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Toyota's lowest-priced car gets spruced up

Published:Sunday | February 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Toyota's lowest-priced car, the Yaris, is restyled inside and out for 2015, has an improved ride and adds new standard features, all for a starting retail price of less than US$16,000.

The Yaris, available as three-door and five-door hatchbacks, continues to rank among the top 10 gasolene-powered, non-hybrid cars in fuel economy in the country.

Its best mileage ratings in federal government tests are 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 37 mpg on highways with a 2015 Yaris equipped with the base, five-speed manual transmission (and just a mile less for highway driving when equipped with a four-speed automatic).

All Yarises come with a 106-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.

Reliability is another Yaris characteristic. The 2015 subcompact has predicted reliability of better than average by Consumer Reports magazine; past Yaris reliability has been well above average.

And, for 2015, the Yaris arrives with nine air bags to provide passenger protection within its 85-cubic-foot passenger space inside. Major competitors, such as the Nissan Versa Note and Honda Fit hatchbacks, have fewer air bags.

Still, the 2015 Yaris and Versa Note earned only four out of five stars, overall, in US government crash testing, while the 2015 Fit earned five stars.

The Yaris' starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of US$15,670 is for a base, 2015 three-door model with manual transmission.

The lowest starting retail price for a 2015 three-door Yaris with four-speed automatic is US$16,395. The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a Yaris with five doors is US$16,770. All five-door Yaris models come with four-speed automatic.

The competing five-door, 2015 Nissan Versa Note carries a starting retail price of US$15,005 with 109-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. The 2015 Honda Fit, which is a five-door hatchback with 130-horsepower four cylinder, has a starting MSRP of US$16,470 with six-speed manual transmission.

Previously, Toyota's Yaris had a low-brow, rather plain appearance. But for 2015, the Yaris looks more sporty, particularly in top-of-the-line SE trim that adds light-emitting diode daytime running lamps, gloss black, 16-inch wheels and black-trimmed headlights.

A 2015 Yaris looks as if it's moving, even when it's parked. The side profile emphasizes a dynamic, forward movement and embodies a European look. It's no surprise. The 2015 Yaris was designed at Toyota's French studio and comes across the Atlantic from an assembly plant in France that has been building the subcompact hatchback for Europe since 1999.

For 2015, Toyota returned the Yaris suspension for a better, less-choppy ride. The improvement was especially noticeable in slow-speed driving on city streets. Still, with a short wheelbase of 8.2 feet, the Yaris can bob up and down steadily over highway expansion cracks.

Both the Versa Note and Fit are slightly longer than the Yaris, which added two inches to its length for 2015. As a result, both competitors provide more than the Yaris' 33.3 inches of rear-seat legroom and more than the Yaris' maximum 15.6 cubic feet of cargo space.

Still, for an easy runabout that may only carry back-seat passengers occasionally, the Yaris offers good front-seat room of 40.6 inches of legroom and 39.3 inches of headroom.

The steering wheel in the Yaris tilts, but does not telescope in and out, so some drivers have to work to find a comfortable driving position.

There's not a lot of luxury in the Yaris, as hard plastic abounds inside and cargo-covering material is basic.

The ride can be noisy, too. In the test car, passing vehicles were readily heard - so much so the driver sometimes checked to make sure all windows were fully closed. The Yaris' high-revving, 1.5-litre four cylinder also can labour loudly when pressed hard to accelerate.

Despite the racket, though, the car could be a bit slow in merging situations. Peak torque is 103 foot-pounds at 4,200 rpm.

The test car, driven aggressively at times, averaged nearly 30 mpg in mostly city travel. With a gas tank holding 11.1 gallons, this translated into a 330-mile travel range.

- AP