We do wish that we were talking about the GR Yaris (for Gazoo Racing). Yes the fire breathing all-wheel-drive WRC homologation special with limited-slip differentials, a 268-hp turbocharged inline-three, and a carbon-fiber roof, essentially a street version of the Yaris rally car that competes in the FIA World Rally Championship. However this limited-production model is not coming to the United States. Instead we are looking at the one you can buy here, the 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback XLE and the Yaris offers a lot more than you might expect. The Yaris is one of the smallest and least expensive vehicles in Toyota‘s lineup, but it doesn’t feel like anything else in the automaker’s lineup.
While the Yaris hatchback sold in other markets is a fresh, in-house design built on Toyota‘s TNGA platform, this U.S. model is a re-badged Mexican-built Mazda 2, which also underpins the Yaris sedan that dates back to 2016, when it was called the Scion iA. It may sound like a bit of an identity crisis, but the final product is a polished and fun (if slightly under powered) subcompact that certainly offers a lot for relatively little.
Front-wheel drive is standard and the range is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder. This engine generates 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. That’s not a lot of power, even for a 2,400-pound car like this one. Although it takes a while to reach highway speeds, the Yaris feels zippy enough once you’re going. The Yaris’s six-speed automatic is usually in the right gear, and the power-train cleanly matches revs when you manually ask for a downshift. Unfortunately, there aren’t any paddle shifters on the Yaris’s steering wheel. A Sport mode mildly sharpens throttle response and re-tunes the transmission. However in everyday city driving the Yaris doesn’t feel under powered, and it offers a thoroughly agreeable driving experience. Its suspension tuning is sporty enough to deliver responsive handling, yet it’s smooth enough to provide the comfort that can make long commutes more pleasant. With the automatic transmission the EPA-estimated fuel economy of 32/40 mpg city/highway. Today’s subcompact cars offer great mileage, and figures for the Yaris are competitive within this segment.
Both body styles share front ends and a 101.2-inch wheelbase, but the hatchback’s shorter rear overhang has clipped over 10 inches from its overall length. The resulting proportions and stance look better. Its attractive 16-inch wheels wrapped with not-too-small 185/60R-16 Toyo Proxes A27 all-season tires also help. The Yaris’s cabin earns style points for its chic design, and the materials are high quality. Most drivers should find the front seats to be reasonably comfortable, but the rear seats may be a tight fit for taller passengers. The only real change from last year’s model is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the Mazda-sourced 7.0-inch screened infotainment system. The XLE (which we tested at $19,705) loses the option of the manual transmission but gains automatic LED headlights, automatic wipers, automatic climate control, simulated leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and two drive settings (Normal and Sport). One issue we did find was when driving on the highway we found that the road noise did enter the cabin.
In crash tests carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2020 Yaris earned a perfect five out of five stars overall. The 2020 Yaris hasn’t been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, the 2019 Yaris sedan earned the highest score of Good in all crash worthiness measures in tests conducted by the IIHS. Unlike most new Toyota vehicles, the Yaris doesn’t come with the full suite of Safety Sense technologies or driver-assistance features. However all models are equipped with low-speed forward-collision warning.
In the end we found the 2020 Yaris hatchback is a pleasing urban runabout that should work out well for shoppers on a tight budget. As an entry-level vehicle, the Yaris requires some compromise, particularly when it comes to ride comfort but with average new-vehicle transaction prices topping $36,000, it’s refreshing to know you can still get a well-equipped car for under $20,000.