Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2016 Toyota Yaris Sedan

Quebec City, Quebec – Who consistently makes some of the best driving small cars on the planet? Mazda. Who did Toyota turn to for its new Yaris sedan? Yep, Mazda.

Who did Toyota turn to for its new Yaris sedan? Yep, Mazda.

Arriving now in Toyota showrooms is the 2016 Yaris Sedan, which, for all intents and purposes is the all-new Mazda2 sedan – a car that Mazda will not be selling in North America. Nor will they sell the hatchback version, as Mazda feels the CX-3 crossover, which is based on the fresh Mazda2 architecture, will scratch any and all “2” itches that our market might generate.

So let’s tip our hat to Toyota for bringing us this impressive subcompact sedan. Other than the badging, a grafted on catfish snout and some suspension tuning, this tidy four-dour is a Mazda2 from stem to stern, built in Mazda’s Mexico facility.

Toyota is not new to the idea of jumping into the sack with other manufacturers. It had a long-running affair with GM (Toyota Matrix=Pontiac Vibe), it is currently dating Subaru (Scion FR-S=Subaru BRZ), and even had an uptown fling with Aston Martin that produced a freak of a kid (Scion iQ=Aston Martin Cygnet).

Fittingly, the Yaris’ media event took place in Quebec – the first province to embrace the nameplate. Since its Canadian debut, Yaris sales in Quebec add up to more than all other provinces combined.

Toyota bills the 2016 Yaris Sedan as a premium subcompact, which isn’t such a stretch once you’ve been behind the wheel. There’s some price overlap with the larger Corolla sedan, but Toyota is unapologetic about that – the Yaris Sedan is meant to appeal to a more urban-centric millennial demographic that doesn’t feel size matters. They can surely hope for that, as the median age for the Corolla buyer is 53 years.

The 2016 Yaris is powered by a 1.5L direct-injected four that sends 106 hp at 6,000 rpm and 103 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm to the front wheels. Yaris starts at $16,995 for the six-speed manual model which is equipped with push-button start, tilt/telescope steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, four-speaker audio, USB, Bluetooth and 16-inch steel wheels with covers. This car gets a combined fuel economy rating of 6.7 L/100 km.

For an additional $1,205, the Yaris automatic at $18,200 gets a six-speed automatic transmission with lock-up torque converter and sport mode that calls up a more aggressive shift map. This one is rated at an even more efficient 6.4 L/100 km combined.

O hatchback, where art thou? Road Trip: 2016 Mazda CX-3 in BC’s Interior

The Premium Plus model at $20,200 is automatic only, and layers on heated front seats, back up camera, twin USB ports, six-speaker audio, 16-inch alloys and Mazda’s familiar interface with seven-inch screen and rotary controller that lives aft of the shifter. Navigation for this car will run you about $500.

The fact that heated seats are not available on the base model could be an issue here in Canada.

The interior is lifted right out of the Mazda CX-3 crossover – which is to say it is a high-style, premium effort with expensive feeling controls and soft touch surfaces where they count. The stitched and upholstered accent that runs the width of the dash is a classy touch, as are the elegantly surfaced plastics. The large central speedometer is clearly backlit, but the digital tach just to the left is puny and hard to read at a glance. The base cars get an easy-to-use small screen perched dashtop that incorporates a volume knob and an array of buttons including some radio presets. Sound quality is passable.

I found the driver’s seat to strike a fine balance of comfort and support, and with it adjusted for my near six-foot frame, I could sit behind myself without eating my knees. And for a subcompact class sedan, the trunk is massive. So yes, carrying four adults and all their stuff would not be an issue in the 2016 Yaris sedan.

Out on the road the 2016 Yaris reveals itself to be a great little car. The structure is rock solid, and as we’ve come to expect from Mazda products, its dynamics point to an automaker that is well and truly tuned in to what makes for an engaging drive. The electric steering is feelsome and accurate, turn in is alert but not twitchy. The limits may be low but it is a wonderfully rounded package. The Yaris is as happy slicing up a two lane secondary road as humming along the highway in near monastic silence – the tach showing 2,000 rpm at 100 km/h. Cabin isolation is exceptional for this class of car.

As is the ride quality. Toyota tuned the suspension for a bit more compliance than Mazda’s setup. Indeed, if we can level any criticism at the donor company, their suspension tunings can err on the flinty side. Not so here. The 2016 Yaris glides over most road perfections with an ease that eludes many luxury vehicles.

As evidenced by the numbers, the little 106-hp four-pot is no powerhouse. But it is smooth, eager and very efficient. The two testers I drove (manual and automatic) showed 5.7 L/100 km and 5.9 L/100 km at the end of the test day. The six-speed stick model is a hoot to drive – short positive throws and smooth clutch take up – but Toyota expects only about a 15 percent take rate. The fact that you can’t get the premium features with the manual-tranny car further limits its appeal.

The six-speed automatic car drives very well. It’s a fine transmission, and in sport mode the four-pot generally runs in a lower gear, giving the sedan a bit more juice. That said, passing slower traffic requires some advanced planning, and highway merging can be a nail-biter.

The 2016 Yaris Sedan comes in six shades, none of which mask the fact that the Toyota schnozz doesn’t really jibe with the rather demure lines of the rest of the car. No biggie though, because once behind the wheel it doesn’t matter.

The obvious question here is: does Toyota have any plans of rebadging the new Mazda2 hatchback and blessing us with its presence? The official word right now is no. The aging French-built Yaris hatchback (from $14,595) that just underwent a freshening will be sold alongside this new sedan.

Pricing: 2016 Toyota Yaris Sedan
Manual (MSRP: $16,995): Six-speed manual, push-button start, tilt/telescope steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, four-speaker audio, USB, Bluetooth, 16-inch steel wheels with covers.
Automatic (Starting MSRP: $18,200): Six-speed automatic transmission with lock-up torque converter, Sport Mode that boosts torque.
Premium Package (MSRP $20,200; Automatic only): Display Audio system with 7” touchscreen, six speakers, two USB ports, heated front seats, aluminum alloy wheels, fog lamps, back-up camera.