In recent weeks, we’ve driven two very different subcompact cars with the same name — the Toyota Yaris. The first Yaris, the iA, was a Scion sedan that remained in production after Toyota discontinued its entry-level brand. The second Yaris was the hatchback model Toyota had been selling in the U.S. market for more than 15 years — initially as the Echo.
The lowest-priced 2017 Yaris iA costs upward of $700 more than the Yaris L. The iA, derived from the Mazda2 — a model no longer sold in the United States — also is more fuel-efficient, better equipped and more athletic. But we couldn’t help but be impressed with the little Yaris L hatchback’s cargo capacity. It easily swallowed a 36-inch framed interior door, purchased new at a big-box store — a feat we doubt the iA sedan could have pulled off. For the price, the diminutive Yaris also handles chores close to home with ease. While we wouldn’t want to make a habit of driving it on the highway for long stretches, owing to its awkward handling and moderate-to-high noise level, it managed to cruise fairly effortlessly at 80 mph.
The silver Yaris L we test-drove was about as basic as they come these days. Powered by a 106-horsepower inline Four, it sported an antiquated 4-speed automatic transmission; AM-FM radio with Toyota’s Entune infotainment and hands-free phone system; power windows and locks; air conditioning; and not much more. Noteworthy for their absence (and, for the most part, unavailability) were cruise control and remote keyless entry. Our Yaris was rated at 30 mpg city, 35 highway, well below the iA, with its 6-speed automatic gearbox.
The Yaris comes in 3-door and 5-door hatchback configurations. The rear seatbacks drop forward with ease, but the front seats must be moved forward to make room for the rear seatbacks’ headrests.
The competition remains stiff in the subcompact sector, despite low gasoline prices and American drivers’ preference for larger vehicles. Among the leaders are the Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Honda Fit.
Here’s what we liked about the Yaris: its small size and good visibility, which made it easy to maneuver in narrow streets and parking lots; its driving position, which was relatively high and roomy enough for a 6-foot driver; and the ease of access and egress.
We also learned that it’s a safe car, despite its light weight (2,335 pounds) and small dimensions. Aside from a “Marginal” score in the small-overlap test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it was received the top rating of “Good” in every crash-test category. The Yaris 5-door earned 4-star ratings overall in government crash tests, and a 5-star rating for side impacts. All 2017 Yaris models come with Toyota’s Safety Sense package, which includes a pre-collision braking system, lane-departure alert and automatic high beams — features not usually found in vehicles in the Yaris’ price range.
2017 Toyota Yaris L
Engine: 1.5-liter inline Four, 106 horsepower, 103 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
Curb weight: 2,335 lb.
Wheels: 15-in. steel with full wheel covers
Tires: P175/65R15 H all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 15.6 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 11.1 gal.
Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 35 highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.