The confusing life of Toyota‘s subcompact people mover continues as the car first known as the Scion iA and then Toyota Yaris iA now finds itself called simply the 2020 Toyota Yaris. However, the Yaris story gets even weirder.
It might be sold at Toyota dealerships and share the same warranty, one year of complimentary maintenance and standard accident avoidance tech as other Toyotas. It obviously wears the same familiar badge. And yet the Yaris Sedan isn’t really a Toyota. It’s actually designed, engineered and built by Mazda, which sells it as the Mazda2 in other markets. Frankly, this is a very good thing, as it looks and drives very much like a miniature version of the excellent Mazda3. As such, it has sharp driving dynamics, superior fuel economy and a stylish, well-made cabin.
Additionally, a new Yaris Hatchback joins the lineup for 2020, replacing the Yaris Liftback offered last year. While the Yaris Liftback was actually built by Toyota and shared nothing in common with the Yaris Sedan with which it shared a name, the new Hatchback is simply a hatchback version of the Mazda2, just like the Yaris Sedan. Needless to say, just as Mazda’s involvement in the Yaris Sedan made for a great vehicle, the new Yaris Hatchback is miles better than the Yaris Liftback it replaces and serves to make the Yaris family stronger than its ever been.
So even if the Yaris Sedan’s story is a bit confusing, you really only need to know one thing: If you’re interested in a subcompact sedan, it should be on your radar. No matter what it’s called and who makes it, it’s a very good small car.
What’s New for 2020?
For 2020, the Mazda-built Yaris Sedan spawns a Hatchback variant, which replaces the lackluster Toyota-made Yaris Liftback offered in previous model years. The new Yaris Hatchback is available in LE and XLE trims and is priced identically to the sedan. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also made standard across the board for 2020. See the 2020 Toyota Yaris models for sale near you
What We Like
Long list of standard equipment including accident-avoidance tech
Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
New hatchback option
Excellent crash-test scores
Great handling and driving experience
What We Don’t
Slow acceleration even for this segment
Higher price than other subcompacts
The Toyota Yaris Sedan has only one engine choice: a 106-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder, which is mated to a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is rated at 32 miles per gallon in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and 35 mpg in combined driving with the automatic and 30 mpg city/39 mpg hwy/34 mpg combined with the manual. These figures are among the best in the segment.
Standard Features & Options
The 2020 Toyota Yaris Sedan is available in L, LE and XLE trim levels, while the new-for-2020 Hatchback comes only in LE and XLE trims.
Standard equipment on the L ($16,605) includes 15-in steel wheels, a low-speed forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking system, a backup camera, keyless entry, full power accessories (lock, windows, mirrors), air conditioning, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, Mazda’s infotainment system (center console controller, a 7-in screen that’s touch-operated when the car is stopped), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, two USB ports, an auxiliary audio jack, Bluetooth, HD and satellite radios and a 6-speaker sound system.
The LE ($17,605) adds 16-in alloy wheels, fog lights, heated mirrors, proximity entry, push-button start and a rear spoiler.
Both the L and LE come standard with a manual transmission but a 6-speed automatic is a $1,110 option.
The XLE ($19,705) comes only with an automatic transmission and adds automatic LED headlights, LED running lights, automatic wipers, a Sport driving mode, automatic climate control, simulated leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Yaris comes standard with a forward collision alert system with automatic emergency braking and rain-sensing windshield wipers, along with front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and a backup camera, which is now required by law.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Yaris Sedan its best possible 5-star rating in the overall, frontal- and side-impact categories. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it scores of Good across the board in all five crashworthiness categories in which it was tested. Otherwise, though, the Yaris comes up a little short. Headlights were given a Poor due to inadequate visibility, the vehicle’s LATCH child safety system was given a Marginal for its overall ease-of-use and while the automatic emergency braking system performed as advertised in the 12 mph test, it failed to function at all in the Institute’s 25 mph test.
Behind the Wheel
The Yaris is surprisingly enjoyable to drive given that it has a mere 106 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque. There’s no doubt the car’s relatively light weight of just under 2,500 pounds is a factor here but the engine is eager to rev, steep hills are no big deal and there’s plenty of pep for most commutes and excursions.
The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual but most buyers will go for the 6-speed automatic. It’s a regular, planetary-geared unit (as opposed to a continuously variable transmission) and it shifts just as smartly as it does in other cars produced by Mazda. If anyone does go for the stick shift, the action is fairly quick and slick, though the clutch bites quite high within the pedal’s range of travel.
The rest of the driving experience is true to its Mazda engineering rather than its Toyota badge and that’s a good thing. Although certainly not as sharp to drive as the pricier Mazda3, the Yaris is nevertheless blessed with responsive steering and sharp reactions that make it one of the best subcompacts to drive. It’s also sufficiently solid and quiet for a small, inexpensive car, though the ride can be a bit firm.
As for interior room, there’s no hiding the fact that the car is narrow, the result being that shoulder room is somewhat tight. Meanwhile, legroom is fine for an adult of average size, even in the back. Your feet can slide under the seat in front and it’s bearable for more than a short trip. Headroom is also okay for someone who’s not of above-average height. The more irritating issue for the front occupants is that the center armrest is too short, doesn’t slide forward and quickly becomes uncomfortable.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Honda Fit — While the Yaris is available in both sedan and hatchback bodystyles, the Fit is sold exclusively as a hatchback. When you consider that the Fit’s back seat and cargo space challenges that of some small SUVs, this bodystyle becomes quite appealing. It’s also reliable and great to drive. The Fit is considered by many to be the leader in this segment.
2020 Kia Rio — The Rio was redesigned last year and its transformation resulted in an impressively grown-up subcompact that should be considered right alongside the Yaris. Its driving manners are shockingly sophisticated and its cabin earns big points for functionality, quality and style.
2020 Hyundai Accent — Like the Rio, the Accent was all-new last year and is available in both sedan and hatchback body styles. The Accent is perhaps not as impressive as the Rio but it shares many of its strong attributes with its corporate cousin.
Used Mazda3 — If you like the Yaris Sedan’s styling and upscale interior but want more space, consider the larger Mazda3. You’ll find many familiar switches and buttons in the larger Mazda and you’ll get more features but a higher base price means you may have to consider a used model instead of a new one.
Whenever the option is presented, we always recommend going with the hatchback, as its added practicality will certainly pay dividends over the course of your ownership. This is especially true in the case of the Yaris, as the hatchback costs the same as the sedan, which isn’t usually the case. If you were planning to go with an automatic transmission anyway, we’d recommend getting the range-topping Yaris Hatchback XLE. For $1,000 more than the automatic-equipped LE, you get a bunch of equipment that’ll make this economy car feel a lot more special. Find a Toyota Yaris for sale