Yoda’s words from Star Wars: Episode V were heartening for me, a nerdy kid who lacked athletic skills and the brawn of my classmates who did. “Size matters not,” he tells aspiring Jedi Luke Skywalker. “Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?”
Small, affordable cars face a similarly rough path toward acceptance. They have everything to prove and none of the halo-car glory that a brand’s top model receives. We enthusiasts know that these can often be huge fun to toss around, but a lay person’s eyes and perception are not honed to distinguish between boring economy boxes and a chuckable compact.
The 2018 Yaris iA is one such car that triggered knee-jerk condescension from my peers. “Is this your car?” one friend asked. No, I explained, it’s a small Toyota that’s actually fun to drive and you can have one for under $20,000!
The same friend countered by pointing out how basic it is. But the Yaris iA’s beauty is in its basicness. It’s a no-frills approach at transportation that doesn’t suck the joy out of driving. Power comes from a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces an enthusiastic 106 hp at 6,000 rpm and 103 lb-ft at 4,000 rpms. Those would be miserable figures in most situations but the iA only weighs 2,416 lbs. so the little four banger doesn’t have to motivate that much mass.
Our tester featured a six-speed automatic transmission that doesn’t wow, but it also doesn’t drone on like a poorly tuned CVT. In fact, the exhaust note has more character than one would expect. It’s one of the few cars on the market still using rear-drum brakes, but the ventilated front disc brakes provide enough stopping power that the anachronistic grabbers aren’t too tough a compromise. Laggy throttle response is the biggest detractor in light of the low-powered engine output.
The four-door draws its lineage to the Mexican market Mazda 2 sedan before it was sold in the U.S. as a Scion. Now it’s been rebadged as a Toyota. It may have changed its grille and insignias, but the iA kept the charming handling that Mazda’s have a reputation for having. The steering is engaging with tons of feedback when the driver turns the wheel, so despite not being fast, or even moderately brisk, the iA carves corners with gusto.
Visually, the iA’s Mazda roots are most obvious in the cabin. The interior has contemporary Mazda infotainment, switchgear, and materials. Build-quality feels substantial, imbuing the greenhouse upscale with touch points that belie the low price tag.
Our Yaris iA tester was delivered without options but it still has important basic features that add some convenience to the daily slog. There’s two USB ports up front, Bluetooth capability, and some apps available via the Mazda-sourced 7-inch display by way a control unit between the seats. There’s also keyless entry and ignition, which are refreshing in an entry-level car.
Everything about the Toyota iA is small, from the tiny exterior dimensions to the low-displacement engine. The result is a true compact that’s genuinely affordable and an absolute blast to drive. Turns out there’s wisdom in Master Yoda’s words after all.
2018 Toyota Yaris iA Specifications
|PRICE||$17,945/$17,945 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||1.5L DOHC 16-valve inline-4/106 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 282 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||32/40 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||171.7 x 66.7 x 58.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.9 sec|