First drive: 2015 Toyota Yaris [Review]

Toyota\'s revised 2015 Yaris brings a little European flair to the burgeoning subcompact market.

The 2015 Toyota Yaris is the mid-cycle refresh of the brand's smallest offering available in North America, but it seems to eschew most Asian influences. Instead, it displays a distinctly Continental flair about it.

Designed in Toyota Motor Europe studios in Brussels and Nice, and built at the firm's Valenciennes, France, plant, this third-generation model displays a European ethos that is shared by many other vehicles traversing the French countryside or the Italian autostrada.

Sharp and sporty

Described by Toyota officials as sharp and sporty, the 2015 Yaris is refined and refreshed for a look that gives others like the Nissan Versa Note a run for their money (and segment). Featuring a carryover aerodynamic shape from 2014, certain revisions are based on the 2013 Geneva Aygo Concept. It now shows up with a more aggressive bumper and grille, a crisper hood, new headlamps, and a lower, wider stance. It's available in three levels of trim ranging from base L, mid-level LE, and sporty SE, and in three- and five-door hatch variants, although the SE can only be had as a five-door example. Outfitted with a new stylish horizontal grille treatment, along with more expressive headlamps, the refresh will bring it more in line with the contemporary styling seen in other 2015 model year Toyota vehicles.

Inside, Toyota has upped the ante with a new focus on material quality. Soft touch panels are everywhere, and a new reshaped dash and instrument panel provide easier access for controls when and where the driver needs them. More refined throughout, the interior includes French stitching on the fabric-covered seats, as well as a nicely detailed three-spoke leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel for better road feel. A large speedometer holds sway in the driver's instrument binnacle flanked by an LCD that displays odometer, trip meters, fuel economy and an Eco-Driving indicator for on-the-fly behavior modification. On the center of the dash is the Toyota EnTune Audio system, with customer upgradeable navigation in all grades.

The rear seat can accommodate three adults, although two would probably be happier. There are 15.3 cubic feet of rear cargo space in the three-door, while the five-door offers 15.6. Both models feature a 60:40 split rear seat.

More welds for added rigidity and quiet

Toyota robots added 36 key spot welds for added rigidity, which goes to enhance ride quality and reduce vehicle noise, vibration and harshness. And just for good measure, the brand added 25-percent more sound absorption material to minimize the intrusion of road noise into the cabin. And in an effort to increase ride quality, the track has grown by half-an-inch.

Toyota engineers explained such measures by commenting that "the stiffer the platform, the more the suspension can be revised and improved.”

To the engine room

The 2015 Yaris is available with a singular 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVTi). Using traditional multiport fuel injection, it makes 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. With others going to a six-speed or CVT type of gearbox, it is mated to a buyer's choice of what could be considered an outdated five-speed manual or four-speed ECT automatic transmission. This is done in an effort to keep the MSRP low.

Mileage checks in with 30 city / 37 highway and 33 combined for the five-speed manual, while the automatic sees 30 city / 36 highway with 32 mpg combined.

The Yaris rides on a well-proven MacPherson strut system in front while a torsion beam brings up the rear. It's equipped with an electric power assisted rack and pinion steering system, although the SE version rides on an uprated suspension and features a recalibration of the steering system for quicker response.

Behind the wheel.

Toyota provided SE models for us to test on the Big Island. We found the 1.5-liter five-door hatch, with a five-speed manual transmission, offered typical acceleration from the smallish four-banger under the hood. Able to cruise just fine on level ground, it typically struggled up and over the lava flow-lined roads.

The four-speed automatic-equipped Yaris seemed to be the belle of the ball in this subcompact car test fest. It performed in a much more refined manner, and seemingly in the background, not calling attention to anything untoward happening to it underhood. Still, when considering the Yaris' competition like the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent, we think it suffers a bit. It will cruise just fine once you get there, but just hope you don't have to do so in a hurry. Sometimes a downhill grade could be your best friend.

The smallest member of the family offered a playful sense while encountering sweeping turns through the lava fields. We found a typical amount of side wallow but felt that would be fine for most drivers in nearly all driving circumstances.

Although the Yaris is standard with a tilt steering wheel, we were never able to settle on a satisfying driving position owing to the fact that our arms were either tensed up from being overextended or our legs were too scrunched up from being too close to the dashboard. That's just due to our height and arm length. Your mileage, er comfort, may vary.

Leftlane's bottom line

The 2015 Toyota Yaris is undergoing a mid-cycle refresh that highlights new attention to details and interior refinement, not to mention a more contemporary appearance. Well put together, it will face lots of competition from others in the segment that are also hitting stride to offer utility and value. It's a crowded field with many choices, so in this case the Yaris is smack dab in the middle of a buyer's market.

2015 Toyota Yaris

L 3-door 5-speed M/T $14845

L 3-door 4-speed A/T $15,570

LE 3-door 4-speed A/T $16,505

L 5-door 4-speed A/T $15,945

LE 5-door 4-speed A/T $16,880

SE 5-door 5-speed M/T $16,820

SE 5-door 4-speed A/T $17,620

Prices do not include $825 destination

Photos by Mark Elias.

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