The Yaris media car was dropped off at my house. As I walked up to it the next day my upbeat mood soon changed. On this grey, cloudy day, the dark grey Yaris made it all the more sombre. Getting inside and sitting down it was all light and dark grey plastic and vinyl. Why would someone buy a car in such a depressing colour? I wondered to myself.
After starting the car and adjusting the seats, steering column and setting up my cellphone for hands-free use, I pulled away from the curb. That's when my attitude changed. The five-door hatchback LE is not a performance car. Only a 1.5 litre four cylinder resides under the hood putting out 106 horsepower. That doesn't sound like a lot of ponies but in a light body acceleration was brisk, not at all what I was expecting.
Other cars in this class have more horsepower. I think the Yaris does well with what it has and 103 lb.-ft of torque. A buyer has a choice of five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic with overdrive. My car had the automatic and it was a good match to the engine but a little noisy at high speed. A five- or six-speed automatic would help lower fuel consumption and drop engine noise a little at highway speed. Other cars in this class offer six-speed automatic trannys.
Toyota says for 2015, the Yaris features a more rigid body structure, improved steering feel and upgraded suspension systems for a more comfortable ride and better control. In my hands, the Yaris felt nimble and was fun to drive around the city as it's easy to manoeuvre.
Some aerodynamic tweaks have also been done to cut down on noise and vibration. If I were to buy a Yaris, undercoating the underside would be a priority, as would a set of aftermarket wheels and summer tires. Road noise from the standard, all-season tires is perhaps nitpicking. But I'm sure upgrading to a softer tire would be a way to mitigate the road rumble that makes its way into the passenger cabin.
Inside, the 2015 Yaris features a new design that Toyota says emphasizes the “roominess and dynamism of a cabin with space for five adults.” I say it's an improvement as the upper instrument panel is now thinner and the door panels have a more fluid appearance. The interior features numerous materials upgrades including more tactile soft-touch surfaces, satin chrome trim and new seat fabrics. Even so, the grey plastic really cheapens the interior finish. Put some colour in here Toyota!
As a person six feet in height, the interior was plenty roomy for me on all sides. Large windows provided good visibility all around. A telescoping steering wheel would have been a good feature. I have long arms and setting the steering wheel away from me would have been a little more comfortable. Of course the 60/40 rear seat folds down. Although not as flat as I would like. Some automakers do that better than others.
Instrumentation is basic although this year's model now features a 6.1” display audio system with Bluetooth and USB capability. Setting up my cellphone to link with the car is a breeze as it always is in Toyota vehicles.
On the outside Yaris features a stronger look on the front with a new front bumper. At the rear, the bumper and taillights have been revised to convey a broader, lower stance. Each model; has its own unique styling cues and is offered in a range of colours including two new colours for 2015.
There are three flavours of Yaris:
• The sporty five-door Yaris SE with new grille, piano black door beltline mouldings, projector-style headlamps, chrome inner door handles and Toyota's 6.1” display audio system, leather covered steering wheel and sporty seats. The MSRP has dropped now starting at $17,665.
• The five-door Yaris LE which I drove comes with a good amount of standard comfort and convenience features including air conditioning. The 6.1” display audio system is a new addition for this model. Base price is just $15,965. An automatic transmission is a $1,000 option.
• The three-door Yaris CE is really basic but now offers power windows, power locks, the 6.1” display audio system and chrome inner door handles as standard, plus an attractive starting price of just $14,545.
While the Yaris is an entry-level car Toyota has not held back on offering the latest safety features. There are nine airbags and child seat anchors. As with every Toyota since 2011, the Yaris also has Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, an Antilock Brake system, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop technology.
The Yaris is a very good car for a young person out of post-secondary school headed for a career or the right transportation for a young couple on a budget who want years of trouble free motoring. I would hope such people would select a colour other than grey, silver or black.
Garry Melnyk is a St. Albert resident and lifelong car buff who has written about new cars and trucks for radio and print publications since the seventies.