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TL;DR Review: 2015 Toyota Yaris

I like hiring rental cars. Modern low mileage cars that I wouldn’t tend to own myself. Over the Christmas period I hired a Toyota Yaris, of the manual transmission variety. This is my thoughts on the car.

There aren’t many rental companies that still have manual cars, I guess it’s a combo of people wanting autos for ease of use, and the risk of someone who can’t handle a manual causing damage to the car. Thankfully I know how to operate a manual gearbox, so manual is my preferred option.

This years rental was a 2015 Toyota Yaris, with the 1.3L and 5 speed manual. Obviously it’s the low spec, “fleet special” and had limited features, but it was still reasonably well equipped for a compact car.

The styling of the facelift Yaris is fairly aggressive, with lots of angles and this big gaping front grille (albeit mostly fake and blanked off). It looks modern, and doesn’t have that soft Fisher-Price look that a lot of small cars have.

Unfortunately the low spec Yaris doesn’t get the cool LED headlights the higher model does, its stuck with trusty old, not as bright, halogen bulbs.

The single wiper is an interesting design choice. It works well though and clears a lot of the windscreen, but the screen wash jet is terrible. It’s mounted on the wiper arm, and doesn’t spray directly onto the glass like most. When you first trigger the jet, it just shoots a high pressure stream of water across the car, at the blade. It means the first wipe doesnt clear the screen at all, in fact it smears and makes it worse. The second wipe then has the duty of clearing it all away.

What it does get though, is a ton of airbags (7 of the things), pre-tensioner seat belts, hazard lights that flash when you brake heavily (when you’re trying to avoid the chicken crossing the road), traction control, stability control and a 5-star safety rating. It’s very safe for a small car, and even though it’s smaller than the Honda, it’s safer and better equipped.

The 1.3L 2NZFE engine isn’t going to set the world alight with its massive 84HP/63KW of power at 6000RPM, and I suspect it would be as dull as a brick in automagic form, but the 5 speed manual gearbox allows you to really push the engine and keep it in the power band. The clutch is light and has a nice progressive bite, and although the shifter has a rubbery feel to it, the throw isn’t too long and it slots in and out of gear nicely, making for some great high RPM fun on the twisty Canterbury back roads.

The engine pulls well (as well as 121NM can) from down low, likely the work of the wondrous Variable Valve Timing technology, but starts to feel very wheezy and restricted in the top end, which makes it hard to really use that maximum power output, not to mention redline is only 500RPM higher than peak power. I found best drivability was around the 4000-5000RPM mark, which just happens to be where peak torque is. We still managed to get 6.1L/100km average, with plenty of around town driving and lots of trips to high RPM. It could benefit from a 6th gear overdrive on the open road though, to bring the cruise RPM down.

In terms of the handling, it’s not as bad as I would expect for the little econobox, and actually handles better than the Honda does. Once again it won’t set any records, but clearly the curb weight of a Ton makes quite a difference. It’s not sporty handling, but comfortable with minimal body roll. Gravel road handling and stability was pretty neutral, with minimal sway in a straight line, and good tracking around corners. Despite having traction and stability control, neither are there to kill the fun straight away like some, and will allow some “spirited” driving. If you really needed be unleash your inner idiot, there is a button to kill both features.

The interior was where it was showing its “fleet special” package. Lots of hard, dark plastic, a rubber gear knob and a plastic wrapped steering wheel. Yes, I understand it’s all very hard-wearing, but it wasnt the nicest user interface. Even a leather wrapped steering wheel from the higher model would make a big difference in feel.

In saying that though, the seats were very comfortable, with very good bolstering. Even after spending multiple hours in the captain’s seat, I never got sore.

An abundance of cup/bottle holders were dotted around the interior, but there is only one storage compartment in the front, the glove box, and it wasnt the largest. Rear seat space is OK for the size of the car, with rear seat passengers not being too squished up. The boot has an OK amount of space, but it does have a weird and completely pointless false floor that lifts out, and leaves a usable boot space but nowhere to store the false floor, other than the back seats.

Interior features include a 6.1″ touch screen stereo headunit, which also displays the feed from the reverse camera. Bluetooth, USB, AUX, 6 speakers, cruise control, and remote keyless entry are included. The steering wheel also had controls for the stereo, and bluetooth phone controls.

Overall, it’s a decent car to drive and after about 700KM I kinda grew to like the wee thing. I wouldn’t own one, there just isn’t enough power on tap when you need it and the boot is far smaller than the Honda’s, but it made a good run at being the World’s Fastest Car.

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