Pros: Good overall fuel economy; standard Bluetooth and USB/iPod connectivity; accommodating backseat; stylish interior; nimble handling
Cons: Outdated 4-speed automatic transmission; noisy engine; steering wheel doesn't telescope
What's New: The base Yaris L receives some new standard equipment for 2013, including a 6-speaker stereo and Bluetooth. Also, cruise control is newly standard on the LE.
The 2013 Toyota Yaris marks year two for the current design, so it's a good time to sit back and take stock. Last year we hailed the redesigned Yaris's improved styling, features and driving dynamics. But how well does Toyota's smallest, cheapest car compete in this fast-moving segment?
Let's get the bad news out of the way first: The Yaris continues to use a 4-speed automatic transmission, which hinders both acceleration and highway fuel economy. Most rivals have five or six speeds by now. So that's a bit disappointing.
But the Yaris does its best to compensate in other areas. Feature content was already a strength by subcompact standards, but the 2013 Yaris goes even further, providing Bluetooth and six stereo speakers across the lineup. The interior is both stylish and spacious, a rare combination at this price point. And the suspension is surprisingly capable, delivering more fun-to-drive smiles than expected.
To sum it up, the Yaris may not be a superstar but it's a solid competitor with the added bonuses of Toyota's traditionally strong resale value and reliability. Last year's redesign continues to stand the Yaris in good stead.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Toyota Yaris hatchback is offered in L, LE and SE trim levels.
The base L model is well-equipped with 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a 6-speaker stereo with iPod/USB connectivity, Bluetooth, a tilt-only steering wheel (a telescopic function is unavailable) and a fold-down backseat.
The LE adds features like a height-adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, a 60/40-split folding back seat and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
The sport-themed SE tacks on 16-in alloy wheels, unique exterior styling cues, sport fabric upholstery, a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and special instrumentation.
The Yaris model's front seats are nothing to write home about, though the SE model's sport fabric upholstery does seem to add a bit of grip. A potential deal breaker for taller drivers is the tilt-only steering column, which requires a serious reach forward if the seat has been moved all the way back. We love the dashboard, though, as it has far more style than ever before, vaulting the Yaris to the head of the class in this respect. The materials aren't bad, either; no, the plastics aren't luxurious, but at least they have distinctive grains and everything seems to be bolted together well.
The Yaris model's legitimately accommodating backseat is proof that subcompacts don't have to punish rear passengers. Even full-sized adults can ride back there for a while without complaint. Kudos to Toyota's engineers for figuring out how to make this happen in such a tiny car.
Speaking of tiny things, the Yaris model's hatchback cargo area measures a bit more than 15 feet, which is about the size of a midsize sedan's trunk. Still, fold the Yaris model's rear seat back down and you'll have a very handy box-shaped cargo bay. Toyota doesn't provide an estimate for the maximum cargo capacity, but it's certainly a useful amount. That's a hatchback for you.
By class standards, the Yaris brings strong technology to the table. We like that even the most basic Yaris comes standard with iPod/USB connectivity as well as Bluetooth for 2013. The formerly upmarket 6-speaker stereo is also standard this year. There's not much else going on in the tech department -- no navigation system and no Entune mobile app interface as in other Toyota products -- but the Yaris gets a passing grade here.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Yaris is powered by a 1.5-liter inline-4 rated at 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. It's not our favorite engine in this segment. Noise is pronounced during acceleration and there's not much get-up-and-go, either. A 5-speed manual is standard and it's actually quite pleasant to operate; we recommend it over the optional 4-speed automatic, which feels primitive compared with the newer 5- and 6-speed units available elsewhere.
The fuel economy gap between the two transmissions has narrowed for 2013. Last year, the manual was a significant 3 miles per gallon better on the highway, but this year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it's basically a dead heat, as it has rated the manual at 30 mpg city/37 mpg hwy and the automatic at 30 mpg city/36 mpg hwy. These are unimpressive highway figures for a tiny economy car; the city figures, however, are robust.
The 2013 Yaris comes with standard stability control, nine airbags and whiplash-reducing front seats.
In government crash testing, the Yaris got an overall rating of four stars out of five, including four stars for frontal impacts, five stars for side impacts and four stars for rollover safety. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Yaris its top rating of Good in every crash test category, including the roof strength test, previously a trouble spot for this Toyota.
There's no doubt that Toyota has upped the fun factor with the current Yaris. The steering is noticeably tighter and more responsive than before and the car zips around with an eagerness that we don't remember from the previous car. It's kind of fun. The raucous engine is a bit of a killjoy, though, and we'd hesitate to call the ride supple. In other words, the Yaris is something of a mixed bag from behind the wheel. Make sure you take it up to highway speeds during the test drive and try to find some bumpy pavement to sample, too.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Sonic: The Sonic excels at cruising on the highway and it has some neat interior touches, not to mention superior power and fuel economy with the 1.4-liter turbo. A tough competitor for the Yaris.
Kia Rio: Blessed with possibly the best-looking exterior and interior of any subcompact, the Rio is the runway model of this group and it's a pleasant drive, too.
Toyota Prius c: If you've got up to $20,000 to spend and want to use less gas, check out the new Prius c, which is based on the Yaris but runs at an insane 50 mpg.
Given the Yaris model's equipment upgrades for 2013, we think the base L model gives the best value. But pay attention to the height of the driver's seat, because it's not adjustable in the L; you'll need the LE for that.
What do you think of the new Yaris? Let us know in the comments below.