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2019 Toyota Yaris Liftback: New Car Review

There are two Toyotas named Yaris. They have different body styles, different styling and are even made by different companies. The 2019 Toyota Yaris Liftback we’re talking about here is the 2- and 4-door hatchback model that’s built in France (of all places) by Toyota. This is in contrast to the Yaris four-door sedan (formerly dubbed Yaris iA) that is built in Japan by Mazda.

Yes, it’s all pretty confusing. But here’s what you need to know about the Yaris Liftback besides its name: It’s not a superstar in the subcompact car segment, but it’s a solid competitor. Feature content is a particular strength, boasting standard accident avoidance tech like forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning technologies. These are even upgraded for 2019 with pedestrian detection. The suspension is also surprisingly capable, delivering more fun-to-drive smiles than expected, while fuel economy is quite good. Plus, it’s hard to ignore Toyota’s sterling reliability reputation.

However, Toyota’s littlest hatchback has been on the market for a long time without a full redesign and it’s showing its age. The Yaris Liftback continues to use a 4-speed automatic transmission, for example, which hinders both acceleration and highway fuel economy. Most rivals also better it in terms of interior space, materials quality, driving dynamics and overall refinement. Indeed, that Mazda-built Yaris sedan is a superior subcompact car, and although it’s a little more expensive, we think it’s the Yaris to get.

What’s New for 2019?

The "Liftback" in its name is new this year, indicating that the "Toyota Yaris" now refers to the Mazda-built 4-door sedan. The car we’re talking about here is the 3- and 4-door hatchback. The one real update is that the automatic emergency braking system now detects pedestrians. See the 2019 Toyota Yaris models for sale near you

What We Like

Standard accident-avoidance tech; good overall fuel economy; surprisingly accommodating back seat; rare 2-door hatchback body style

What We Don’t

Outdated 4-speed automatic transmission; underpowered and noisy engine; steering wheel doesn’t telescope; small cargo area, even for a subcompact

How Much?

$15,635-$18,620

Fuel Economy

The Yaris is powered by a 106-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, while a 4-speed automatic is optional. Both transmissions are antiquated, which doesn’t help the Yaris’ lethargic acceleration or so-so gas mileage. The latter is basically the same with either transmission, however. The Environmental Protection Agency indicates that an automatic Yaris will return 30 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg in combined driving. The manual notches things up to 30 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/33 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2019 Toyota Yaris Liftback is available as a 3- or 5-door hatchback. Both body styles are offered in L and LE trim levels, while the 5-door adds the SE. There’s also a Yaris sedan that, despite its name, is actually a completely different car that we review separately.

The base Yaris L ($15,635, 3-door; $16,760, 5-door) is well-equipped with 15-in steel wheels, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, a backup camera, air conditioning, power locks and windows, a tilt-only steering wheel (a telescoping function is unavailable), a 60/40-split folding back seat, a 6.1-in touchscreen, Bluetooth, a USB port and a 6-speaker stereo with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and a media player interface.

The Yaris LE ($17,385 3-door; $17,660 5-door) adds 15-in alloy wheels, different exterior trim, power mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, a 60/40-split folding back seat and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

The Yaris SE ($18,260) tacks on 16-in alloy wheels, bigger rear brakes, upgraded headlights, LED running lights, unique exterior styling cues, upgraded headlights, LED running/accent lights, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, upgraded fabric upholstery, a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, HD Radio, satellite radio, a 7-in touchscreen and Toyota Entune smartphone-connectivity apps.

Safety

The Yaris comes with more standard safety features than any subcompact car. Besides the usual items of antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), traction and stability control, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags, the Yaris includes a driver knee airbag, a special front passenger under-cushion airbag, forward-collision warning and automatic braking and a lane-departure warning system.

In government crash-testing, the Yaris hatchback 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 nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Yaris its top rating of Good in every crash-test category except for the difficult new small front-overlap test, where it received a second-worst Marginal score.

Behind the Wheel

The Yaris is surprisingly fun to drive. The steering is noticeably tighter and more responsive than you might expect, and the car zips around with an eagerness that we don’t usually see in subcompact cars. Being engineered and built in the European market probably has something to do with this.

The raucous engine and outdated 4-speed automatic transmission are killjoys, 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, too.

The Yaris’ 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 insufficient front seat adjustment and tilt-only steering column. We like the cabin’s design, as it has far more style than previous models, and the materials aren’t bad, either.

At the same time, we think the mechanically unrelated Yaris sedan outdoes its hatchback brandmate in terms of interior and driving experience, as does the extremely spacious Honda Fit and the well-rounded Kia Rio.

Other Cars to Consider

2019 Toyota Yaris — This is an odd duck, to be sure. Previously the Scion iA and actually known as the Mazda2 in other markets, this Mazda-made sedan has nothing in common with the Yaris Liftback but its badge. We think it’s better, though.

2019 Honda Fit — The Fit is arguably your best hatchback choice in the subcompact segment. It’s refined, well-equipped, fuel efficient and surprisingly quick, plus it offers a huge, versatile cargo area that rivals some small SUVs.

2019 Kia Rio — The Rio was all-new last year and impresses with its grown-up styling, high-quality cabin and comparatively sophisticated driving experience. Kia’s excellent value and warranty sweeten the deal.

Used Toyota Prius C — The Prius c is based on the Yaris Liftback, but its fuel economy pushes 50 mpg. It also offers an improved interior and more modern exterior styling. Prices are higher, though, so you may have to consider a used model.

Autotrader’s Advice

Actually, we’d get the Yaris sedan. But if a hatchback is must, we don’t think we could live without the keyless entry, cruise control and power mirrors gained by opting for the LE trim. Find a Toyota Yaris for sale

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