There’s a long list of subcompact cars disappearing from the U.S. market this year. Despite declining sales, the 2020 Toyota Yaris presses on, essentially a rebadged version of the Mazda2 that’s not sold here. In a segment that breeds low expectations, the Yaris left us pleasantly surprised after a week.
With average new-vehicle transaction prices topping $36,000, it’s refreshing to know you can still get a well-equipped car for under $20,000. The 2020 Toyota Yaris LE hatchback is priced from $18,705, but our upgraded XLE rang out to $19,705. For that price, you get an attractive interior with plush leatherette seats, soft touch surfaces, and blue stitching on the dashboard. The layout will look very familiar if you’ve been inside a new Mazda, particularly the 7.0-inch screen enabled with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. When the Yaris is stationary, the screen responds to touch, but when moving, you have to use a pesky control knob positioned to the right that is uncomfortably far back from the driver’s seat. The infotainment interface aside, the Yaris’ inviting, uncluttered, and reasonably spacious interior belies its price tag.
The value proposition only increases when you consider the car’s fuel efficiency. The EPA rates the Yaris at 32/40/35 mpg city/highway/combined, strong numbers no doubt. But when we conducted our own real-world tests, we were really impressed with the Yaris’ 33.2/48.9/38.8 mpg score.
Under the hood, the Yaris features a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 106 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque. That’s not a lot of power, even for a 2,400-pound car like this one. The Yaris took 9.4 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph, not an unreasonable amount of time compared to other subcompacts. A 2020 Nissan Versa with more horsepower did the run in 9.7 seconds, but a manual-equipped 2018 Honda Fit was particularly quick, zipping to 60 in 8.4 seconds.
Although it takes a while to reach highway speeds, the Yaris feels zippy enough once you’re going. Road test editor Chris Walton praised the smooth upshifts from the six-speed automatic and said the car is quicker than he imagined. “I appreciate a ‘real’ automatic with honest gears where many others use a CVT in this class,” he noted. “Sport mode is also very good in heavy traffic, holding gears to slow the car instead of using the brakes.”
The Yaris recorded similar numbers to rivals in braking and handling tests. In the 60–0 test, the Yaris took a respectable 124 feet to reach a complete stop. That said, our test team noted a lack of initial bite when you press down the brake pedal, as well as directional stability issues. In the figure eight, the Yaris came within a few tenths of a second of the Versa, Fit, and other competitors, lapping the course in 28.1 seconds at an average 0.58 g.
Testing director Kim Reynolds called the Yaris’ figure-eight performance “pretty easy and 100 percent predictable,” with strong understeer and modest power. He was able to complete the lap in second gear the whole time, briefly reaching the rev limiter.
There’s no getting around one of the Yaris’ biggest drawbacks: its ride quality. The Yaris feels jittery even over smooth pavement, like you can feel every nook and cranny on the road. Over dips, I found myself jumping up in my seat, which is only amusing the first few times. Another issue is the N in NVH. When driving on the highway, considerable road noise enters the cabin.
One of the first things people want to know about subcompact cars is their safety. Fortunately, the Yaris does pretty well in government tests. It received a five-star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This breaks down to five stars in front crashes and side crashes, and four stars in the rollover test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not issued crash scores for the 2020 Yaris hatch, but it did rate the headlights “poor.” The 2020 Yaris sedan has been rated, scoring “Good” in front, side, and roof strength tests, as well as head restraints and seats. Unlike most new Toyota vehicles, the Yaris doesn’t come with the full suite of Safety Sense technologies (because, again, it is a Mazda beneath the sheetmetal). But it does have a low-speed pre-collision system, which provides automatic braking assistance if it detects a potential front collision.
As an entry-level vehicle, the Yaris requires some compromise, particularly when it comes to ride comfort. That said, the Yaris makes a compelling case for itself with a high-quality interior and excellent fuel economy.
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|2020 Toyota Yaris XLE|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$19,705|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.5L/106-hp/103-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2,412 lb (63/37%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||171.9 x 66,7 x 58.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.2 sec @ 80.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||124 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.1 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||32/40/35 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||105/84 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.55 lb/mile|