2015 Toyota Yaris SE

2015 Toyota Yaris SE 5-Door Review

Sometimes less is just ... less.

By: David Merline

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: February 20th, 2015

The Yaris, Toyota's entry-level econobox, got a whole new design attitude for the 2015 model year. The exterior and interior were updated, with the former getting a more aggressive front fascia and the latter getting a built-in touch screen. But despite the upgraded fit-and-finish, it's still clear that this car's primary mission is cost-savings.

  • Exterior

    The most noticeable change to the Yaris for 2015 is the latest iteration of Toyota's ever-expanding grille. Now the "v" shape of the headlight trim actually becomes one with the massive fish mouth of the lower grille; the two shapes combine to create a blotter-like abstraction that can be interpreted as either a majestic eagle flying over a great mountain, or an enormous propeller beanie.

    Either way, it's an odd-looking car, but then, the Yaris has always been an odd-looking car. An odd-looking car with an odd-sounding name (the name, according to Toyota, derives from an amalgam of the Greek word "charis," which means elegance, and the German word "ja, which means "yes"). At least now, with its emboldened front end, it's got a bit of an edge to it, to the extent something this bulbous and uninteresting can have an edge.

    The SE is the highest trim level, which for the exterior means projector-beam headlights with LED accents and chrome surrounds, a black grille with piano-black accents, a rear spoiler, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

  • Interior

    Inside the Yaris, the words "highest trim level" begin to take on the aroma of a particularly mean-spirited prank. There's nothing particularly wrong with the Yaris' interior, in as much as the seats are sittable and face the right way and the controls are more or less where controls usually are. It's more the casual disregard with which it seems to have been designed and made that really tugs at the pity strings.

    "Here, poor people," the Yaris seems to snarl, "Here's your stupid car already. Now shut up and get back to your quickly disappearing jobs!"

    This being the highest trim level, there is a navigation system, if you want to pony up an extra $900 for a system half as good as what's on your smartphone (which can be connected via Bluetooth, USB or aux-port connection), but you shouldn't, because it's really not worth it.

    Surprisingly, there's no back-up camera with the SE trim. This is odd not only because it's already got a screen in it, which is the most expensive bit, but because back-up cameras will be mandatory on all new cars beginning next year. Considering that Toyota's rival Honda has already outfitted all its cars with back-up cameras in anticipation of the legislation making them obligatory, the absence of that technology in this car seems like something done out of spite rather than done out of fealty to the financial bottom line.

    The Yaris' sound system is likewise underwhelming. I'm not going to say that playing music through your iPhone while it's stuck in a pilsner glass would sound better, only that if you play your iPhone through a pilsner, you might find the odd flange-like effect somewhat novel and pleasant for a while. No such pleasure shall derive from this base stereo, however. In other words, be prepared to some frequent re-EQing if you like your drums to sound not so much like someone beating a wet rug with a rubber chicken.

    Space is sufficient, if not ample. There's adequate storage with the second-row seats folded, obviously, but in most cases, whether you're carrying passengers or luggage, or both, everyone's bound to be a bit cramped.

  • On the Road

    Lest you think there's nothing to love about the Yaris, let's be clear: it's not only a perfectly adequate piece of cheap transportation, but it can even be fun to drive, if you get it properly configured.

    Yes, of course that means a manual transmission. Sadly, our tester sported a 4-speed automatic that Toyota has specially tuned to always ensure that the Yaris putters along on the least-fun end of every torque curve. Should you choose to get a bit wild and downshift manually with the center-mounted shifter, like I did, you can get some sense of how much more fun you could be having in a shift-it-yourself Yaris.

    Still, the SE trim does provide a sportier, transmission, as well as larger disc brakes in the rear (replacing the drums - yes, drums - that come standard on the lower trims), and larger wheels, making it the only Yaris trim offering any chance for fun-making.

    The Yaris' little four-banger does its job with aplomb - the Yaris buzzes you around town rather efficiently, with an EPA-rated 30 mpg in the city (a less impressive 36 on the highway) coming from the 1.5-liter variable-valve-timed engine. Steering-and-handling-wise, the Yaris is well-executed, and - in SE trim at least - tuned for a considerable amount of flogging, the likes of which its rarely likely to see, sadly.

    The Yaris might not be packed with options - in fact you can't even pack it with options if you want - but it offers Toyota's reliable, if somewhat over-refined drivability in a package that's small enough to whip around in, but big enough to throw a bunch of crap in the back as well.

  • Conclusion

    The main problem with the Yaris is that in its class it is so far outshined by a certain party-themed rival that it's hard to think of many reasons to recommend it. Judged on its own merits, however, it fares only slightly better. Toyota seems to be alone in offering not even the possible whiff of upscale features in its compact cars; most rivals are packing their low-end cars so full of options that it threatens to devalue some luxury brands.

    This may be a smart financial call on Toyota's part, and its stockholders might thank them for it, but if this is the car Toyota thinks will lure first-time car-buyers into a lifetime of Toyota ownership, it might want to install an aftermarket back-up camera and see all those smaller brands getting closer all the time.

  • Specs & Prices

    Engine: 1.5-liter naturally aspirated inline-four

    Transmission: Four-speed automatic

    Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, front-wheel drive

    Power Output: 106 hp / 103 lb-ft

    Fuel Economy (mpg): 30 city / 36 highway

    Base Price: $18,445

    As Tested: $19,524 (incl. $825 destination)

    Available Features: Navigation upgrade

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