BOSTON — Folks are always fascinated about what I do for a living. “Oh, you drive a different car every week? That‘s so exciting!”
What follows is a fairly predictable set of questions:
What’s your favorite car? Rolls-Royce Wraith.
Have you ever driven on a race track? Numerous times.
What’s the fastest you’ve driven? 180 MPH in a Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn in Germany.
But then I’ll start asking them questions, trying to learn about what they drive and why. What car do you have and why did you buy it? What other cars did you consider? What do you look for in an automobile?
It‘s my own form of market research. I can‘t review a car if I don‘t understand who my reader is and how to best guide them. It‘s part of why I don‘t dive too deep into horsepower and performance figures — I‘ve found that, performance cars excepted, most vehicles perform adequately for the everyday tasks that people buy them for.
That brings us to this week‘s car, which is perhaps one of the least-interesting cars I‘ve tested — but in a very good way. The sub-$20,000 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is aimed solidly at folks who want an affordable, entry-level vehicle that‘s safe, practical, and with just a touch of luxury-ishness.
My tester was the (slightly) fancier XLE trim, pricing out at $19,680. It‘s equipped with an adequate if unexciting 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a whopping 106-horsepower. The engine might be tiny, but it comes with the added bonus of 32/40/35 mpg (city/highway/combined) fuel economy. It‘s paired to a six-speed automatic transmission (and a real transmission too, not a continuously variable unit that some folks love to hate).
It has 16-inch wheels, a bunch of airbags, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a seven-inch color touch screen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has push-button start, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Oh, and there‘s automatic climate control too, which I‘ve seen missing on cars that cost way more than this.
Here‘s where things get a bit confusing. Toyota sells the Yaris in other markets around the world, and it‘s their own in-house vehicle. But the Yaris sold in America is a rebadged Mazda2 that‘s assembled at Mazda‘s facility in Salamanca, Mexico. It‘s related to the Toyota Yaris sedan which used to be called the Scion iA, which is also built by Mazda, but also has the Toyota brand on it.
I‘ve driven a lot of Mazdas and a lot of Toyotas, and it‘s obvious to me that this is a Mazda. That‘s not a bad thing. Mazdas vehicles have punched above their weight for a long time (I had a 2011 Mazda3 for years, and I‘ve praised them frequently in these pages), bringing both upscale materials and design to lower-priced segments. That‘s true here too. The Mazda2 — I mean, Toyota Yaris Hatchback — doesn‘t feel like a stripped down econobox. It‘s small and maneuverable and the engine, though a little noisy, gets you through traffic nicely.
It‘s a great new car for a teenager or for someone looking to spend as little money on a new car as possible. New cars, after all, come with new car warranties and can appeal to folks who don‘t want to imagine what came before when buying something used.
The Yaris competes with the Honda Fit, which is a perennial favorite in this class, and it seems a little nicer and a little more polished, though with less rear-seat legroom if you anticipate carrying adults back there.
The front is comfortable and attractive enough, with solid buttons and knobs and dials that are all pleasing to touch and fiddle with (which isn‘t as common as you‘d think). It seems to be a better car than it‘s bargain-basement price would indicate, with a solid ride, comfortable seats and two reliable names behind it.
I took it to Costco (as I have with all my COVID-era test drives) and, with the 60/40 seats folded down, was able to fill it with ease. It swallowed up toilet paper and paper towels and a case of Diet Dr. Pepper and all manner of other things. It‘s no Rolls-Royce Wraith, but I‘d be happy to recommend the little Yaris to someone looking for a new car that won‘t break the bank.