Dramatic new front-end styling highlights the changes made to the 2015 Toyota Yaris, along with a stronger body structure, some higher-quality interior materials and more standard equipment. They're commendable updates, but they don't go far enough to push the Yaris ahead of its competitors.
What Is It?
The 2015 Toyota Yaris is a subcompact hatchback available with two or four doors. Although it provides frugal, reliable transportation with a commendable features list, it trails its competitors in many respects.
For instance, its cargo capacity is small even for a subcompact, its antiquated four-speed automatic transmission hampers drivability, and despite a styling refresh for 2015, it lacks a certain amount of character and pizzazz offered by others.
There are three trim levels offered: L, LE and SE. All trim levels come standard with a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the L and SE while a four-speed automatic transmission is standard on the LE and optional on the L and SE.
What Is New on the Outside?
The biggest and most noticeable change made to the 2015 Toyota Yaris is to its front-end styling. The somewhat cute, but rather anonymous face of the previous version has been replaced by a more aggressive look featuring a lower grille that connects with a smaller upper grille opening to form a sort of "X."
It's certainly more distinctive than before, but we're not sure if it really goes with the rest of the car. There are also reshaped headlights along with LED running lights and more prominent foglights on the sporty SE trim.
Around back, the taillights are wider and ditch the previous dated white accents, while the bumper has been reshaped to be more curvaceous and convey a more aggressive stance. New black-accented alloy wheels on the SE trim and an enlarged front-quarter window for improved visibility round out the updates.
What Is New on the Inside?
With the exception of the gray trim that now spans the dashboard, the interior goes unchanged visually. Materials have improved, however, and that gray trim in question is now padded to not only enhance the cabin's look and feel, but to reduce interior noise as well. There is also additional padding on the doors along with less glossy plastics. In other words, your elbows will be happier and things look less cheap.
Having said that, the Yaris is still a rather drab and uninteresting place to spend time. It lacks the visual flair of the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, as well as the grown-up ambiance of the Kia Rio. These competitors do a better job of making you forget you've purchased basic transport.
How Big and Comfortable Is It?
Those same competitors also do a better job of hauling your stuff, as the Yaris' meager cargo space trails that of most competitors (especially the practicality champ Honda Fit). The area isn't especially tall or deep — placing a row of reusable grocery bags essentially fills up the entire space from tailgate to backseat, and from floor to tonneau cover. At the very least, the 60/40-split folding rear seat is now standard on all trim levels.
Should that rear seat need to be filled with people, the Yaris does a better job, as its passenger space is relatively generous for the segment. There's a very good chance that two people will be able to fit comfortably in back as long as the driver doesn't have his or her seat pushed all the way back.
Unfortunately, the tall driver in that scenario will have his or her own set of issues. The steering wheel does not telescope, increasing the likelihood of uncomfortably hunching over to achieve an ideal arm bend while steering. One of our test drivers also thought the steering wheel didn't tilt high enough to prevent the wheel from brushing his legs while turning. The driver seat itself also left much to be desired, as multiple test drivers reported constantly shifting during long drives.
At the same time, though, ride comfort has improved for 2015 courtesy of changes made to the suspension and body structure. The Yaris feels a little less brittle over bumps now, while highway noise is also about what you'd expect in this class. Still, there is a general sense of solidity missing from the Yaris that competitors like the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta and the redesigned 2015 Honda Fit possess, especially on the highway, and as a result you have a tendency to feel more vulnerable in this little Toyota. It's a tough feeling to quantify, but it's definitely something to note during back-to-back test-drives on the highway.
What New Features Are Available?
The most basic Toyota Yaris L trim gets more standard features for 2015, including power windows, a height-adjustable driver seat and a 60/40-split folding backseat. These join standard air-conditioning, power locks, a tilt-only steering wheel and two years of factory-scheduled maintenance.
Also standard on every Yaris is the Toyota Entune touchscreen audio interface, which is similar in its general menu structure and design to those found in pricier Toyotas. It controls a six-speaker sound system (many competitors have four or fewer) that boasts HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack, a USB port with iPod control, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. It is a bit more user-friendly than the touchscreen found in the Honda Fit and the base MyFord system in the Ford Fiesta, but it's still far from ideal. First and foremost, the on-screen icons that work well in the larger Entune touchscreens found in other Toyotas are too small in this application, increasing the likelihood of errant icon-presses.
Toyota's more advanced Entune App suite is still not available on the Yaris, but a navigation system can be added to any trim level, which is rare for the segment.
The LE trim level adds items like cruise control, power mirrors, keyless entry and 15-inch alloy wheels (versus steel). The range-topping, sport-tuned, and four-door-only SE gets projector headlamps and those LED running lights, plus unique styling cues, 16-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and upgraded cloth upholstery.
Higher-end, but increasingly common items like a rearview camera, leather upholstery and heated seats are not available.
What Is New Under the Hood?
The engines and transmission not only carry over from 2014 to 2015, but they date back to the original Toyota Yaris introduced back in 2007. Now, age doesn't necessarily equate to inferiority, but the four-speed automatic trails well behind its competitors in terms of performance and efficiency. Most competitors in this class have six-speed or continuously variable (CVT) transmissions that do a better job of maximizing performance and fuel economy.
Toyota says this is a proven, reliable transmission that still delivers the same class-competitive fuel economy at 32 mpg combined (30 city/36 highway) it did last year. That may be true, but its CVT-equipped competitors, the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, manage even better fuel economy.
Meanwhile, having only four speeds significantly hampers drivability. The transmission constantly changes up and down with so few ratios from which to choose, with an accompanying uncouth whine from the 1.5-liter 106-horsepower four-cylinder engine. This would get old during a city-bound commute, let alone on the rolling hills and long grades we experienced on our test-drive.
Needless to say, the five-speed manual transmission is a better choice for getting the most out of the engine and making your daily drive more pleasant (even if some competitors like the Fit and Kia Rio offer six-speed gearboxes). In casual driving, we found the gearbox and clutch to be easy and comfortable to use, while rarely needing to drop down by more than one gear. In performance testing, a manual-equipped Yaris went from zero to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, which is average acceleration for the segment and actually impressive given that the Yaris is considerably less powerful than its competitors.
Opting to row your own also results in slightly better fuel economy at 33 mpg combined (30/37). We averaged 37 mpg on the 116-mile Edmunds evaluation route, which generally produces above-average numbers.
Are There Any Mechanical Changes?
Numerous body-strengthening measures result in a weight loss of 44 pounds for the 2015 Toyota Yaris. There are also numerous suspension improvements including reduced spring rates front and rear, a revised torsion beam in the rear for greater body roll reduction and a solid front stabilizer bar (versus a hollow one).
These changes promise improved handling, and indeed we enjoyed tossing its diminutive, lightweight body around a few mountain road corners on the Edmunds evaluation route. We found its steering to be responsive, direct and precise, and given the admirable grip from its tires, it's a confident and adept little handler. Now, the Yaris still can't match the playful nature and driver communication provided by the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic, but it's certainly more fun than we were expecting.
The SE trim's four-wheel disc brakes performed on par for the segment, bringing the Yaris from 60 mph to a stop in 123 feet. This is actually consistent with the last Yaris we tested with rear drums, but importantly, the cooling provided by the discs resulted in a better resistance to fade after repeated stops.
What About Safety?
Every 2015 Toyota Yaris comes standard with stability and traction control, whiplash-reducing front seats, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front-seat cushion airbags that prevent submarining and a driver knee airbag.
The four-door Yaris received four stars out of five for overall crash protection from the government, with four stars for overall front protection and five stars for overall side crash protection. The two-door model has not been crash tested by the government.
How Much Does It Cost?
The Toyota Yaris base price goes up by between $280 and $490 depending on trim level and body style. A two-door L hatchback with a manual transmission will set you back $14,845, with the automatic adding $725 to the price. The automatic-only four-door L model is $1,100 more.
The two-door LE costs $16,505; the four-door $16,880. Stepping up to the four-door-only SE costs $16,820 with a manual transmission and $17,620 with an automatic.
Apart from the dealer-installed navigation system, there are no options on the 2015 Toyota Yaris.
What Other Cars Should Be Considered?
Ford Fiesta: Unlike the Yaris, this Edmunds "A"-rated subcompact is available in both four-door hatchback and sedan body styles. It also impresses with its refined driving dynamics, quiet and fashionably designed cabin, and abundance of available equipment.
Honda Fit: The Edmunds A-rated Honda Fit is the practicality champion of the segment, with an unmatched amount of passenger and cargo space. In the subcompact segment, the Fit should be the right fit for the greatest number of car shoppers.
Kia Rio: Also available in hatchback and sedan body styles, the Rio offers a more grown-up look and demeanor than its competitors, along with an abundance of standard and optional equipment. If you're looking to get the most stuff for your money and a lengthy warranty to boot, this is a great choice.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
With its generous standard feature content, reasonable price and Toyota's sterling reliability reputation, there's no denying that the 2015 Yaris is a smart, value-rich choice for those after basic transport. Its improvements for 2015 make it more fashionable, better to drive and pleasant to be in.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Simply put, it is outmatched by its competitors in many respects, especially in regards to its cargo area and antiquated four-speed automatic transmission.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.