2020 Toyota Yaris Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Jun 01, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Toyota deals!

2020 Toyota Yaris front side view

Photo: Ron Sessions

While most small cars make little or no profits for the manufacturer, nearly all full-line automakers offer at least one to draw new, younger buyers to the brand. As the theory goes, satisfied first-time buyers are more inclined to stay with the brand as they mature, perhaps have families and over time generate more disposable income to buy larger, more-expensive vehicles that do add to automakers’ bottom lines.

Toyota’s least-expensive car is the Yaris, co-produced with Mazda and sold as the Mazda2 in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. The 2020 Toyota Yaris is currently available in 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback body styles. The sedan with base L trim and a manual transmission has a starting price of $16,580 including the $930 destination charge. Adding automatic transmission is a $1,100 upcharge. Hatchback models start out with midlevel LE trim and come standard with the automatic transmission for $18,680 including destination. 

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2020 Toyota Yaris hatchback with the top XLE trim. Including the destination fee, the total price was $19,680. 

J.D. Power lists the Toyota Yaris as a small car along with the Chevrolet Bolt, Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa and Toyota Prius.

What Owners Say - Find the best Toyota deals!

Prior to diving into the details of our 2020 Toyota Yaris review, it’s useful to explore the details of who the buyer is for this product and what they like most and least about it based on their responses to the 2019 J.D. Power U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Compared to the small car segment as a whole, responding Yaris buyers were younger (48 vs 51 years old), less affluent (with $54,286 annual household income for Yaris buyers vs $57,732 in the segment) and female (56% for Yaris vs 47% for small cars in general).

The low price point of the Yaris was a definite draw with 44% of survey respondents considering themselves to be price buyers vs just 36% of small car buyers labeling themselves as such.

Otherwise, the APEAL Study responses of Yaris buyers were pretty close to those of small car owners in general. Listed as primary purchase considerations were avoiding high maintenance costs (97% for Yaris vs 92% for the segment), reliability (98% for Yaris vs 94% for small cars in general), quality of workmanship (90% for Yaris and 86% in the segment) and fuel economy (88% for Yaris vs 85% for all small cars).

Yaris buyers in the study were in complete agreement with small car buyers on two points. In both groups, 80% percent indicated they preferred a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration and 75% responded that they needed a vehicle to accommodate their busy lifestyles.

In the APEAL Study, Yaris buyers liked the car’s overall styling, fuel economy, driving range, cargo space and audio system sound quality, but were less enthusiastic about its back seat room, acceleration, console storage space and navigation system.

The Toyota Yaris was the top-ranked small car by J.D. Power in the 2019 APEAL Study.

What Our Expert Says - Find the best Toyota deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Toyota Yaris measures up in each of the 10 categories that make up the 2019 J.D. Power APEAL Study.

Exterior

2020 Toyota Yaris front view

Photo: Ron Sessions

A big, forward-jutting grille and a sporty, coupe-like roofline have been dominant elements of the Yaris sedan’s design since it first appeared as the Scion iA in 2017 and after Toyota dropped its “youth” brand later that year, dubbed it the Yaris iA for 2018 and simply Yaris after that. In the 2019 APEAL Study, Yaris respondents listed the car’s exterior design as one of its strongest features.

The Yaris hatchback is new for 2020, sporting a “cab rearward” look in profile that combines the sedan’s large-mouth grille with an abbreviated, bobtail rear.

While both Yaris body styles make great urban runabouts due to their short dimensions and excellent maneuverability, the hatchback is the most space-efficient. When it comes to squeezing into tight parking spaces, the Yaris hatchback is a star. The hatch version is 10.3 inches shorter than the Yaris sedan overall, nearly 1-1/2 feet more abbreviated than a Prius and just 7.5 inches longer than the diminutive Mazda MX-5 Miata.

The Yaris sedan in base L trim with its 15-inch steel wheels has the same curb-to-curb turning diameter as the MX-5 Miata as well. LE Yaris trim upgrades to 16-inch alloy wheels and adds fog lamps and a rear spoiler. XLE brings automatic LED headlamps and running lamps.

Interior

2020 Toyota Yaris interior dashboard view

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Yaris doesn’t feel cheap despite its entry-level status in Toyota’s passenger-car lineup. Unlike the interiors in some small car competitors, the Yaris isn’t filled with cheap-looking hard plastic trim. Even in the base L trim, both front door armrests are padded, the steering wheel has both tilt and telescope functions as well as audio controls and power windows include driver-side one-touch operation. There is a nice-sized storage tray in the console ahead of the shifter with a pair of USB ports, an SD card slot and auxiliary and 12-volt power points. LE trim adds smart key entry with pushbutton start and XLE brings a leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control and phone controls, rain-sensing wipers, leather-wrapped shifter and parking brake lift handle and soft trim with accent stitching on the dash, inner door panels and the console where knees brace for support in tight turns. The only glaring omission is the lack of a padded center armrest.

Seats

2020 Toyota Yaris backseat view

Photo: Ron Sessions

With seatbelts for five passengers, the Yaris offers standard cloth seat coverings in L and LE trims, with faux-leather arriving in the top XLE trim. Up front, the manually adjustable bucket seats are firm but comfortable. The rear seats, however, in both the sedan and hatchback don’t offer an abundance of legroom for adults, especially if the front seat inhabitants are tall as well. Oddly, even though the hatchback is almost a foot shorter overall than the sedan, it has a taller roof and offers slightly more (0.4 in.) rear seat headroom. APEAL Study respondents listed a lack of rear seat room as one of the car’s biggest weaknesses.

Climate Control System

2020 Toyota Yaris hvac climate control

Photo: Ron Sessions

As with most entry-level cars, the Yaris L and LE come standard with manual air conditioning that uses three simple rotary knobs for temperature, fan speed and air distribution. The XLE sedan and hatchback trims are equipped with set-and-forget automatic climate control, a feature that’s rare at this price point. It’s not available in other trims.

Both systems are simple and intuitive to use with minimal eyes-off-the-road time required to make adjustments on the fly. APEAL Study respondents listed the quietness of the Yaris heater/AC fan as one of its top strengths.

Infotainment System

2020 Toyota Yaris infotainment controller

Photo: Ron Sessions

Anyone who has driven a Mazda lately will be at home with the infotainment system in the Yaris. Unusual in this price class, a dashtop 7-inch color infotainment touchscreen is standard in the Yaris. It works with a 6-speaker AM/FM stereo with SiriusXM and HD Radio. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cellphone mirroring is now standard in both sedan and hatchback models.

Similar to what you’d find in other Mazda vehicles, the Yaris is equipped with an infotainment controller knob and wrist pad on the console with rotate, toggle and tap functionality. An analog audio volume knob is there too. Surrounding the controller knob are shortcut buttons for accessing music, navigation or home, plus ones for choosing favorites and a handy back button if you get lost in the menus. 

As the Yaris is an entry-level car, it has no imbedded navigation system. But owners can buy an SD card from a Toyota dealer for $399 that plugs into the SD card port at the front of the console. As long as the SD card is in the port, the navigation system is operational with maps displayed on the infotainment touchscreen.

Storage and Space

2020 Toyota Yaris cargo space

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Yaris sedan has a conventional trunk with 13.5 cubic feet of luggage space. Courtesy of 60/40 split rear seatbacks, the sedan offers cargo flexibility and pass-through space for longer items such as step ladders and folding tables. Despite its shorter overall length, the Yaris hatchback increases cargo space to 15.9 cu. ft. behind the rear seat, nearly doubling that with its seatbacks, also split 60/40, folded down. The hatchback’s rear seats don’t fold completely flat. APEAL Study respondents liked the amount of cargo/trunk space in the Yaris but listed the usefulness of its center console storage as one of its top weaknesses.

Visibility and Safety

2020 Toyota Yaris backup camera

Photo: Ron Sessions

Compared to other cars in Toyota’s lineup, the Yaris is a bit behind the curve in the area of advanced safety technology. Standard in Yaris is a backup camera and a low-speed forward collision warning system. The collision-warning system works between 2 and 18 miles per hour. If the system detects an object, the driver receives audible and visual warnings and if no action is taken, the system will automatically apply the brakes.

Other than that, the Yaris has all the safety basics covered: six airbags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes and tire-inflation monitor. And there are child-seat tether anchors for all rear seat positions. But it does not have the extensive safety tech of some other cars in the small-car segment such as the all-new 2020 Nissan Versa, which comes with standard lane departure warning, high-beam assist and rear automatic braking and can be optioned with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring. 

The small size of the Yaris helps with outward visibility. To the rear, the head restraints on the back seat can be retracted fully when no passengers are seated back there to improve rearward visibility. However, the front visors don’t extend to shade the upper area of the front door windows, a big deal in the Desert Southwest where sun glare is a persistent issue. 

Engine/Transmission

2020 Toyota Yaris 4-cylinder engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

A Mazda-sourced drivetrain powers the Toyota Yaris. All models are equipped with front-wheel drive. The direct-injected 1.5-liter 4-cylinder develops a segment-appropriate 106 horsepower and 103-lb-ft of torque. While that doesn’t seem like a lot of punch in these busy times, remember that the Yaris only weighs about 2,400-2,500 lbs, depending on trim. Still, that didn’t stop APEAL Study respondents from listing the car’s acceleration from a stop as one of its top weaknesses.

Buyers can choose between a 6-speed manual or a wide-ratio 6-speed automatic transmission. The manual gearbox is a pleasant surprise in this segment with its light and linear clutch action and precise, short-throw, low-friction shifter. If you want to shift your own gears, you’ll have to opt for a Yaris sedan as the Yaris hatchback is only available with a 6-speed automatic. The automatic is a conventional step-shift transmission, not a continuously variable one found in some competitor’s offerings that can let the engine whine and wail sometimes under acceleration. One advantage with the automatic is a standard Sport Mode button on the console which when activated provides quicker throttle response and easier downshifts. 

Fuel Economy

Next to affordability, fuel economy is another major reason buyers choose small cars. Here, the Yaris is no disappointment. APEAL Study respondents listed the fuel economy and driving range of the Yaris as two of its top strengths. EPA estimates are 30 mpg city/39 mpg highway/34 mpg combined for manual-transmission models and 32 mpg city/40 mpg highway/35 mpg combined for automatic ones. I observed 34.2 mpg average fuel economy in an automatic-equipped Yaris XLE hatchback over 125 miles during a week of mostly around-town residential driving.

Driving Dynamics

2020 Toyota Yaris driver dynamics

Photo: Ron Sessions

Aside from easy maneuverability and the opportunity to sneak into holes in traffic other cars might not attempt, small cars aren’t usually top of mind with buyers looking for crisp driving dynamics. But here, the Yaris is the outlier with a surprisingly engaging driving experience. The bits—a MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion-beam rear suspension, electrically boosted rack-and-pinion steering and front disc/rear drum brakes—are the stuff of numerous econoboxes. But the tight structure of the Yaris, its low curb weight and the way the chassis has been tuned with good body control and crisp steering will put a smile on a lot of faces. The Yaris is fun to drive in a way that most small cars aren’t. It’s not a quick car, but just one that you won’t get tired of driving any time soon.

Final Impressions - Find the best Toyota deals!

2020 Toyota Yaris rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

The 2020 Toyota Yaris offers tremendous bang for the buck. Not only is it fun to look at but it’s well equipped inside as well. With the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2020, the Yaris has a standard infotainment system second to none in the small car segment. Safety technology is the sole area where the Yaris lags top competitors like the Nissan Versa in the small car arena. Time will tell if Toyota trickles down some of the more advanced safety tech to the Yaris from its other passenger car models.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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