A damn good Mazda comes Stateside as a Toyota. And it makes complete sense.
In February of 2011 I reviewed the 2011 Mazda2, going live as a text review on March 11, 2011. Nine years later, in February of 2020, here I am testing another Mazda2, interestingly going live on March 6, 2020. However, it’s a bit different this time around. That’s because, well, this time it’s a Toyota Yaris XLE Hatchback. That may sound weird, but hear me out: It’s the smartest decision Toyota could have made.
In 2011 I said, “The Toyota Yaris is cheaper and gets far better fuel economy. But the Toyota is so boring its owner is just one bad day away from a tall ledge.”
This is no longer the case with the 2020 Yaris. Because of its roots, it is quite a damn good car. At only $19,705, the Yaris XLE features automatic LED headlights with daytime running lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers (something that’s optional on some luxury cars costing 40 and 50,000 dollars), a 7-inch touchscreen display that has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (how is it that a sub-$20,000 Toyota has technology an $89,239 Land Cruiser doesn’t have?), very well bolstered leatherette seats, a low speed collision avoidance system that scans the road in front of you and alerts you to anything that you need to make an emergency stop for, and it will stop you at slower speeds. My test car was painted in Icicle with black leatherette.
The Yaris Hatchback has a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 103 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. Power is delivered to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. With such a small, light motor, the Yaris Hatch is able to achieve 32 mpg city and 40 highway, respectively, with an average of 35 mpg. At one point I was averaging about 36 mpg, but then I decided to drive harder and dropped to just under 34. Still, not bad at all. The XLE with automatic-only weighs in at 2,445 lbs, while the LE trim, which can be had with a manual transmission (yay!) weighs just 2,396 lbs.
The main differences between the LE and XLE trim levels are pretty basic. The LE has halogen headlights, no leatherette or leather-trimmed steering wheel, no rain-sensing wipers, standard climate control without auto-settings, and the manual and Sport mode are available options. Other than that, safety, engine, fuel mileage, keyless entry with push button start, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, 7-inch touchscreen, etc. are all the same. The LE starts from $17,750, not including a $945 destination fee, while the automatic-only XLE starts just $1,000 higher at $18,750, again, not including the destination fee.
The 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback in both LE and XLE trims feature warranties of 3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper, and 5-year/60,000 mile powertrain, as well as ToyotaCare, which is Toyota’s free normal, scheduled maintenance plan for the first 2 years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first. So you won’t be paying for oil changes or tire rotations. Sure, maybe it’s not that expensive in the grand scheme of things, but find me another automaker who is willing to take care of a customer’s maintenance on a sub-$30,000 car.
The Yaris Hatchback is also very safe. In NHTSA’s crash testing, the Yaris scores 5-stars overall, with 5-star front with 4-star passenger in the front crash test, and 5-stars all around for side impact, and 4-star rollover. So you know you can trust anyone you care about driving or riding passenger in one of these.
When it comes to driving, the Yaris Hatchback is peppy, even with just 106 horsepower. Sure, it’s not setting your hair on fire, but it will move out of its own way. More so, you’re not going to get in any trouble if you decided to go on a spirited drive. Much like a Miata, the Yaris Hatchback is composed, with steering that’s pinpoint accurate, and seats that hold you like a real sports car should. In fact, the Yaris’ seat bolstering is better than some actual sports cars for sale today. And the steering wheel is absolutely perfect. The way your hands fit at the 9 and 3 positions is flawless. There isn’t a more comfortable and perfect feeling production car steering wheel in this world. Because the Yaris doesn’t have a CVT and instead a torque-converter automatic, the shifting is lively and effective at keeping the car in the best rev range, especially with Sport mode engaged. With that clicked on you’ll lose a couple miles per gallon, but you will undoubtedly feel as if you have a more entertaining car at your fingertips. Too bad they didn’t throw a manual in the XLE.
No matter which seat you’re in you will be comfortable. The Yaris Hatch is small, obviously, so taller passengers in the rear will be a little cramped on long drives. But around town, it’s no problem. More so, if you have a child or two, this should work perfectly fine for your life while they are young. The Yaris is also the perfect first car hand-me-down.
Hatch space is plentiful at 15.86 cubic feet. Overall interior volume is 86.71 cu-ft. I don’t have a number for volume with the second row of seats down, but I can tell you that the Yaris Hatch will fit two 45 gallon extra large bins positioned long ways with ease, while also swallowing an extra 31 gallon bin in the hatch area alone. I did have to move both front seats forward just an inch or two, but nothing unsafe or uncomfortable.
Moving to the Mazda infotainment system inside this Toyota, I’m immediately reminded of the worst part of every Mazda -its boring screen and features. While driving you have to use the iDrive-like knob on the center console, which also has a volume button. Nothing is on the dash. When sitting still you can use the touchscreen, but once you go faster than 5 mph, it’s knob only. Granted, your hand naturally gravitates to that area anyway since there is no armrest. Most of the time behind the wheel I spent with my right arm extended over the passenger seat headrest. So be careful if you’re on a first date, because it may look like you’re trying to get fresh.
For the first couple of days I was driving the Yaris, I was so annoyed that I couldn’t figure out how to get Apple CarPlay to work. I had my phone plugged into one of the two USB-A ports… until I realized, “Hey, this one has a picture of a phone next to it…” Well, low and behold, you have to be plugged into the top USB port in order for the car to recognize your phone to be able to use CarPlay or Android Auto. I still feel like a moron. But that’s okay, because other than that, the interior is well laid out, and even has a nice leatherette-padded and stitched knee rest for the driver and passenger on the center console. There is attractive blue stitching throughout the cabin on the seats, doors, and dash. Damn near everything is soft-touch.
I’m trying to think of bad things to say about the Yaris Hatchback. Are there annoyances? Eh, a few. Are there any real glaring issues? Not really. Sure, the car is small and lightweight, so you will feel big gusts of wind a little more in the steering than a heavier car, but that’s to be expected. It’s plenty comfortable for such a small hatchback, and it achieves great fuel mileage at a very reasonable price, and has fantastic safety features and crash test ratings.
The 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is perfect for a single person, a high school or college student, a young married couple just starting out, or even an elderly person who needs a simple mode of transportation around town or to church. Even in the base LE trim you have great specs. For less than $20,000, I don’t think there is a better car on the market, especially not one that drives like a minier Miata. That’s a really good thing. Now I’m dying to drive it with a manual, because it can only get better.