2019 Toyota Yaris Buying Advice
This is the best subcompact car for you if you want to experience some automotive yin and yang. This Chinese symbolism represents the duality of dark, or negative (yin) and light, or positive (yang). What’s this have to do with the Toyota Yaris?
Toyota’s entry-level car in the North American market is available as a four-door sedan and as a two- or four-door hatchback. Aside from wearing the Yaris badge, the two body styles share nothing of consequence.
A simple approach says that representing yin is the hatchback, a Toyota design that comes to the U.S. from an assembly plant in France. Embodying yang is the sedan, engineered and built by rival Japanese automaker Mazda at a factory in Mexico. But things aren’t quite that simple, for each has its positives and negatives.
Nothing simple about Yaris’s battle for sales, either. Demand for subcompact cars is down nearly 25 percent through the first quarter of 2018, and sales of this Toyota are off more than 30 percent. The yang for Yaris? The segment is shedding competitors, with the Chevrolet Sonic and Ford Fiesta slated to be discontinued by model year 2021. Besides those cars, Yaris’s primary rivals are the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Mitsubishi Mirage.
Should you buy a 2019 model or wait for the 2020?
Take the sedan, leave the hatchback. The sedan gets updated styling and features for ’19; the hatch was freshened for ’18 and see no major changes for ‘19.
Toyota partnered with Mazda to create the Yaris sedan, which debuted for model-year 2016 as the Scion iA. When Toyota phased out its youth-oriented brand in 2017, the car was renamed the Yaris iA. For ’19, it drops the iA moniker to become simply the Yaris sedan. It’s offered in base L, volume-selling LE, and luxury-themed XLE grades.
Toyota had not released full information on the 2019 Yaris hatchback in time for this review, but expect it to return in L and LE grades in both two- and four-door form and as the four-door-only SE. The hatchback’s basic design dates to 2012, with its main change since the freshened styling and additional standard safety and convenience features it received for model-year ‘18. This hatch is long overdue for a clean-sheet redesign, but with subcompact-car sales in the tank, its future is hazy.
Styling: The Yaris sedan gets revised styling for 2019, including a new grille with a honeycomb pattern and updated exterior accents with piano black and chrome finishes. LE and XLE grades gain standard fog lights and a rear spoiler. Even with the changes, it’s evident the Yaris sedan is a Mazda design, one in fact sold overseas as the Mazda 2. It’s main styling themes are pure Mazda, particularly the body’s flowing cutlines and its sexy rump.
The hatchback is more of what you expect from Toyota design, and its model-year ’18 freshening reshaped its nose to conform to the company’s latest themes, as seen on the recently redesigned Camry.
The cars’ cabins follow a similar path. If you’ve been in a recent Mazda, you’ll feel at home in the Yaris sedan. The instrument panel is sporty, and the infotainment system eschews Toyota’s proprietary Entune interface for Mazda’s Connect system. The 7-inch display screen sits atop the dashboard and is governed by touch or the console-mounted knob/button arrangement found in other Mazdas. It makes programming radio presets unnecessarily complicated, but otherwise works well enough. And as in many other Mazda products, interior materials quality is surprisingly good for a car with an estimated starting price under $18,000 (2019 prices were not announced in time for this review).
The hatchback and sedan go yin and yang for interior design and passenger comfort. Yang to the hatchback for an Entune infotainment system that works a bit better than the sedan’s Mazda Connect thanks to a touchscreen easier to reach and an interface simpler to navigate. The sedan has more front and rear legroom, the hatchback more headroom. Yin to the hatchback for its lacks a front center armrest — not as part of a center console or attached to the seats — which makes long drives rather uncomfortable. Further hampering hatchback comfort is lack of a steering column that tilts but doesn’t telescope; the sedan’s does both.
The hatchback’s front cupholders are too far forward on the console and placing anything taller than a medium-size fountain drink in them blocks the USB port and/or auxiliary 12-volt power point. There is a cupholder at the rear of the center console, but it’s so big that even large fountain drinks fit insecurely and risk tipping if you take a turn quickly. Yang to the hatch for overall cargo volume and versatility, though, with 15.3 cubic feet behind the rear seat and about 30 with it folded. That beats the sedan’s 13.5-cubic-foot trunk.
Mechanical: The Yaris sedan and hatchback each have a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, each rated at a modest 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. They are not the same engine, however. The sedan’s has modern, direct fuel injection and is noticeably smoother and quieter than the hatchback’s older multi-port injected engine.
Transmissions? Yang to the sedan for a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Both are excellent performers that get the most from the limited power on tap. Yin to the hatch for its “yester-tech” five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Neither provides much enjoyment. The automatic in particular exacerbates engine noise and puts a damper on forward progress. Overall, it’s remarkable how sluggish the hatchback feels since its curb weight is almost 100 pounds less than that of the sedan.
Ride and handling? Yang again to the sedan. It feels lively and tossable, demonstrating solid steering feel and little body lean in fast turns. Better yet, the firm suspension tuning doesn’t take a drastic toll on ride quality. Hatchbacks are nearly the opposite. The relatively tall build gives it a somewhat ponderous feel during spirited driving, and the steering is heavy and lacks any real feedback.
The sedan and the L and LE hatchbacks have tidy turning radii of 32.2 and 31.5 feet, respectively. The SE hatchback’s turning diameter is a huge-for-the-class 36.1 feet. That’s greater than a Hyundai Tucson SUV and makes this subcompact much harder to maneuver in tight quarters than you’d expect. It’s a solid yin for a subcompact car designed to appeal to urbanites, and so is the hatch’s buckboard-stiff ride. Large bumps send very unpleasant vibrations through the body structure and steering wheel.
Features: Toyota had not released complete info on standard or optional equipment for either 2019 Yaris body style in time for this review, but it did reveal some sedan highlights. All sedan trim levels come with power windows and locks, pushbutton ignition, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio. Sedan LE and XLE models add aluminum wheels, fog lights, keyless access, and heated exterior mirrors. The XLE includes leatherette upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, automatic climate control, LED headlights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Expect the 2019 Yaris hatchback to carryover unchanged or with only the most minor of alterations. Look for the L model to gain come with full power accessories, a cover for the cargo compartment, and Entune with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display. LE versions should again build on that with remote entry and cruise control as standard. The ’19 SE should return with LED daytime running lights, fog lights, specific exterior trim with 16-inch aluminum wheels (up from 15s on the L and LE), and a larger 7-inch screen for the infotainment system.
On the safety-feature front, it’s yin sedan, yang hatchback. A Toyota-sourced car, the Yaris hatch benefits from the automaker’s campaign to equip virtually all its vehicles with a version of the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver assists. The Yaris hatch gets the Toyota Safety Sense C version, which includes lane-departure and forward-collision warning, plus surprisingly useful automatic on-off highbeam headlights. It also includes autonomous emergency braking that can stop the car from a range of speeds to mitigate a frontal collision.
The Yaris sedan reveals its Mazda roots in a narrower range of safety features that does not include lane-departure or frontal-collision alerts or auto highbeams. It does come with autonomous emergency braking, but it only works from around-town speeds.
Model-year 2019 pricing was not released in time for this review. Expect the 2019 Yaris hatchback to cost a bit more than the 2018 version because of year-over-year inflation. For reference we will list 2018 prices, which include an $895 destination fee.
The 2-door L lists for $16,530 with manual transmission and $17,280 with automatic. The 2-door LE is automatic only and costs $18,180. The 4-door L and LE come only with the automatic and have sticker prices of $17,655 and $18,555, respectively. The SE costs $19,155 with manual transmission and $19,955 with automatic.
It’s more difficult to estimate pricing for the sedan because the 2018 model comes in a single trim level while the 2019 version will offer three. Expect the L with manual transmission to start at or slightly below than the 2018 model’s $16,845 base price, while an XLE automatic will probably be more than the outgoing model’s $17,945 base price.
There were no factory packaged or standalone options for any 2018 Yaris, and we expect the same for the ’19 models.
The sedan is far and away the best choice in this lineup. If you can get it with a manual transmission for less than $20,000, we think the XLE will deliver the best combination of driving enjoyment, fuel economy, and features per dollar.
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2019 Yaris should mirror those of the 2018 model, which we are including here. Sedans rate 30/39/34 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission and 32/40/35 with automatic. Hatchbacks rate 30/36/33 with manual transmission and 30/35/32 with automatic. Our test automatic hatchback achieved 34.5 mpg with slightly more highway driving than city use.
With the sedan getting refreshed for 2019, we won’t expect any substantive changes to this model for several years. Whether Toyota replaces it or drops it outright remains to be seen. The hatchback is long overdue for a redesign, though with demand for subcompact cars continuing to soften in North America, it’s likely that the company will continue to ride it for a few more years, again at which time they will decide whether to re-do or discontinue it.