Things we like
- Deserved reputation for reliability
- Auto braking available
Not so much
- Relatively low fun factor
What stands out?The diminutive third-generation Toyota Yaris hatch is easy to drive and park in an urban environment and has an enviable reputation for reliability. Autonomous emergency braking is available in some later versions.
What might bug me?You may find that you can’t quite get comfy behind the wheel. Even though the steering column adjusts for angle and reach, and the seat adjusts for height, it can be hard to find a driving position that feels right.
What body styles are there?Five-door hatchback only.
The Toyota Yaris drives its front wheels, and it is classed as a light car, lower priced.
What features did every Toyota Yaris have?Air-conditioning, power windows, and power-adjusted door mirrors.
Cruise control and reversing camera.
Bluetooth connectivity for phones and audio streaming. An audio system with USB and auxiliary input sockets, an AM/FM radio, a CD player, and at least six speakers, controllable from a 6.1-inch touchscreen display.
Height adjustment for the driver’s seat. Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, from which you can operate the audio system, the cruise control, and your phone (via Bluetooth).
A space-saver temporary spare wheel (which is speed-restricted).
Seven airbags. Electronic stability control, which can help you control a skidding car and is mandatory on new cars. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Yaris safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
The Toyota Yaris was covered by a three-year 100,000km warranty until January 2019, when Toyota extended its coverage to five years with no limited on kilometres driven.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?The 1.3-litre petrol four-cylinder engine found in the least costly Yaris, the Ascent, is marginally the more fuel-efficient of the two Yaris engines. It uses 5.7 litres/100km with the five-speed manual gearbox, and 6.3 litres/100km with the four-speed automatic, on official test figures.
In a real world comparison conducted for the March 2015 issue of Wheels magazine, a Yaris Ascent auto with this engine averaged 8.1 litres/100km - about a litre more than the most economical of the nine light hatchbacks reviewed.
There are two reasons why you might not choose the 1.3-litre engine. One is that it is available only in the Ascent.
The other is that the slightly bigger, 1.5-litre petrol found in every other Yaris is noticeably more powerful, while using barely any more fuel.
In fact, real-world testing has shown the four-cylinder 1.5 to use less fuel than the 1.3 in some conditions.
Both engines are available with a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed auto. (The most expensive Yaris, the ZR, offers auto transmission only.)
What key features do I get if I spend more?The least costly Yaris, the Ascent, comes with the less responsive, 1.3-litre, engine, 15-inch steel wheels with plastic trim, manually controlled air-conditioning, and cloth-covered seats.
Spend more for a Yaris SX and you get a nicer-feeling steering wheel and the bigger and better, 1.5-litre, engine, satellite navigation and front fog lights.
Spending a good deal more for a Yaris ZR brings you wheels made from aluminium alloy (which look good without pesky trim caps), and automatic transmission as standard. You also get air-conditioning that maintains a set temperature, and brighter, very long-lasting, LED headlights. Sports front seats grip you more firmly.
In addition, the ZR comes with an active-safety suite under the description Toyota Safety Sense. It brings you autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and an auto-dipping function for the headlights.
On any Yaris Ascent or SX, you can add Toyota Safety Sense as an option (for about $650).
Does any upgrade have a down side?No. Even the ride is unaffected as you move up the price range, as the Yaris ZR uses tyres of the same size and profile as those on the other cars.
Ten colours are available; for seven of them you will be charged about $450 on top of the standard price.
How comfortable is the Yaris?The Yaris is comfortable from a seating point of view. The standard front seats look plain but offer surprising support for drives of an hour or two. A facelift of March 2017 that adjusted the exterior styling also lifted the look of the cabin a little.
Despite a steering column that adjusts for angle and reach, the ergonomics are not as good in the Yaris as they are in some alternative city cars – it can be difficult for the driver to find a position that’s just right.
The 1.3-litre Ascent feels lively off the mark even in auto form and does the job around town, but needs a determined right foot at highway speeds and particularly on hilly routes in the country.
On bumpy roads you ride less comfortably in a Yaris than in many other hatchbacks its size. The suspension is fidgety, and road, tyre and engine noise intrude into the cabin, especially on rough rural surfaces or poorly repaired urban streets.
What about safety in a Yaris?Every Yaris comes with stability control, seven airbags and a reversing camera. An emergency brake signal flashes the brake lights during heavy braking, helping other drivers notice you’re stopping sharply.
There are two airbags directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; a curtain airbag on each side protecting the heads of front and rear passengers from side impacts; and an airbag to protect the driver’s knees.
Standard on the Yaris ZR, and optional on any other Yaris, is an active safety suite called Toyota Safety Sense. It comprises auto emergency braking, lane departure warning, and self-dipping headlamps.
Auto braking on the Yaris relies on laser and camera sensors (mounted on the windscreen), and is effective at speeds up to 80km/h. The sensors scan the road ahead for obstacles – typically another car that has slowed suddenly. If the system recognises a collision risk, it will warn you; if you don’t react, it will apply the brakes automatically. The idea is to make it less likely you will crash into someone in front, either because you were distracted or because they braked unexpectedly.
The lane departure warning uses the camera to monitor road markings, and alerts you if you have begun to drift out of your lane – perhaps from inattention or fatigue. It operates at speeds above 50km/h.
The self-dipping function switches your headlamps to low beam automatically to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers or people you’re following. It returns to high beam when that’s safe.
The noise, vibration and harshness that filter into the Yaris’s cabin contribute to driver fatigue on long trips.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded the Yaris hatchback its maximum five stars for safety, most recently in December 2011.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?Quite possibly not. Despite its popularity, the Yaris remains one of the less enjoyable light cars to drive (its popularity is the result of more pragmatic factors).
Its four-speed automatic and five-speed manual transmissions are a gear or two short of the best in cars of its size. This means the Yaris has less real-world pulling power in the lower gears, while the engine will rev higher and be noisier in the upper gears.
The bigger, 1.5-litre engine feels more powerful than the 1.3 and performs better on the open road, but it doesn’t make an especially pleasant sound, even by the modest standards of this class of car.
The Yaris’s steering is light and responds with reasonable precision, but it does not give you much sense of connection with the road. The front of the car doesn’t turn into corners as crisply as alternatives such as the Mazda 2, Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta.
How is life in the rear seats?The bench rear seat is roomier than it looks. It is comfortable for up to three adults over short trips, and handy for small children. Just as in the front of the Yaris – perhaps even more so – it is noisy in the rear of the cabin by comparison with most rivals.
How is it for carrying stuff?Toyota quotes cargo capacity at 286 litres, which is very competitive – more than in a Mazda2, and a match for the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, for example. The rear seat back folds 60-40 to expand this capacity to 768 litres.
Best practice with split-fold seats is to place the narrower seatback behind the front passenger’s seat, so that you might carry a long item of luggage along the left hand side of the cabin, leaving the broader seatback for a passenger behind the driver. The Yaris orients its seatbacks the other way around, although it’s not alone in doing so.
Where was the third-generation Yaris made?The Toyota Yaris was built in Japan.
What might I miss that similar aged cars have?All Yaris engines and gearboxes date back a decade, and most alternatives perform better and are more fuel-efficient. A facelift in March 2017 did not improve the car as a drive.
Turbocharged light cars such as the Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo respond more eagerly to the accelerator pedal – particularly from low speeds. Many non-turbo alternatives also offer better response during everyday driving (especially those with six-speed gearboxes or a CVT), despite similar engine outputs on paper.
Some city cars – among them the Volkswagen Polo and Kia Rio, and the smaller Holden Spark and Kia Picanto – help you get more from your smartphone, by enabling Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These let you display navigation and other apps from a compatible phone on the car’s touchscreen, and control them from there.
Other light cars worth considering include the Mazda2, Honda Jazz and Suzuki Swift.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?The Toyota Yaris SX is our pick of the line-up, for its more responsive 1.5-litre petrol engine. Consider getting one with the Toyota Safety Sense option, which reduces your risk of an embarrassing and expensive rear-end crash in traffic.
How old is the Yaris? Are there plans to update it soon?The third-generation Yaris was launched in 2011, and a revised series-two version arrived late in 2014.
About March 2017 Toyota ceased selling the Yaris sedan and gave the hatchback a mild facelift, making autonomous emergency braking available.
In January 2019 the Yaris' three-year/100,000km warranty was extended to five years/unlimited kilometres along with all other Toyota models.
A new generation Yaris arrives in May 2020 with class-leading safety technology and hybrid option. If you're thinking of buying a new Yaris it's probably worth waiting for unless you're after a good runout deal on the current model.
Things we like
- Deserved reputation for reliability
- Auto braking available
Not so much
- Relatively low fun factor
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