The Toyota Yaris has upped its game but also its pricing – in a big way. Does the city car now make any sense for buyers over a comparably priced Corolla?
The Toyota Yaris is one of the most controversial models of 2020. It has nothing to do with how it looks or how the new-generation city car drives. It’s about how it has been priced.
Leaping dramatically out of the sub-$20,000 car market it has long inhabited, the Yaris now starts from $22,190. Compare drive-away pricing for the previous and new Yaris, and the increase is a staggering $9000 at its biggest gap.
Toyota says a Yaris needs to include too many standard features in today’s market to be priced any lower. It also controversially suggests buyers on the tightest of budgets could consider the used-car market.
If not necessarily cheaper, is there potentially another model in Toyota showrooms that could provide them with better value for their money?
That’s exactly what we’re exploring here – comparing a $27,020 Toyota Yaris SX with a base-model Corolla, the $25,395 Ascent Sport.
The Yaris is still very much a city car in size – slightly longer than the previous model but remaining under four metres in length (3940mm). The 4375mm-long Corolla is about average size for the small-car segment.
Pricing and features
The 2020 Toyota Yaris range starts from $22,130 for an Ascent Sport manual or $23,630 with a CVT auto. Only the base model is offered with a six-speed manual.
The Yaris SX featured in this comparison has an RRP of $27,020. A Hybrid version of the SX starts from $29,020 before other costs.
The Toyota Corolla range starts with this comparison’s Ascent Sport, with the $1500 CVT auto and a $1000 option pack that adds navigation, digital radio and rear privacy glass.
There’s just $590 between our two Toyotas in drive-away costs: $30,588 for the Yaris and $29,998 for the Corolla, with both models adding $500 for metallic paint.
As the next grade up from entry level, the Yaris SX would be expected to offer more equipment than the base Corolla (even with the option pack fitted).
And it does in some areas. The Yaris has a leather-accented steering wheel (polyurethane in the Corolla), keyless entry and start, automatic climate control (though keyless entry and climate control are included on the Corolla Ascent Sport Hybrid, just not the petrol version) and auto-retractable side mirrors (manual electric on the Corolla).
The Corolla Ascent Sport with option pack matches the Yaris SX’s standard navigation, digital radio and privacy glass standard with its option pack, while also bringing some of its own equipment one-ups.
There are 16-inch alloy wheels to the Yaris’s 15-inch alloys, heated side mirrors, electric park brake (versus manual handbrake), and a slightly larger infotainment display (8.0 rather than 7.0 inches).
Shared features comprise LED headlights and daytime running lights, one-touch window operation front and rear, driving modes, cloth seats, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
|Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport||Toyota Yaris SX|
|Engine||2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol||1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||125kW @ 6600rpm / 200Nm @ 4400-4800rpm||88kW @ 6600rpm / 145Nm @ 4800-5200rpm|
|Drive type||front-wheel drive||front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||6.0L/100km||4.9L/100km|
|fuel use on test||5.7L/100km||4.5L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||217L (333L with optional tyre repair kit)||270L|
|Turning circle||11.0 metres||10.2 metres|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 (tested 2018)||5 (tested 2020)|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Hyundai i30, Mazda 3, VW Golf||Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Suzuki Swift, VW Polo|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$25,295||$27,020|
Infotainment and tech
Safety technology is similarly impressive on both vehicles, which both come with all-speed adaptive cruise control, auto high beam, speed-limit notification, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian (day/night) and cyclist (day) detection, lane-departure warning with steering assistance, and lane-centring assistance.
The Corolla comes with seven airbags, including one for the driver’s knees. The Yaris has eight airbags, with notable front-centre airbags designed to prevent front occupants clashing heads in the event of a side impact.
The Yaris’s AEB system adds an intersection-assist function designed to prevent drivers turning across an oncoming car.
Both trim grades miss out on blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert – ZR only in the case of the Yaris and next-grade-up SX for the Corolla.
Strangely, front or rear parking sensors are available only on the top-spec Yaris ZR. They're not included with the Corolla Ascent Sport, either – standard only on SX and ZR variants.
The Corolla’s 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen may have a slight size advantage, but it uses the same slightly underwhelming interface as the Yaris. Better systems are offered by the likes of Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda and Volkswagen.
This may be less of an issue for owners who prefer to predominantly use iOS or Android interfaces via smartphone integration.
No Yaris is available with wireless smartphone charging, as might be expected for a new-generation car in 2020. You won’t find this feature in the Ascent Sport, either, though it’s available on the Corolla SX upwards.
The SX version of the Yaris brings a fancier driver display. Where the Ascent Sport has basic dials, the SX features a distinctive graphic presentation via two circular info pods flanking a rectangular display.
The left circular display is a digital rev counter, the right circular display is a digital speedo with fuel and engine-temperature bars, while the central section presents various info including audio selection, driving data, driver aids (including speed-limit notification), messages, and Eco indicator.
Further positive interior touches include the smart-looking climate-control panel, which includes fan and temperature dials with pleasant tactility. The partial-leather steering wheel feels nice to hold, too, and some fabric and piping-style trim on the doors and dash helps presentation.
While there’s soft plastic used for the upper dash, the Yaris’s cabin materials don’t set any segment benchmark despite the car’s significantly increased pricing. VW’s rival Polo still looks more expensive inside.
There’s no centre armrest for the driver or front passenger, and storage is limited. There’s no centre console cubby, and the door compartments are bottle holders essentially. Toyota’s designers have considered smartphones, though, with a dash shelf for both the driver and front passenger.
Key start for the base Corolla feels very yesterday’s motoring, and the interior design is more conservative compared with the Yaris’s cabin, if still neatly presented.
More sections of the Corolla’s dash are made from soft plastic, and soft fabric is applied to the door armrests and centre armrest. In a slightly elitist manner, only the top ZR trim grade gets upper door cards to match the quality of the car’s dash.
The Ascent Sport’s ‘bucket’ seats are clothed in a smarter-looking fabric compared with the Yaris, and they also offer the best level of comfort and support.
As with the latest-generation Corolla, the Yaris’s wheelbase stretches four centimetres compared with its predecessor. That maintains a healthy 9cm advantage between the axles for the bigger Toyota hatch, yet it’s the Yaris that offers the greater rear leg room – giving a reasonable semblance of knee space if sitting behind a 5ft 8in front occupant. There’s a bit more head room and good foot space, too.
The lack of a rear quarter window limits light and side vision in the back of the Yaris, though, and only the Corolla has a centre rear armrest. This features two cupholders to go with the cupholder integrated cleverly into the rear doors. The Yaris’s rear doors take bottles.
The Corolla’s packaging shortcomings are experienced again in the boot – with just a shallow area of 217L with the standard full-size spare wheel under the floor. However, this can be expanded to 333L if a buyer chooses the optional tyre repair kit, and there are side storage areas.
The Yaris’s boot aperture isn’t quite as wide as the Corolla’s – meaning prams would likely be an easier fit in the latter – but the 270L luggage compartment’s extra depth is obvious. Dual floor heights also give the Yaris owner the option of a deeper boot or hidden underfloor storage.
There’s not a turbocharged engine in sight here despite their increasing prevalence in both the city car and small car classes.
The Yaris features a newly developed 1.5-litre three-cylinder with 88kW and 145Nm. The Corolla has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that produces 125kW and 200Nm.
Neither set of outputs is spectacular considering a Volkswagen Polo city car – the Yaris’s natural rival – delivers 200Nm from its turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder.
Both Toyota engines are paired to the company’s favourite transmission type, a CVT auto, rather than a dual-clutch auto or torque converter auto. Regular Yaris and Corolla petrol models use a different CVT to the hybrid variants – a ‘Direct Shift’ version that employs a mechanical first gear for launching the cars before switching to the conventional stepless transmission.
It’s effective, as both Toyotas get away from standstill smartly, with neither the sluggishness of older CVTs nor the slight hesitation of some current dual-clutch autos.
The lack of turbos is obvious with less responsiveness when on the move, though both drivetrains are likeable – particularly in the way they make both cars feel easy to drive.
The Yaris’s three-cylinder is the more fun engine, with its characteristic thrum even sounding relatively sporty when the driver applies a firmer push of the accelerator pedal. Although power and torque are modest, the Yaris weighs less than 1.1 tonnes.
We imagine the Yaris base model would be even more enjoyable with its manual gearbox, and it’s a shame the auto doesn’t come with at least a tip-shift function with artificially stepped ratios.
The Corolla’s engine feels and sounds a bit uninspiring during hard acceleration, the CVT bringing a more pronounced drone than experienced in the Yaris. But most owners will appreciate the general smoothness and predictability of the drivetrain.
Toyota is spruiking the fuel efficiency of the Yaris’s three-cylinder, which is rated at 4.9 litres per 100km officially. That’s not quite class-leading, as a regular Suzuki Swift and base VW Polo have a lab-derived figure of 4.8L/100km, though we were still impressed with the 4.5L/100km we registered on test from a route combining long suburban loops with some freeway running.
Even with some further urban driving of the Yaris in isolation, its consumption never exceeded 5.0L/100km.
The Corolla – which also runs on regular unleaded – had indicated average consumption of 5.7L/100km compared to its official 6.0L/100km claim on the same route.
On the road
It continues with a more simplistic torsion-beam rear suspension, whereas the Corolla switched from such a set-up to a fully independent multi-link arrangement for the latest generation.
We’ve driven the new Corolla many times now, yet never cease to be impressed by its remarkable ride comfort – especially in lower-spec models on smaller wheels. The Ascent Sport’s suspension glides across even the roughest of road surfaces in a way that not even compact models from Lexus can match.
Factor that in with the smoothness of the steering, braking and drivetrain, and the Corolla delivers a big serve of motoring gratification.
You can detect elements of the Corolla in the way the Yaris drives, giving the city car increased maturity on the road. It’s never felt more at home at 110km/h on a freeway, for example.
The Yaris’s road manners just aren’t quite as polished as the Corolla’s. The ride is a little firmer and the suspension, while good at negotiating speed humps, can jar over bigger bumps. Brake feel and on-centre steering feel are slightly better in the larger hatch, too.
Tyre noise from the Dunlop Enasave rubber fitted to both cars was more elevated than ideal, and fractionally higher in the Yaris.
The Yaris’s braking was also found wanting during our launch review of the car, with below-average performance in a 100–0km/h test – taking a few more metres to pull up than the typical city car.
Despite all the Yaris’s new safety tech, Toyota has continued to equip it with rear drum brakes rather than solid disc brakes.
Bigger is better in this case, though the Corolla’s win owes less to its dimensional advantage.
The Yaris is actually the better-packaged hatchback, squeezing decent cabin space and luggage capacity into less than four metres. We also suspect younger buyers would find more appeal in its smaller but more characterful engine, while those looking to keep fuel costs to a minimum would appreciate its sub-5.0L/100km economy.
The Yaris’s value issue is inescapable, however. For similar money to the SX, for example, buyers can have a VW Polo Style with stronger performance, a bigger (351L) boot, standout equipment such as a 300-watt Beats audio system, customisable digital driver display, wireless smartphone charging and dual-zone climate control, plus an optional driver-assistance package that includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
And while the Yaris has grown up a bit more, the rival Polo looks the more premium car inside and out.
The Corolla’s squishy rear seat and below-average boot space count against it, while the CVT will never be a keen driver’s favourite type of automatic gearbox.
This is the best Corolla in a long, long time, though – a smooth operator of the highest order that is an absolute pleasure to drive.
If you can afford to go a bit higher in the range, we’d just skip the Ascent Sport for the sweet-spot SX Hybrid.
Co-tester points: Justin Narayan
I’ll simplify my thoughts on this one: Both of these cars are safe, affordable options that usually find homes with young singles, older couples and – increasingly often with the Corolla – new families. In fact, during testing, we spotted one with two child seats across the rear bench.
I’d agree you see fewer Yaris’s equipped to carry small children, but there are some out there moving kids about on a daily basis.
For older buyers – downsizers, 'empty nesters' – the impetus to buy a new car comes when their children begin to have offspring. Grandparents who want to get involved in the lives of their second editions will need safe, reliable transportation to do so.
Consider it a mandate enforced by the mollycoddling parents to-be. I’m guilty of such antics. Both of these options undoubtedly should be on such a shopping list, though. If you’re considering a larger, used SUV, then the idea of a new, shiny and potentially safer hatchback, may not be such a bad thing.
Jez and I were surprised, then, that the Yaris took the lead here in second-row space. I found there to be more knee room, and toe room too, in the second row of the Yaris. Knee room doubles as a good barometer for gauging child seat space, so take that as you will.
While the greater amount of room offered by the Yaris may not be much, a few centimetres can actually shift the dial from borderline tolerable, to somewhat comfortable – especially when you’re discussing cars with limited space to begin with, such is the burden that small hatches often carry.
It also tops the Corolla in cargo area, while still offering a spare wheel of some form. It’s bizarre to see a larger car, with a larger wheel base, from the class above, packaged with less space than the car below it.
As with any family keen on minding dollars and cents, the Yaris was much more fuel-efficient on our suburban test loop. It returned a whole litre less consumption per 100km for the vast majority of time on test, which to some, is highly important.
More space for friends, or potential lifelong companions, ferrying around newborns, picking up your kid’s kids after daycare, or just simply a larger boot for double-income-no-kids getaways. The Yaris would accommodate better in all of these scenarios, whilst also burdening your bank less.
If any of these fictional characters sound like you, then don’t discount the Yaris. If anything, its price may be harder to stomach than the fact it may be the better choice, for some.