The badge may say Toyota, but this car is built by Mazda and uses Mazda parts. That's a good thing. Related to the Mazda CX-3, this sedan brings frugality, but not at the expense of ride comfort and driving enjoyment like past Toyota econoboxes. With the Yaris, formerly known as the Yaris iA, Toyota has done away with the bare-bones economy car, offering an enjoyable subcompact.
For the price, the Yaris is nicely equipped and makes an ideal first set of wheels or economical commuter car -- one that's light on your fuel budget and a snap to park. There is no hatchback body style, an original Toyota design, for 2019. A redesigned hatchback will return for 2020.
Power comes from a willing 1.5-liter four-cylinder Mazda engine that, while smooth and quiet, isn't brimming with power. The Yaris zips from 0-60 mph in 10.3-second zero-to-60 time, which is comparable to other subcompacts.
The well-matched gearing of the six-speed automatic downshifts promptly, delivering responsive acceleration. Fuel economy is an excellent 35 mpg overall.
Unlike almost every other subcompact, the Yaris doesn't have a harsh ride. The suspension provides enough compliance to absorb sharp bumps and does a decent job masking rougher sections of road. Highway trips are mostly uneventful. Our biggest complaint about long trips in the Yaris is that the cabin can get loud, especially with wind noise.
While absorbent, the suspension is also taut, contributing to the car's sporting character. When driven with a bit more spirit, the Mazda DNA is evident in the sedan's unflappable, athletic nature, thanks to prompt turn-in response and well-tuned steering.
Also, the Yaris is the rare subcompact with a standard low-speed forward-collision warning system. At speeds below 12 miles per hour, the car can apply the brakes to bring itself to a stop if the driver isn't paying attention.
One letdown is the braking performance. Stops were rather long, particularly on wet pavement.
Once drivers squeeze in through the narrow doors, they'll find plentiful front-seat head room. But the small seats are narrow and short on lower-back support, and there isn't much room to stretch out. Testers also consistently complained about the lack of reach from the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.
Rear-seat space is very tight, with limited knee and leg room, and scant head room for tall adults. Unless it's a short jaunt, don't try to fit grown-ups back there -- most notably in the center seat -- or you'll make fast enemies. There's decent trunk space, though.
On the infotainment front, the Yaris reaps the benefits of its Mazda roots. The system is quick to respond, with a prominent screen and a center control knob for most functions. It takes some getting used to, but this comprehensive system has a clear screen with large fonts.
As befits a budget car, much of the cabin is covered in hard plastic, though none is cringe-worthy. At least some soft-touch materials with stitched details and glossy piano-black or faux carbon-fiber panels make the interior feels richer than the car's price point.
In the end, this Toyota is a worthy starter car, as it's easy on the wallet and offers a dash of fun and a measure of civility.