Test Drive: 2018 Toyota Yaris Hatchback

Used to be, a subcompact car purchase was your one-way ticket to a “you-get-what-you-pay-for” automotive purgatory. Noise, uninspired dynamics, snail-like progress and low-rent digs were your rewards for being frugal. Not so now, as the game has advanced considerably with the likes of the feisty Ford Fiesta, the well-appointed Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent, the clever Honda Fit and the funky Fiat 500.

I think I may have discovered its enduring appeal.

Toyota’s aging Yaris Hatchback is not one of the more inspired offerings. Looking into the archives, the Yaris HB trailed in a subcompact comparison test a few years ago and despite a few cosmetic and feature upgrades since then, this little blinkered pony soldiers forth with its weak 106 hp, 103 lb-ft 1.5L four and optional four-speed auto that harks from another automotive era.

Still, looking at last year’s Canadian sales charts, the Toyota Yaris outsold the Ford, the Fiat, and the Kia, and was just below the Honda Fit. Which suggests the Toyota faithful are here in numbers, which certainly gives Toyota the right to trot the Yaris out for another season.

The Yaris Hatchback is the smallest and least expensive car in Toyota’s North American lineup, and it should not be confused for the Yaris Sedan (starting at $17,315), which, being a rebadged Mazda2, we do count as a worthy contender.

The 2018 Toyota Yaris Hatchback starts at $15,475 for the base CE three-door with a five-speed manual transmission (add $1,000 for a four-speed auto). While air conditioning is not included, there is a decent amount of standard kit: heated front seats, steering-wheel audio controls, back-up camera, 6.1-inch Display Audio, power windows, Bluetooth, nine airbags, and new-for-2018 Toyota Safety Sense C.

The latter is a camera-/laser-based suite that incorporates three active safety technologies – lane-departure warning, automatic high-beams and a pre-collision system that warns the driver of a potential collision, and will automatically apply the brakes if the driver does not respond.

While the five-door hatch models start at $16,815 for the LE with air conditioning, cruise, powered mirrors, keyless entry and five-speed manual, the volume model is the next-up $17,815 LE 4A that adds auto transmission.

Tested here is the top-trim $19,510 SE 4A that ramps up the proceedings with snazzy 16-inch alloys, six-speaker audio (up from four), leather-wrapped steering and shift knob, fog lamps, projector headlamps with LED running lights, rear spoiler, and front sport seats. The only mechanical upgrade for the SE is the adoption of rear-wheel disc brakes over the standard drums.

For 2018 the Yaris Hatchback gets slightly revised styling both front and rear, and it must be said, this tester in Absolutely Red actually turned a few heads. Or maybe it was that aggressive maw that looks ready to hoover dogs and small children right off the tarmac.

Don’t be fooled. Despite its hungry grill, sharp alloys, and rear spoiler, the Yaris HB SE 4A is, er, fairly leisurely when it comes to forward progress. Not that anybody buys a subcompact hatch for sub-six-second 0–100 km blasts, but the Yaris with automatic does trail the competition in this regard. And it shows up when attempting to merge with highway traffic. The weak engine gets no help from the four-speed transmission thanks to the gaping spread between gears that has the four-pot straining away in its upper rev range on kick down, making for way more noise that forward progress.

Yes, the Nissan Micra uses a four-speed auto too, but these gearboxes are down a cog or two from just about every other competitor.

The Yaris does much better as an urban runabout. The low beltline and tall greenhouse make for excellent outward visibility, and as is the case with most Toyota products, the ride is generally smooth and quiet.

The Yaris HB is built in France, and it sees input from Toyota’s European operations. That could be why it actually possesses decent-feeling electric steering and good poise in the corners.

The sport seats in this SE are reasonably comfy and stylish, but too bad about the driving position. The steering wheel only tilts, and it is pretty close to the dash. Combine that with pedals that are close to the driver and one ends up with a decidedly simian driving posture – arms out and legs folded up.

The Yaris’ interior won’t win any awards for inspired design either, but at least it shows a fair amount of soft-touch surfaces and the dash ergonomics are good. The standard 6.1-inch colour touchscreen interface will be familiar to Toyota customers. It’s clear, logical, and below is a trio of large HVAC dials.

A pleasant surprise here is the SE’s upgraded six-speaker audio (up from four). It fills the cabin with rich, natural sound and goes a long way in making the Yaris a nicer place to be. A crap sound system can be a demoralizing thing – a constant reminder of a car’s (and possibly your) inherent cheapness. No Android Auto or Apple CarPlay though.

The Yaris SE will accommodate a couple of rear-seat passengers in reasonable comfort; and with said 60/40 seat folded the load floor is almost flat. The hatch opening is large too. But with the compact spare tire keeping the floor fairly high, its hauling capacity pales when compared to the Honda Fit.

Official fuel economy numbers for the Yaris Hatchback with four-speed auto are 7.8 L/100 km city, 6.6 city, and 7.3 combined. My test week concluded at 7.1 L/100 km.

So there must be more to the Yaris Hatchback we’re missing if its sales are still good in a segment full of, frankly, better cars.

I think I may have discovered its enduring appeal.

The Yaris HB is a bloody user-friendly device. It’s easy to get in to, it zips in and out of urban traffic like a pro, visibility is excellent, it’s reasonably comfortable, and when the engine isn’t thrashing its brains out to catch up with faster traffic, the cabin is really quite serene. The Yaris seems expertly engineered to not piss you off, to be your faithful A-to-B appliance, doing its best to distance you from stress, the gas pumps, and with Toyota’s legendary reliability, hopefully the repair shop.

2018 Toyota Yaris Hatchback SE 4A
Engine Displacement: 1.5L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 106 hp
Peak Torque: 103 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 7.8/6.6/7.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 433 L
2018 Toyota Yaris Hatchback SE 4A
Base Price $19,350
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,590
Price as Tested $21,040
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.9
7 Styling
4 Powertrain
7 Quality
7 Comfort
6 Practicality
8 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
7 Features
8 Value