Test Drive: 2018 Toyota Yaris is a car for urban drivers

The 2018 Toyota Yaris is a city car, pure and simple. It’s tiny, weighs barely a ton and is reliable to a fault. In liftback form, it can take on 15.3 cubic feet of cargo, and transport four to five people. And it’s inexpensive, so owners won’t mind so much when the rear fascia gets scuffed, or someone creases the door in a parking lot.

All of that applies to the 5-door model. The long doors on our 3-door test car render it less suitable for urban conditions than the 5-door. We’re not sure who Toyota is targeting with the 3-door model, since suburban and rural folks likely would gravitate to the 5-door Yaris, or even the bigger, safer, more refined Corolla — a compact car that costs $3,000 more and gets about the same fuel economy. Perhaps they’re reaching out to folks who otherwise would buy the stylish, sporty, retro Fiat 500 — also a 3-door minicar, but one that lacks the Toyota model’s reputation for reliability.

For Toyota aficionados in the market for a small sedan or hatchback, the Yaris iA presents another complication. The iA started out as the Mazda2 and evolved into the Scion iA before being folded into Toyota’s Yaris line with the discontinuation of Toyota’s Scion brand in 2016. It costs a few hundred dollars more than the standard Yaris, but is much more engaging and fun to drive.

While the base Yaris starts at $15,635, making it one of the lowest-priced cars on the market, our Yaris LE had a sticker price of $19,150. Its standard features included alloy wheels; automatic transmission; Entune audio system and multimedia bundle; Bluetooth hands-free phone capability; audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel; and remote keyless entry. It also came with Toyota’s Safety Sense-C and Star Safety systems, which endow the Yaris with safety technology usually associated with higher-end vehicles.

Tall drivers were able to find a comfortable position despite the lack of a telescoping steering wheel. While the Yaris was fairly peppy from a dead stop, the car struggled a bit on hilly terrain at highway speeds. This was especially noticeable when the cruise control was in use, causing the transmission to downshift to maintain speed.

For drivers planning to carry more than one adult passenger, the Nissan Versa could be a better choice than the Yaris because it has significantly more rear legroom. The Versa, equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission rather than the antiquated 4-speed setup used in the Yaris, also gets better fuel economy.

The ride and noise level in the Yaris both are acceptable for a small, low-priced car. Engine noise is pronounced after downshifts, however.

The Yaris received a 5-star rating in government frontal crash tests for the driver, and a 4-star rating for the front passenger. Testing has not been completed for side-impact crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Yaris its top “Good” rating in every category except the small-overlap frontal crash test (marginal).

2018 Toyota Yaris 3-Door LE Liftback

Price: $19,150

Engine: 1.5-liter inline Four, 106 horsepower, 103 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 4-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Weight: 2,335 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Wheels: 15-in. alloy

Tires: 175/65R15 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 15.3 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 11.1 gal.

Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 35 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

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