In a crowded segment for cars that commonly roam crowded city streets, the Toyota Yaris continues to be one of the most popular.
The latest-generation model of what was once called the Echo was released in 2011.
As with most ‘light’ cars, Toyota Yaris buyers have a choice of three- or five-door hatchback, though (not like every light car) also has the option of a sedan variant.
Prices range from the $14,990 Yaris YR 3dr to the $21,790 Yaris YRX 5dr (pictured in driving shots); although we asked for the latter for our recent light hatchback comparison test, we were instead given the most affordable 5dr, the $15,690 YR.
Standard features are commonly fairly basic at this price point, but this area of the market is highly price sensitive rather than features-driven.
So the Toyota Yaris YR comes with 14-inch steel wheel, electric windows, CD tuner, trip computer, Bluetooth with voice control, though not much else.
Cruise control costs extra for those expecting to take their Yaris beyond city limits, though it is standard on some rivals including the Mazda 2 Neo and Ford Fiesta Ambiente.
Those cars also ride on larger, 15-inch steel wheels, as does the Kia Rio S.
Cruise is standard on the mid-spec YRS, which also adds a steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and height, higher-quality steering wheel and gearlever covering, 15-inch steel wheels and a 6.1-inch touchscreen.
The range-topping five-door Yaris’s (YRX) extras include automatic headlights, 15-inch alloy wheels, foglights, and the same Toyota Entertainment Communications Hub (TECH) touchscreen as the YRS but with added satellite navigation plus traffic-avoidance system. The YR's audio/phone set-up (above) is plainer.
There’s also a ZR three-door Yaris that’s given the sporty treatment in terms of bulkier exterior styling, bucket seats and redesigned steering wheel. For all models, we love the single-blade wiper.
A solid safety spread across the Toyota Yaris range includes stability control that can brake individual wheels to keep the Toyota pointing in the right direction, as well as anti-lock brakes and seven airbags including a driver’s knee 'bag.
The Toyota Yaris measures less than four metres long like most of its rivals, though it continues to be one of the best when it comes to rear legroom.
The only disappointment is that Toyota cut costs in the switch from the previous- to current-generation Yaris by abandoning the slideable rear bench that allowed users to better balance the needs of cargo and passenger space.
Boot space is still a higher-than-average 286 litres, though, counting a hidden compartment under the boot floor.
The back seat includes Isofix child seat anchorage points, too, which will be useful once those seats become readily available in Australia.
There are no door pockets or an armrest back there, though – only map pockets and a cup holder.
Storage generally isn’t great in the Yaris. The front door pockets are narrow albeit with a moulded bottle section, cupholders are not ideally placed ahead of the gearlever and below the centre stack, and trays in the centre console are narrow and fiddly.
The overall interior design doesn’t set out to complicate things for the driver or front passenger, though the cabin does look oversimplified visually and a touch bland if you compare it with the funkiness of the Ford Fiesta, the conservative-but-smart Volkswagen Polo and especially the Gen Y coolness of the new Renault Clio.
The Toyota Yaris isn’t as fun to drive as those rivals, either, though it’s far from a lost cause on the driving front.
The ride is firmer than expected for a car sitting on chubby, 70-profile rubber, though while the suspension can thump over surface protrusions and holes it’s not a deal-breaker (or a back-breaker).
While the best steering for all scenarios in the city car class is found in the Fiesta and Clio, the Yaris’s helm does a good job of being well weighted and being more accurate than the steering in South Korean rivals (Hyundai i20 and Accent, and Kia Rio).
The YR, the entry-level Toyota Yaris, is also equipped with a smaller engine than the YRS and YRX models.
It has a four-cylinder that’s 1.3 litres in size compared with the 1.5-litre elsewhere in the line-up, though both come with variable valve timing.
The 1.3 has 63kW of power and 121Nm of torque, giving away 17kW and 20Nm to the 1.5.
Those outputs are also below the class average where most entry-level city cars are powered by 1.4 litres and typically with 70-plus kilowatts or 130Nm-plus torque.
That’s still enough to provide the Yaris YR with sufficient pace for city duties, and the four-speed automatic – while being behind the times even in the light car category – is well calibrated to provide importantly prompt response from standing starts away from traffic lights or in rush hour traffic.
The Toyota prefers land that is flat rather than hilly, though, with acceleration becoming lethargic on even moderate hills.
The auto does its best to change down quickly enough to compensate for the engine’s lack of torque, though it could be faster and with closer gaps between one or two more gears, it would help performance.
Better, sprightlier performance is found in the 1.5-litre auto combo in the rival 2 Neo, while the Fiesta Ambiente’s 1.5-litre also impresses with its relatively torquey nature.
Official fuel consumption for the Toyota Yaris YR is 5.7 litres per 100km for the manual gearbox, or 6.3L/100km for the auto. In auto form that’s better than the Mazda 2 (6.8L/100km), matches the (more powerful) Rio, but is behind the likes of the Fiesta (5.8L/100km) and Hyundai i20 (5.9L/100km).
The Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta carry our strongest recommendations in the city car class, while it’s also worth a look at the decent Rio, ingeniously practical Honda Jazz, likeable Suzuki Swift, and the stylish Renault Clio priced in the vicinity of the Toyota Yaris YR.
The Rio, i20, Clio – as well as the Mitsubishi Mirage – also offer five-year factory warranties that bring longer peace of mind than the Yaris’s three years.
Cheap running costs for the Yaris, however, are aided by capped price servicing that puts a $130 ceiling on the first six standard scheduled services for the first three years or up to 60,000km.
Toyota’s tiddly hasn’t progressed as much as we’d have liked between generations, though it remains a solid bet in its most affordable form.
Click to read our review of the Toyota Yaris 1.5-litre.