Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Simple Hatchback Fun: the 2019 Toyota Yaris

Here in North American, certain automakers have thrown all their eggs into the SUV basket, but among those who haven’t, not all of them ship their tinier creations to our shores. And that’s a pity. The 2019 Toyota Yaris continues to prove there’s a market for pint-sized vehicles here.

First impressions

There’s certainly no getting around the size of this car. I could picture myself driving my Yaris SE tester up a ramp into the hatch of some SUVs I’ve recently driven (rear seats folded down, of course).

The Cement Grey colour does not scream “look at me” but perhaps that’s in keeping with the pragmatic nature of this hatch. (Other colours are available, of course.) Regardless, Toyota designers ensured the design language is consistent with the rest of the fleet. A bulging front grill is flanked by near-vertical daytime running LED lights that sit just below the main headlights. The rear profile slopes down from the spoiler, emphasizing this hatchback’s wheels-at-the-corners stance and tacitly promising no street is too narrow for a U-turn.

image courtesy Toyota

My tester shipped with a black roof, giving the Yaris a two-toned look that visually sets it apart.

Interior

Simplicity is the order of the day in this dark grey interior, but before I delve into that, I ought to mention the front seat and steering wheel. Why? I’m 6′5″ and yet I still like tiny hatchbacks. I last drove the Yaris four years ago and I remember it fondly.

image courtesy Toyota. Automatic transmission model shown

Part of the surprise was all the headroom, which this year’s model still boasts. But I don’t recall the legroom issue I experienced in the 2019 model. I could not put the manually adjustable seat far back enough to allow my thighs to rest on the seat cushion. To make matters worse, the steering wheel does not tilt up enough. My knees stuck up so much that I had to lean my left leg outward to use the clutch pedal. On long drives, my back would ache because of this. Note: drivers under 6’ should not have this problem (and drivers north of 6’ might want to try the Yaris just for fun – more on that later). But still – we tall folk do not want to be excluded from eminently practical vehicles like the Yaris! (The coming 2020 model may address this issue. I intend to find out.)

About simplicity: for the first time in a long time, I could not simply push a button to start the engine. In the Yaris, I inserted a key into an ignition switch. That was but one of the “simplifications” I encountered in the cabin. This is a minor matter, but the more time I spent with the Yaris, the more it convinced me that a simpler cabin might be the way to go.

Control layout is as spare as you might expect in an entry-level compact, but that doesn’t mean the features aren’t there. Three dials, each one with a button in the middle, made up the climate control system. And that was all it needed – no temperature screen, no dual-zone controls, no complications. In fact, much of the layout is identical to that of the 2015 model I linked to above.

Switches for the heated seats are nestled on the floor in the hollow between the seats. The steering wheel does boast controls, but far fewer than on most vehicles I’ve driven in recent years. (Cruise control switches reside on a separate stalk.) Bluetooth connections, a USB port, and many other modern conveniences ship with this simple runabout. It simply doesn’t boast them as loudly as other cars do. And that’s not a bad thing.

image courtesy Toyota

Hockey bag test

Driver legroom isn’t all that the Yaris sacrifices with its, em, “scrappy” dimensions. Aside from a hood so short that the headlights run halfway to the windshield, the hatch is far too small for an adult-sized hockey bag. The “60” portion of the 60-40 folding rear seat went down, I placed my bag where that rear seat was and slid my sticks diagonally through to the back of the front passenger seat (which I had to move forward – I use extenders on my sticks). This car has virtues, but being IKEA-worthy isn’t one of them.

In-cabin technology

Again, simplicity is the order of the day. The layout hasn’t changed much since that prior review I mentioned, except for the rear-view camera. The instrument cluster holds a speedometer flanked by a tachometer to the left and a fuel gauge to the right. A small screen resides in the bottom half of the speedo. The 6.1” touchscreen enables the mod cons (minus Apple CarPlay, which Toyota promises to ship with the 2020 Yaris) in a simplistic setup. Audio comes from six speakers (four in other trim levels).

image courtesy Toyota

Driving

Toyota’s 1.5L engine may have modest output (106 hp), but the tall gearing on the 5-speed manual transmission on my tester meant I could keep up in traffic of any sort. when you push the Yaris around corners and on curves, there’s a fun factor you just don’t get in larger vehicles.

image courtesy Toyota

Winding into tight lanes and squeezing into impossible-looking parallel parking spots amuses me no end, The SE’s stopping power comes from four disc brakes, but on lower trim levels, the rear wheels are outfitted with drum brakes. (I haven’t written that in a long time.)

Like the rest of the family, the Yaris ships with the Toyota Safety Sense bundle of active safety technologies (Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert and Automatic High Beams).

Fuel consumption

The Yaris predictably performs well at the pump, boasting city/highway/combined L/100km consumption numbers of 7.8, 6.5 and 7.2 respectively. Drivers will go far on a full 42-litre tank.

People who buy the Yaris to consume less gas will want to press the “Car” button to the lower left of the touchscreen to keep track of the car’s performance. (Note the “Past Record” icon in the lower left corner of the screen.)

image courtesy Toyota

Pricing

The 2019 Toyota Yaris 5-Door Hatchback SE starts at $18,605 MSRP (The 3-door SE and 5-door LE models sell for less). My tester, with options and fees, sells for $20,946.40.

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