Toyota Yaris Hatchback — Meaningful update

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Many people still have the perception that basic transportation means a stripped-down car carrying just the bare necessities minus any visage of creature comforts — a so-called entry level car that will take you from point A to point B in joyless fashion.

For those of that mindset, there's good news. If for whatever reason — be it a second car or family transportation for those starting out in the working world — the new-age entry-level car brings creature comforts never dreamed possible just a few years ago.

The 2020 Toyota Yaris sedan and hatchback are excellent examples. Toyota has upgraded the once spartan barebones Yaris (the hatchback is the subject of this review) into a vehicle that affords owners standard sophisticated safety features, an upscale infotainment system with a six-speaker sound system, rain-sensing windshield wipers, Bluetooth connectivity, remote keyless entry and pushbutton start, and steering wheel audio controls. And all for under 20 grand.

The Yaris is a subcompact that started life in the United States in 2007 as a liftback and a sedan offering a comfortable ride and good gas mileage, but few amenities and a rather small 1.5-liter engine making 106 horsepower.

Today's Yaris hatchback is loaded with features not even invented in 2007 and comes as a modern and rather stylish vehicle, based on a cooperative package agreement with Mazda using the Mazda2 which is no longer sold in the U.S.

The one thing that has remained the same over the years is the small 1.5-liter 4-cylinder making the same 106 horsepower. The newest version of the four-banger gets direct fuel injection and is now mated to an improved six-speed automatic transmission with a torque converter that locks in all gears for quicker, more direct shifts for greater fuel economy — measured at 32 mpg city, 40 highway and 35 combined.

Note that the base sedan comes with a six-speed manual transmission, but the manual is not offered on the hatchback model.

The Yaris was slow in 2007 and despite drivetrain improvements and a curb weight under 2,500 pounds it's still slow today in a world of faster-moving transportation. The engine is OK for zipping around town with a 0-to-60 time of around 10 seconds. And we like the way Toyota has tuned the suspension in the new hatchback allowing greater driver engagement especially when the roads become curvy. At the same time, the Yaris has a pleasant ride that should please most.

Its small size — 161.6 inches long with a very tight turning radius of 32.2 feet — makes the Yaris hatchback a wonderful companion in parking lot situations and when attempting to squeeze into a small space in on-street parking. The 2020 Yaris is 2.4-inches longer than the previous car, which yields a generous 15.9 cubic feet of storage space behind the seats. (There are 14 cubic feet of trunk space in the sedan).

In addition to the standard equipment mentioned above, the hatchback comes with 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, power-adjustable body-color side mirrors and body color door handles, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, fog lights, and a first aid kit.

The Yaris's cabin is stylish with a pleasing modern design, and the materials are of good quality. The front seats are reasonably comfortable, but the rear seats may be a tight fit for taller passengers.

Standard interior equipment is noteworthy including a 7-inch touchscreen display, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, Bluetooth wireless technology for hands-free phone operation, voice recognition, two USB ports, steering wheel audio and phone control buttons, and navigation hardware. Navigation can be activated through an SD card that is available at the dealership.

Most automakers are now putting a lot of safety equipment into their lower-priced cars and Toyota is not an exception. Safety systems include dynamic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and a brake override system. We applaud Toyota for the safety equipment, but there is one glaring omission. We think one of the most important safety features available is blindspot monitoring with cross-traffic alert. This feature is not even offered as an option.

The hatchback comes in two well-equipped trim levels — LE and XLE — at $18,705 and $19,705 including destination charge. The extra $1,000 to move to XLE brings leatherette seating surfaces, automatic climate control, automatic LED headlamps and leather-trimmed steering wheel. The sedan starts in a base L trim with manual transmission for $16,605.

The Yaris comes with the standard 36-month/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty as well as a 60-month/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty. There's also complimentary factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles.

Base price: $18,705; as driven, $19,705
Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 106 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 103 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 161.6 inches
Curb weight: 2,445 pounds
Turning circle: 32.2 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 11.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 32 city, 40 highway, 35 combined
0-60: 9.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Sonic

The Good
• Excellent gas mileage
• Well-designed interior
• Apple CarPlay, Android Auto connectivity

The Bad
• Lacks some safety features

The Ugly
• Sluggish performance