Rotten Rental Car Review: Toyota Yaris

A few weeks ago, my wife and needed to get from our fair city to MCI, and we decided to rent a car for the 200-mile trip. The agent tossed me the keys to a 2016 Toyota Yaris, with an automatic transmission, power windows and locks, and not much else. What follows is a summary of my driving impressions. If you’re so inclined, take the jump below and read along.
The first thing that I noticed was the roomy front seats. The seat is fairly flat – good for us big ‘Murica types – and offered plenty of legroom for my 6’1″ frame. Since there’s no central console, my arms didn’t feel cramped, either. The windshield offered good visibility, and I didn’t feel my head touch the ceiling once, which drives me nuts.
As others have stated, there really are no bad cars on the market anymore. Even the most basic, cheapest econobox is well-built and fairly well featured. The Yaris is no exception, but I found a few things that irked me after four hours behind the wheel. First and foremost, the 4-speed automatic is a mistake, and makes a slow, older engine lethargic. I stomped on the gas pedal once while cruising the highway, and besides a change in pitch under the hood, there was not much else to tell me that the car was accelerating. The ratios are optimized for economy, and you can feel it. Speaking of cruising, this car had no cruise control, which took me back to my days in my 1986 626, when I got very good at holding the pedal at just the right spot. I will say that the little Yaris was as stable doing 60 as it was at 85.
I don’t understand putting the reverse light below the bumper. Can anyone explain?
Another thing I noticed right away was the road noise. The tires are very small and narrow, again designed with economy in mind, not highway cruising. I also heard a lot of wind around the back doors, and I kept looking back to see if one of the windows was open. For a 2016 model with 13,000 miles, that was surprising. On the other hand, it got excellent mileage at 70mph, which was good when it came time to fill up the tank and return the car. On a flat road, the little engine gave me 42mpg, but dipped into the teens under hard acceleration or hills. On the whole, the EPA 37mpg is right on.
For a rental car, it did exactly what I expected – it got me from one airport to another. It wasn’t comfortable, and it wasn’t enjoyable to drive, but it wasn’t terrible, either. I would recommend this car for anyone who wants a car to be an appliance, something to carry them to work and back. I would recommend it only with the 5-speed manual, which is most assuredly more economical and enjoyable to drive.
What do you think of the Yaris? Do you own one? What are your impressions?
[Photos Copyright 2016 Hooniverse/Marcal Eilenstein]

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  1. Alff Avatar

    Chez Alff is just south of the airport on I-29. Gimme a holler the next time you come through.

  2. Papa Van Twee Avatar
    Papa Van Twee

    The thing that irks me about cruise being an option on even the most basic cars is that all is needed is a set of buttons. The car’s computer already has this programming.

    1. Frank T. Cat Avatar
      Frank T. Cat

      Toyota’s done that for a long time with intermittent wipers, too.

    2. theskitter Avatar

      I’m not bothered by missing cruise or intermittent wipers.
      No ABS, though, made me pass on buying one for my mom.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        Good son!

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    What kind of engine was this? 37mpg is about 7.6 l/100km – that’s seriously lousy for a Yaris. Even more so with a high share of distance driving, little city driving. My 15 year old seven seater gets a slightly better mileage. Here are 1000 gasoline Yaris owner’s fuel consumption averages:

    1. Eric Rucker Avatar

      1.5 liter, 1NZ-FE, 106 hp.
      And the 37 is EPA rated highway fuel economy for the manual, and it’s rated for 30 city. 36 highway, 30 city for the 4-speed automatic that Marcal drove. The EPA cycle is much more aggressive than the NEDC cycle (which is a complete joke). is limiting to 106-110 PS, which should cover the 1.5s.
      As far as US real-world fuel economy, Fuelly’s not a bad bet:
      That may include some hybrids, though, and some non-US cars.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Interesting spread at Fuelly. Love those websites!

        1. dukeisduke Avatar

          I use Fuelly to track the mileage in my Tacoma.

    2. Maymar Avatar

      I think you’re converting from UK MPG instead of US – it works out to about 6.4L/100km

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Ah, sorry for the hickup. Then it’s right were it should be.
        And earthlings should get a grip and finally implemented one, understandable, common way of measuring their surroundings, dammit.

        1. Harry Callahan Avatar
          Harry Callahan

          So long as the whole world converts my system, that would be fine. Great idea.

          1. karonetwentyc Avatar

            Rods to the hogshead is the only suitable fuel economy measurement.

      2. dukeisduke Avatar

        I realized that after watching TopGear episodes where they talk about the ridiculous mileage some cars got, like turbo-diesel Jag XJs. Once I figured out they were using Imperial gallons in their measurements, I figured out the mileage wasn’t that spectacular.

  4. MattC Avatar

    Another car-oriented website voted this as one of the worst cars of 2016. I firmly disagree. For the intended purpose, the Yaris is perfectly fine as a gas sipping commuter car. Toyota has this locked down in all their popular models (Corolla, Camry, Yaris). Essentially Toyota excels in tweaking an existing platform that will eke out slightly better mpg/power than prior model years while providing slightly better if cost efficient interior/exterior improvements. They know their target consumers well.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      Everything is relative. A Yaris is ok till you compare with a Fiesta, Mazda 2, Honda Fit/Jazz, Suzuki Swift, Skoda Fabia, Seat Ibiza or VW Polo, all of which seem to have their own USP that the Yaris doesn’t. “b-segement” as the car industry calls it is one of the toughest, most hard fought car classes in the world outside the US, even former also rans like Hyundai and Opel are getting their act together in this class (Peugeot and Renault – jury is still out, patchy). That’s before you start thinking about the ever improving sub-b cars that could do the same job for many people like the Hyundai i10, VW Up! or even the dated but still charming Fiat Panda. The only Yaris I’d actually consider is the hybrid model, the regular models got nothing to offer me that someone else doesn’t do better.
      I know this isn’t entirely relevant to what you can buy in the US, but if you judge a car against what it sets out to do and its peers, then Yaris would get a C minus, must try harder.

      1. Alcology Avatar

        I own a Fiesta 1.0 and used to drive a Yaris and I’ve driven the Honda Fit a number of times. Manual versions for all. The Honda Fit for me was terrible. Clunky, couldn’t fit as much in it, bad visiblity. I did not enjoy it at all. The Fiesta is slightly more fun to drive than the Yaris, but I’d still rate the Yaris at the top of the list. I could jam more stuff in it. Also, having driven both in blizzards with about 4″ of snow on the ground, the Yaris was amazing. Stopped perfectly, drove perfectly. The Fiesta is a little bit more slidy.
        I drove something else in Greece 2 years ago as a rental, but I can’t remember what it was. Not bad to drive, and kinda fun, but cramming stuff in was a little difficult.
        Edit: Oh yeah, I used to get 50+ mpg US in the Yaris. I get in the 40s with the Fiesta, but I also put my foot in it more.

        1. crank_case Avatar

          Funny, I always thought the fits big selling point was the cabin space and clever foldy seats? I could just never gel with how the Yaris drives, not as fun as a Fiesta or 2, not as comfortable or sold feeling as a Skoda Fabia (essentially a VW Polo, but with any faux sportiness dialed out in favour of a compliant ride). It’s a shame Fiat lost there way with their (formerly) Yaris sized car, the Punto which sort of split classes in an odd MG Rover niche splitting strategy. The MK2 was a cracking car in 16v format, I cross shopped “Sporting” one of these against the first gen Yaris back in 2000 and the Punto had so much exuberance in comparson. Revvy little engine, six speed manual, terrier like front end. Not perfect in the chassis department, the harsh ride didn’t justify the entertaining but still middling handling (the contemporary mk4 fiesta was better), but the Yaris felt like it was going to fall over by comparison. I agree small fords have never had the best fuel economy, always found overall running costs good though especially in terms of parts/servicing.
          Plus, the Yaris will always live in the shadow of the indestructable starlet.

          1. Sjalabais Avatar

            It is strange how the Starlet acquired a respectable following in the ‘last owner’ market, while it was just one of many options before that.

          2. crank_case Avatar

            Yes, It’s a dull. charmless, crude handling shopping car, a Peugeot 106 or late 205 would have been much more appealing “back in the day”, even the JDM Glanza Turbo variants that found their way here can be best described as the nearest thing to strapping on rockets skates. Hilarious in straight line, but you’re in trouble at the first curve in the road. What it does have going for it is like the Hiace and Carina II, it’s damn near unkillable with a very tough gearbox which gave it a strong following with the elderly folks who bought them new but also makes it great as either a beater or grassroots motorsport, sometimes both. A bit like the old RWD KP starlet, pretty dull at the time but a great base to build something cool with a few AE86/TRD bits or a tuned ford pinto as an alternative to a MK2 escort. Many of them found second life as fast road, rally or oval track cars.

  5. are vee Avatar
    are vee

    Used to own a manual Yaris in 2008. While it was not fast, it was far from slow and it felt more powerful than the contemporaries I drove. But leave it to Toyota to make a car so dull, you’d wish it would die so it could be replaced. And yes, a 4 speed automatic transmission in 2014 is a joke. It will be interesting to see how it does against the re-badged Mazda that was formerly the Scion iA. Yes, dull cars that never changed was what killed Scion.

  6. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
    Dean Bigglesworth

    Europe gets a CVT, but afaik has the same engine as an option. Base engine is a NA one litre.. It’s a pretty good car. CVT kept revs too low in normal, and too high in sport, so I kept changing the mode several times each drive which got a bit annoying. Enjoyed throwing it around backroads, and wouldn’t mind owning one if I was looking at a car in this segment.

  7. dukeisduke Avatar

    Toyota’s gotten into a bad habit now of offering either a 4-speed auto or CVT, like on the Corolla. Neither one is a good option, IMHO. I’d rather see a 6-speed auto.

  8. boxdin Avatar

    My new Hyundai Elantra get the same milage w the AC on while being a much larger car.

  9. boxdin Avatar

    There is a Yaris around here that is very fast.

  10. Bryce Womeldurf Avatar

    The reverse light might be down there due to Japanese market versus US market taillight regulations. It might be a reverse fog light in Europe or Japan, and since we don’t have those, they might have oddly stuck the reverse light there. They really seem to mess up the light arrangements in a lot of import cars this way.