With a different vehicle every week, it’s easy as a car writer to become a bit of a snob about vehicles, expecting plush leather seats, big engines and excellent handling in those winding mountain roads. Just like any other market segment, however, there are a wide range of car buyers who have very different needs and interests. A single guy who just landed his first good paying job is looking for a very different vehicle than a young family with twins and a third on the way. And plenty of people have interests and desires far above their actual financial capabilities: cars are expensive.
In fact, cars are the second most expensive purchase most people will make in their lives, so it’s not just worth doing a lot of research and homework, it’s smart to know your price range. Better to have a car slightly more modest than you’d like than one that breaks the bank and ends up being repossessed by the bank for non-payment!
But what do cars look like at the entry level of the new car market? For Toyota, the Yaris fits that bill with a base sticker price of under $16K. And so it was with much curiosity that I had Toyota drop off a 2017 Toyota Yaris iA for me to test drive for a few weeks. I was quite pleasantly surprised!
As you can see, it’s a sporty and attractive little four-door sedan.
But what does the inside look like? That’s definitely not with fine hand-stitched leather seats, but still quite functional:
Getting in the car evoked some deja vu, however. The design is incredibly reminiscent of the 2017 model year Mazda line, from the nav system screen popping up in the dashboard to the dual knob audio controls being conveniently located by my hand on the middle armrest, not on the front dash at all. A discussion with Mazda explained what was going on: Turns out that the Yaris iA is actually built by Mazda in its Salamanca, Mexico plant, so there are indeed Mazda components in the vehicle. Which makes it sort of a Toyozda or a Mazota!
As a fan of Mazda design, this was a plus to me, even if there was a fleeting sense of wonder about why Toyota isn’t designing Toyota vehicles.
One thing really jumped out at me when I first sat in the driver’s seat, and it wasn’t the stereo controls:
A stick shift. A manual transmission with clutch. I hadn’t driven a stick shift for at least 25 years, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I started the vehicle and backed out of my driveway to circle the neighborhood and bring back some of those clutch-shift-gas/release muscle memories. Turned out to be great fun and the six speed was zippy once I got the hang of it. I still had some bunny hopping on the lowest gears even after a week, but I only stalled once or twice in traffic so it wasn’t too bad at all.
And one benefit of a stick shift is good gas mileage and sure enough, the Yaris iA delivered a quite respectable 41.9mpg across a few hundred miles of driving. I expect as I got better with the manual transmission it’d be even better. Very nice for a car with no hybrid, no electric, no fancy technology. And, needless to say, no jacked up price tag to go with it!
One cool thing that hadn’t been in stick shifts last time I drove a manual transmission is that there’s a dashboard indicator that tells you when to up or down shift, as you can see on the right. In the photo it’s telling me to shift from 5th to 6th gear to get the best fuel efficiency. Look really closely at the image and you can see there are marks for 7th and 8th gear too, but not with the little Yaris!
The steering wheel controls and gauges are all standard Toyota layout, with no big blank spaces as the budget vehicle penalty:
Bluetooth, on-screen radio, USB connectivity for audio, all the standard things, including cruise control (though not adaptive cruise control), hands-free phone, and various safety systems, including dynamic stability control, trac control system, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, along with rear-view backup camera.
Not included was the actual navigational system, however. So you got this instead:
Nice way of saying “ya wanna nav system? pay for it” yes?
The rear exterior shows the traditional sedan design, and the trunk has lots of space as you can infer from the photo below:
Again, even for an entry level sedan the Yaris still has that leaning forward design flavor, a sporty touch that makes it feel like it’s something other than just a basic 4-door.
Which isn’t to say that the Yaris didn’t have some oddities that won’t be obvious on a five minute showroom tour. The one that I couldn’t figure out was that apparently they saved a few bucks on manufacturing by not having a trunk open control on the actual trunk. You can see in this photo, there’s a blank black rectangle where one would normally be:
To be fair it’s not a super big deal because the keyfob remote has a press-to-open button for the trunk and there’s a trunk release integrated into the dashboard too. But why omit this? Weird.
More annoying was that the vehicle was a bit small for someone with my size frame. I’m 6′ 2″ and every time I got into the car, I had to fit in between the steering wheel and the door post separating the front and back door. In this photo, look how far back the seat is:
Was definitely awkward compared to cars with more cabin space and therefore less need to have the driver’s seat so far back from the “midpoint” of the vehicle. I would imagine that a 22yo driver would get in and out of this vehicle without even realizing there’s an issue, but I’d definitely check it out at the showroom.
Overall, even with those two quirks, I really enjoyed driving the 2017 Toyota Yaris iA, more so than I expected. It’s not a luxurious high-end vehicle that quietly says you’ve made it and are wealthy and successful, but as a safe, well made vehicle that’ll serve you and even a small family well for years to come, the iA was fun and quite capable.
AS DRIVEN: 201 Toyota Yaris iA 4-door sedan, Pulse red. No optional features added, just a base vehicle. MSRP: $16,815.00
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the Yaris iA to drive for almost two weeks so i could get a feel for the design and features and then write about them.