Toyota and its 2015 Yaris: Making a French Connection

2015 Toyota Yaris

Toyota’s 2015 Yaris offers essentially the same book, with minor edits…SE shown.

For the dozens (OK, that may be optimistic…) of you still wishing for the chance to purchase something French not made by Chanel or Hennessy, know that Toyota’s updated Yaris with – you guessed it – a host of updates now hails from that portion of the Eurozone still known as France. And despite its suspect geopolitical origins (from both a design and assembly standpoint), along with the availability of no transmissions except a 5-speed manual and 4-speed (?) automatic, we think you might like it.

Of course, with OPEC spilling oil like so much underpriced sewage, you may have skipped this for another look at Chevy’s new Tahoe. But if you’re still reading, know that the spunky Yaris benefits from a host of mods that, while not adding up to much individually, provide dealers and their customers a more viable option in the subcompact category.

2015 Toyota Yaris

Updated Yaris offers some spunk, modest funk

Introduced to regional media on a cold November day in North Texas, not far from Toyota’s newly announced corporate home in Plano, the Yaris overview inside was supplemented by a chilly walkaround – thankfully brief – outside. For those remembering the Yaris as a bit of an egg, know that with this gen the egg has been flattened. In profile the current Yaris is more folded than organic, and its most recent stylistic mods have only heightened its Origami overtones.

On the SE we sampled, you’re greeted by a new front fascia, dominated by a trapezoidal grille, horizontal headlights and revised fog light design. New wheel designs are featured across the board, including 16-inchers on the upmarket SE. And in back, the bumper and tail lights have been redesigned, and a back-up lamp added. Of greater note is a windshield laid back at a steeper angle, supplying an aero advantage more upright glass won’t provide. The end result is not what we’d regard as one unified masterpiece, but combines real spunk with just enuf funk to be visually interesting.

Inside, the driver’s seat now offers vertical adjustment (what took ‘em so long?), a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, and upgraded fabric on all models. The Yaris’ instrument panel benefits from the addition of metallic and chrome accents, a standard 6.1-inch touchscreen and soft-touch materials (what took ‘em so long??). By no stretch are the interior mods appropriate to a VW showroom, but then, if pursuing a Yaris the Golf/GTI is probably not on your short list. And vice versa…

Economy, we suspect, is on your short list, and in that the Yaris gets a mixed review. With any number of subcompacts and compact hybrids offering 40+ miles per gallon, the EPA numbers for the Yaris – 37 Highway/30 City – are a tad underwhelming. Were it a more responsive powertrain you’d find it acceptable, but 106 horses @ 6,000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm allows little in the way of recreation to offset the less-than-best fuel economy. A pulling-it-from-nowhere guess suggests the lack of more speeds in both manual and auto boxes hamper it; you’d think 6-speeds of manual and at least six with the auto would be part and parcel of any refreshing. And it didn’t happen.

Then, of course, there is the value/price aspect. At around $15K for the base Yaris 3-door, we think it makes an attractive grocery getter and/or commuter. Opt for the high level SE trim, however, and a 5-door suddenly balloons to almost $19K. As discussed in our brief look at Nissan’s Note, once you approach $20K on a 5-door hatch there are a bunch of more compelling investments, including those on Toyota’s own showrooms. While not a fan of the can-be-boring Corolla, that $19K investment makes much more sense than spending the same amount of coin on the Yaris 5-door. Again, like the Note, it’s best to keep your total outlay at or near $15K for it to make real sense in both the garage and pocketbook.

Finally, there’s the subjective vibe given off by the Yaris relative to others in the competitive segment. If, ten years ago, you’d have told me I’d find a subcompact Chevy or Ford as viable as a small Toyota I’d have laughed my buttocks off. Not so today, when Chevy’s Sonic and Ford’s Fiesta – especially in RS and ST guise, respectively – seem as attractive and simply more interesting to this set of eyes, hands and cheeks. For the Yaris to be truly competitive, it needs roughly 35 more horsepower, a highway EPA over 40, and a well-equipped window of under $18K. Toyota can certainly do it, and if Akio Toyoda is still paying attention, they will.