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2015 Toyota Yaris First Impression

Brossard, QC -- The small-car segment is huge. In Europe it’s an absolute behemoth, and here in North America we are just beginning to grow it into the giant it is worldwide. As the feisty little fellows start to overtake our streets (particularly in Quebec, where a special love for hatchbacks resides), companies like Toyota are taking note of the need for a highly European influence in these funky little vehicles and answering the public’s desires with their latest refreshes.

Dubbed a “major-minor” mid-cycle update, the 2015 Toyota Yaris is all new as far as aesthetic changes and pricing are concerned, but has yet to see a new engine and/or transmission. Chassis upgrades along with suspension tweaks mean the drive feels all new, too.

But does it have the chutzpah to play with juggernauts like the Versa Note and Fiesta? I took this latest Yaris for a spin to find out.

What’s new about the 2015 Toyota Yaris? 
While not a new generation or even a total model refresh, the 2015 Toyota Yaris is enough of a “new” car to get a bit excited about -- at least the folks at the Japanese automaker are pretty pumped about it.

Essentially, the Yaris got a nifty facelift, a bit of a nip-tuck, some butt implants, and some new interior apparel. Mechanically, it’s stayed pretty much the same, save for improved steering feel, increased body stiffness, and better aerodynamics. Otherwise, the 106-horsepower 1.5L 4-cylinder engine remains, as does the choice between a 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive and three or five doors are available.

That nifty facelift is quite nice, round back. Up front it seems to be trying desperately to evoke the spindle grille of the new Lexus IS while also pretending to be a grownup and look like a new Corolla. Of course, I see the family resemblance in the design language across all the new Toyota models, but here it just makes the little guy look mad. All. The. Time.

Inside, the 2015 Yaris was treated to new soft-touch materials and a newly laid out centre stack. Much more modern in design, the interior is a pleasant place to be. My only gripe? The seemingly cool “storage” slots above the glove box that are really just figments of your imagination and will see your iPhone flying into your knee (yes, and painfully so) upon acceleration as they are much too shallow to hold anything, really.

Are there still three trims available? 
Indeed there are. The base CE model features a three-door layout along with 15” wheels and a chrome X-style front fascia with distinctive Angry Birds undertones. This very basic model only accounts for less than 5% of Toyota’s Yaris sales, but they feel it’s important to keep it around, as it is also the lowest-priced of the bunch at just $14,545.

Going up from there you’ve got the two 5-door models, the LE and the top-trim SE. Note that no matter which model you choose, you will have the same engine as well as a 6.1” display screen for entertainment and navigation (should you get that option). With the LE starting at $15,965, the majority of Yaris sales will be here. Nicely equipped with everything you’d want from a car in this segment, the LE is the ideal Yaris in my opinion.

However, should you want something a little more upscale in terms of hatchbackness, then the SE is your answer. With piano-black accents up front, fog lights, fancy LED daytime running lights, a nifty decklid spoiler and 16” rims, as well as piano-black accents on the leather-stitched steering wheel and buttons for cruise control and entertainment, the SE is a clear step above. Equipped with the automatic transmission, the 2015 Toyota Yaris SE will set you back just over $20,000, freight and PDI included.

But is it better to drive than the previous model? 
As I mentioned above, this isn’t a new generation, nor is it a brand new model. However, the engineers at Toyota somehow managed to tighten up the Yaris in just the right manner in order to make it more enjoyable on the road.

In torrential rain, the little hatchback zipped along country roads without much complaint. Body roll is kept to a minimum and the steering feels on point. Hop into a manual-transmission model and suddenly it feels like the Yaris has much more than its advertised 106 horses. Peppy and eager to please, the clutch and throttle are easy to harmonize, and I’d recommend the 2015 Toyota Yaris as a first-time car to anyone who’s just learned how to drive a stick. It’s forgiving and easy to master, even in fancy Wellie boots (trust me).

How does it stack up against the other small cars out there? 
Here’s the crux of the small-car conundrum: There are lots of choices out there. Nissan took the market by storm by releasing its sub-$10k MICRA. The panic that spread across the industry was like a tsunami as both Hyundai and Mitsubishi scrambled to lower the prices on their Accent and Mirage, respectively. So, will Toyota suffer the same fate to keep buyers out of Nissan showrooms? Only time will tell.

The Yaris is a formidable opponent for the likes of the Nissan Versa Note and Chevrolet Sonic Hachback, and in all honesty I believe it is brand loyalty that will win out in the end. Toyota has a reputation it continues to uphold, and with its latest Toyota Yaris that reputation will continue on.