Toyota’s Yaris much more than just an echo from the past

The Toyota Yaris gets a new, European look for 2015, which is understandable since it was designed in Toyota‘s design studio in France. It is no longer offered as a sedan but only as a hatchback in two- and four-door form.

2015 Toyota Yaris

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Introduced as a 2007 model, the Yaris was a major improvement over the car it replaced, the Echo, in the Toyota portfolio.

As an entry level vehicle placed just below the Corolla, the Yaris was better looking, offered more room, and drove better than the Echo, and its name had a classier history. It stems from a Greek goddess named Charis, who was a symbol of beauty and elegance. (Echo: Reflects wide-open spaces and a youthful voice.)

Frankly, though, when it comes to the car itself, “beauty and elegance” are not the first words that come to mind and likely wouldn’t even make a Top 10 list.

But with planners working out of the company’s design studio in France, the Yaris does have somewhat of a European flair about it, not that you’re going to confuse it with a BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi.

And the Japanese automaker has kept the Yaris up to date with much in the way of standard content and techonology. A/C, Bluetooth phone connectivity, 6.1-inch touchscreen for operating many functions, and the Yaris Entune Audio system that includes six speakers are among features found on even the base Yaris.

But even in a segment where price and fuel economy traditionally have ruled and the vehicles in it were looked at as basic transportation first and foremost, simply looking good doesn’t get the job done these days.

Many of Toyota’s competitors offer similar content and much more in the way of driving experience, especially if you opt for the Yaris’ automatic transmission over the five-speed manual. The former is a four-speed with a gated shifter, and it’s hard to get much out of it in the way of driving fun. You’ll find six-speed trannies on many competitors, or, even CVTs if you’re looking for more in the way of fuel economy.

The 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine groans when pressed to reach its top horsepower (106 at 6000 rpm) and torque (103 pound-feet at 4200 rpm), feeling like you’re driving a straight stick and the clutch is slipping. On the plus side, once you reach highway speeds, the Yaris is comfortable enough on high-speed freeways.

This is true even in the top-of-the-line Yaris SE model, which has the manual as standard and the automatic as an option.

The thing is, with fuel economy ratings of 30 mpg city and 37 highway with the five-speed manual and 30/36 with the automatic, the Yaris doesn’t stand out in that category either.

Which gets us back to style.

The Yaris is way ahead of the Echo and up to most competitors in terms of quality of materials, and the interior is roomy enough. Front seats are mounted slightly higher than those in the rear, which helps with the driver’s visibility and eases any qualms one might have of maneuvering through heavy traffic in a small car.

The backseat is configured to seat three, giving the Yaris a five-passenger capacity, but getting in three adults in the rear is a squeeze despite pretty good legroom, especially for the segment. Cargo space, however, comes up short when compared to that offered by several competitors.

With the sedan discontinued after the 2012 model year, the Yaris is offered only in hatchback form as either a two-door or four-door and in three trims, starting at $15,680 (including destination and delivery) for the Yaris L two-door with the manual transmission.

The top-of-the-line SE (offered only as a four-door) with an automatic tranny tops carries an MSRP of $18,445 (with destination and delivery included). The LE (offered only with an automatic) squeezes in between at $17,350 for the two-door and $17,725 for the four-door.

A note here: Technically, Toyota lists the Yaris as a three-door or two-door, but how many real people consider the rear lift gate a door? Not many, we’re thinking.

For a look at the Yaris and some specs, check out the accompanying slide show.

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