Waimea, Hawaii — Although the Toyota Yaris is far cheaper than the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic or the Baume & Mercier Capeland 10007 chronograph watch, only 15,000 examples were sold last year in the United States. Toyota moves about 27 Camrys for every Yaris. Even within the Toyota lineup, the Yaris is like Steve Martin on banjo opening for the New York Philharmonic.
Yet for the few people looking for a cheap car, it’s fairly amazing to find out how much they get for poco dinero — especially after all the changes for 2015. In keeping with Toyota’s effort to add emotion and fun to its mobility devices, the Yaris’ makeover yields much more expressive styling. The new headlamps suggest the use of Ritalin, and the grille, a variation of the gaping black mask that’s now found on all other Toyota cars, is set below a smart pencil mustache of satin chrome that extends into the turn signals. With the hood bulging just slightly, the face is anything but generic.
Changes to the Yaris’ rear encompass new taillamps and a contoured bumper. Once again, character emerges, although we are somewhat baffled by the addition of backup lamps on the bumper’s lower lip, where the driver of the lifted off-road truck will never see them. But that’s the only styling enigma. Otherwise, especially with the new wheels’ polished spokes twisting like a tidal pool starfish, our cheery blue SE model had a genuine appeal.
The 2015 Toyota Yaris is offered with two or four doors in L, LE, and SE trim. Entering the five-passenger cabin is a reasonable exercise, although you must do some burrowing to reach the two-door’s dim backseat. The car is 155.5 inches long, 66.7 inches wide, and rather tall for a subcompact, at 59.4 inches. We felt safe knowing the Yaris includes nine airbags. Extra sound insulation, increased by more than 25 percent, is evident over the rare imperfections in Hawaiian pavement. With a stiffer body thanks to 36 more spot welds, springs are softer but roll resistance is greater. The SE has suspension components tuned for sport, a solid front stabilizer bar, and four-wheel disc brakes with larger front rotors, yet we never had the impression the car wanted to go rallying. The SE’s turn radius of 36.1 feet is 12 percent greater than that of the L and LE.
A big effort has gone toward improving interior quality. The 2015 Toyota Yaris SE has horizontally pleated upholstery with accent stitching, and the seats fit great (although no armrest is provided). The flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel adjusts for rake but not reach. New red-accented gauges look especially smart; meanwhile, large control knobs and a 6.1-inch screen dominate the dashboard. Entune audio with its suite of apps is standard, and navigation is available on every model.
In the same way as backhanded compliments are flattering, driving the 2015 Toyota Yaris is fun. If only there were something fresh under the hood to eliminate our ambiguity! The DOHC 1.5-liter four-cylinder is happy to rev smoothly on the way to 106 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque, but its limited ambition is thwarted by either of two curmudgeonly transmissions. The slack clutch (said to be improved) with a late engagement point hampers the five-speed manual gearbox. And the four-speed automatic is simply primitive. On the road that climbed gently from the sea to the historic ranch town of Waimea, the tranny made a nuisance of itself playing cat-and-mouse between fourth and third. We opted for manual control whenever the course wasn’t level.
What evidently counts for more in the entry-level category is connectivity, so the 2015 Toyota Yaris offers a pretty sophisticated suite of calling and streaming features. Fuel economy is important, too, and as much as 33 mpg combined is returned. Marketing manager Angie White says Toyota looks to boost Yaris sales to 18,000 units in 2015, for a 20 percent increase. We have to hand it to Toyota for providing so much for so little, but if it had a powertrain that responds to the note of a well-blown conch shell, the Yaris would be a cheaper keeper.
2015 Toyota Yaris Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $15,670
- Engine: 1.5-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder/106 hp @ 6000 rpm, 103 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
- Transmission: 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic
- Layout: 2- or 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
- EPA Mileage: 30/37/33 mpg city/highway/combined (5-speed manual), 30/36/32 mpg (4-speed automatic)
- L x W x H: 155.5 x 66.7 x 59.4 in
- Wheelbase: 98.8 in
- Weight: 2315 lb (manual), 2335 lb (automatic)