2018 Toyota Yaris 5-Door SE Review

Toyota's smallest car punches below its weight


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Easy to park, packed with good safety tech, reliable.
Negatives: Whiny engine, poor handling, weird exterior styling, limp performance with the automatic transmission, lack of a telescoping steering wheel results in an awkward driving position.
Bottom Line: Though the Yaris is seriously reliable and very safe, it just doesn't thrill in the least. There are better subcompacts out there that offer more for your money. At least the Yaris is very affordable, though we wouldn't recommend the base model.
Subcompacts still exist in America, a land where big trucks and big SUVs dominate. And there's pretty much one reason: they're affordable. A secondary but less important reason is that they tend to be fuel efficient, and finally, they're easy to park in urban environments where space is a commodity.

The Toyota Yaris is one of them. Now in its third generation, the Yaris soldiers on but with very little fanfare or drama. The smallest Toyota and one of the smallest cars sold in America, the Yaris appeals to youth and to those who can't or don't want to spend much on an automobile. We drove the top-spec five-door SE liftback for a week to see what it was all about. Read on for the full review.
 

Driving Experience

4.5

 

Nobody who buys a Yaris expects driving thrills or great composure, and they won't be surprised in either department. That being said, we did expect a hair better experience behind the wheel.

Ride Quality: Though we wouldn't characterize the ride as harsh, you do feel everything. It's not a smooth ride.

Acceleration: 0-60 comes in a geologic 10+ seconds, but that's not surprising given the small displacement four-pot. The four-speed automatic is a dinosaur, and it shows. The noisy engine is annoying, as well.

Braking: The small wheels don't help in the really long braking distances. Something this small shouldn't take so long to stop.

Steering: Steering is light, and turn in isn't quick, either.

Handling: There's a lot of understeer going on here, and the nose pushes hard under aggressive turns. There's also a fair amount of body roll. This is not a car to take on the twisties.

Technology

5.5

 

Just like the rest of the Yaris, the in-car technology is barely passable, and we weren't even remotely wowed by the infotainment system or the controls. It fees cut-rate, like virtually everything else about the Yaris.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch touchscreen looks dull and has limited smartphone integration due to the lack for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It's a dated system that Toyota needs to update badly.

Controls: The small buttons that flank the touchscreen are too thin to use while driving, and the audio knobs are also small in diameter and too shallow to manage well.

Styling

4.7

 

Though no one really expects a tiny car to look stunning, the Yaris is actually disappointing. Every other car in this segment looks better, including the seriously unattractive Mitsubishi Mirage hatcbhack, which looks beestung. The Honda Fit and Kia Rio look way, way better.

Front: Pinched in the middle and overly busy, there's way too much disparate stuff going on here. That lower fascia reminds us that you can't turn a frown upside down.

Rear: The Yaris's best angle, and it's not even very good. The clean taillights look decent, but the triangular black plastic inserts where some reflectors should be cheapens the tail section.

Profile: Not terrible, but we wonder why the overly thick C-pillar has to be there. It decreases visibility and adds nothing to the look.

Cabin: The sporty-esque seats look pretty good even in black fabric, while the slab-like dash with weird shallow cutouts to store what (we have no idea) just looks cheap.

Comfort

4.4

 

While the two front positions aren't terrible, the Yaris overall is just not a great place to pass the miles. Ergonomics are poor, and everything feels like you just didn't get much for your money.

Front Seats: Decent seats get killed by the lack of a telescoping steering wheel, leaving the driver in an uncomfortable driving position pretty much all the time.

Rear Seats: Cramped for anyone over 5'4". Not a fun place to spend any time.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Though it's not creaky in any way, the cabin gets buzzy from the engine and the noisy tires at highway speeds. We imagine it gets tiring to be here for more than thirty minutes.

Visibility: Visibility out the front and sides is quite good, but the rear gets compromised by thick C-pillars.

Climate: Everything is manual, even in top trim. The climate system seems to work ok, but it's by no means powerful. A/C saps the already weak engine painfully.

Safety

7

 

Here's one area where the Yaris doesn't suck, and it's an important one. All Toyotas now come with a solid set of standard safety features, something families should consider when shopping (not that you can fit a family in the Yaris).

IIHS Rating: The driver small front overlap crash rating is only marginal, which isn't good. It does, however score "good" in the other crash tests.

NHTSA Rating: It failed to nab the top rating, but the Yaris did earn four stars out of five.

Standard Tech: The Yaris SE came with Toyota Safety Sense-C with Pre-Collision system/Lane Departure Warning/Auto High Beams, Star Safety System with Brake Assist and Smart Stop Tech.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

5.2

 

We tend to think of hatchbacks as practical space crammed into a small car, but that's not the case with the Yaris. It's not well-suited for storage in the cabin or in the back.

Storage Space: The front occupants suffer because there's no armrest compartment and only a couple of shallow trays to hold gear.

Cargo Room: There's 15.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row in the four door, but it's not nearly as versatile as the Honda Fit's space. At least the opening is large, and there's a 60/40 split folding second-row. There are no published figures of the space when the second row is folded flat.

Fuel Economy

6.7

 

EPA numbers are pretty good (and they should be for a tiny car), but there are better, larger cars that are more efficient and more powerful.

Observed: 31.3 mpg

Distance Driven: 87 miles

Driving Factors: We drove it only on local roads, but we pushed it pretty hard, which accounts for the less than stellar mileage compared to the EPA rating.

Audio

6

 

The stock audio system is fine and pretty much on par with what we expect at this price point. Nothing terrible and nothing impressive about it.



Final Thoughts

We know that every mainstream carmaker has to have an econobox in their lineup, but we're just not sure why the Yaris has to be so mediocre when almost every carmaker delivers a better one. The Ford Fiesta drives better, the Honda Fit is more practical, and the Kia Rio has a far better interior. Even the more expensive Mazda3 gets better gas mileage. The Yaris is in serious need of an overhaul and much more attention from Toyota. Frankly, it's just an embarrassing car to drive.
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