cars and trucks with turbos, massive navigation screens, power-operated butt massagers, electronic parking brakes, and other non-essential gadgets, the Yaris is a breath of fresh air.

  • Leave it
    • * Noisy
    • * Lackadaisical acceleration
    • * Craves a six-speed automatic
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