2013 Toyota Yaris 5D LE

Simplicity, Lightness & Practicality – All-In-One.

“Best of all, that car would speak to people who genuinely love driving, not pander to the masses of clueless consumers who influence J.D. Power ratings…you can use your left hand to access the steering-wheel-mounted volume control, your right free to move the shift lever. You can operate the cruise control without taking your eyes off the road because it’s controlled by a stalk, not the wheel-mounted buttons found on other cars…which you have to look at to use.” Quoted from page 72 of May, 2013 issue of Road and Track (R&T) magazine on the BMW 135is.

How does this quote on the “Ultimate Driving Machine” relevant to the “It’s a car” Toyota Yaris commercial? Relevance is high. The same quote from R&T actually summed up our impression on the Yaris. The 2013 Yaris is also the perfect example of how the art of driving is enhanced by lightness, simplicity, and practicality working together.


Simplicity and lightness are generally the innate of a subcompact. These attributes coexisted with the introduction of the Toyota Echo in 2000, also known as Vitz in Japan, to replace the Toyota Tercel – a model name that had been used since 1978 – in the North America market. The Echo (XP10) was a subcompact available in 2-door, and sedan version. Mechanically, each body style shared the same 1.5L 108 hp and 105 lb-ft engine, and a 4-speed AT or 5-speed MT. The heaviest model weighed only 2,105 lbs. Fuel economy was rated at 30 city, 38 highway, and 33 mpg combined.

In the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, the Echo was replaced by a new version of Vitz, and the name Yaris (XP90) was officially used for the North America markets. The XP90 was available in 4-door sedan, 3-door and 5-door hatchback versions. Mechanically, each body style shared the same 1.5L (1NZ-FE) 106 hp and 103 lb-ft engine, mated to either a 4-speed AT (U340) or 5-speed MT (C54). The heaviest model weighed in at 2,364 lbs – a significant weight gain. The XP90 was criticized for its lackluster handling character due to the soft suspension, and high ride height. Fuel economy was decreased slightly to 29 city, 36 highway, and 32 mpg combined.

The third generation (XP130) was introduced in the North America market in late 2011 as a 2012 model. Only 3-door and 5-door hatchback versions are available, the sedan version has been dropped from the lineup. The XP130 gained 2” in wheelbase, 3” longer overall length than the XP90 where width remained the same. The XP130 dropped about 50 lbs in the enlargement transformation.

In 2013, the Yaris offers three trim levels: L (Base), LE, & SE, where they all equip with the single powertrain configuration. The top of the line SE focuses on sportiness, and the art of driving is further enhanced by its standard alloy wheels wrapped in 195/50R16 tires on sport-tuned suspension along with quicker ratio steering, bigger front brakes and disc brakes in the rear. One can easily distinguish the attractive SE by the tinted headlamps, fog lamps, sideskirts, rear spoiler, and underbody diffuser. Completing the SE package the interior features the much needed tachometer, leather-trimmed steering wheel, six-way adjustable driver’s seat that is wrapped in sport fabric.

Our 2013MY tester in the LE trim was assembled in Japan. The $17,225 MSRP includes destination fee, and the optional 4-speed AT. The LE came standard with: power locks, power windows with driver’s auto-down, power outside mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control, Tech Audio (6-speaker, XM Radio ready, HD Radio, aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth wireless music streaming, hands-free phone capability), and nine standard air bags which consist of driver and front passenger airbags, front-seat mounted side airbags, first and second row side-curtain airbags, two front seat cushion airbags, and a knee airbag for the driver.

Impression – Japan’s Hot Hatch

Approaching the Yaris head-on, the pedestrian safety compliant oversized front fascia gives the impression that Toyota has fitted a Sienna front end to a stud body. It looks a catfish that grew up in the confine of a rectangular can and with majority of its tail chopped off. On the side profile, the belt line raises upward from the hood toward the back offers the road hugging stance. The bulging headlights have the stare down look from suffering the pop-eye disease. This is definitely more appealing that it’s old bubbly cutie look.

In our 900 miles test route from San Francisco to Bishop in the Eastern Sierra via SR89 passing through the oxygen depleting 8,574 feet summit at the Carson Pass, we evaluated how practical and simple mode of transportation fair with three adults and a weekend getaway worth of gears onboard.

Here is the teaser, this new Yaris is a lot more substantial and solid than the previous models. It is “almost” a euro hot hatch of Japan.

Comfort & Workmanship – “It’s a car”. Simply lightness.

First thing first, we are discussing a Toyota product here. We all subconsciously agree that Toyota buyers operate in tunnel vision when it comes to performance. Trunk size and interior features are crucial. So here it is. The Yaris stands 59.4” tall and 66.7” wide. The easy to parallel park 153.5” overall length contains the 98.8” wheelbase, and 85.1 cubic feet of passenger compartment volume. More importantly, the Yaris has 15.6 cubic feet cargo volume with the 60/40 split rear seats folded. So yes, it can’t sit 5 and haul 15.6 cubic feet of junk in the trunk as in a Camry. Being able to adapt to the transformation from junk carrier to body hauler is called practicality – junk in the trunk is dead weight so are the non-driving human beings.

Situate in the well-padded and supportive 6-way manual adjustable driver seat, notice the significant feat of relocating the instrument cluster from center of the dash from the previous generation back to the normal behind the steering wheel position is giving it’s “It’s a car” slogan justice. The three-spoke steering wheel can only be adjusted for rake but not reach. Optimal driving position is still easy to find.

Since the Yaris is also available in Japan, the attention to design detail is improved compare to the American markets only products. For instance, the center console aft the parking brake lever has five compartments for bottle water, gum, and cigarette (which are still popular in Japan). The big one at the very back is big enough to hold a roll of TP or act as a trash bin. Ahead of the shifter are two cup holders along with a storage slot.

The rear seat is roomy in subcompact standard. The designer did spend time to create more interior space by curving the door panels out toward the exterior door shells. The floor pan at the rear seat foot well area is 2” lower than the surround floor which in turn makes more leg room as the knees are resting couple inches lower. The back of the front seats are also thinner. Headroom is good for a 5’10” figure. Glance at the dash board, panel gaps are even and minimal. Quality of workmanship far exceeds the price tag of the car. Interior sound level is at satisfactory 73 dB when cruising at 70 mph.

Also found in the dash is the Pioneer audio system. We have never driven a Japanese car where the audio is this strange to operate. At first, we have no idea of how to even turn it on. It is customarily to push on the volume control knob to power up, but not the case here. To power up, you have to hit one of the mode buttons. Cost cutting maybe but it has built-in high definition radio, USB and aux input ports in the glove compartment. User interface friendliness is lacking but features are sufficient. Other than the audio system, the rest of the switchgears are very straightforward to use.

The windshield wiper is notable for its unique design. Remember the Mercedes Benz in the early ‘90s where the windshield is served by one-wiper arm that can make a 180-deg swipe around the windshield. The system on the Yaris is similar, except it only does a 90-deg swipe. What we liked the best on the Yaris’ design is how the washer spray nozzles are integrated at the wiper blade, which eliminated the pimple like nozzles on hood and instead spraying washer fluid over the windshield in a projectile motion with majority of it end up elsewhere but the windshield. The nozzles on the Yaris are directed at the blade. The washer fluid would wet the blade first before the actual swipe. Therefore, the washer fluid follows the path of the blade. The system works perfectly, and much preferred than the two-arm conventional design.

Cooling the interior off from the tester’s sizzling Absolutely Red exterior is the clutchless variable-displacement air-conditioning compressor. To be exact, the Toyota developed compressor, it is the one-way swash plate externally controlled unit. This type of compressor uses electronic signal to precisely control the operating displacement to improve driving comfort, and reducing compressor’s energy consumption. This type of compressor emits no clutch engagement or disengagement knocking noise when air conditioning is in use.

The what? The Toyota people might ask. So I think we have lost the Toyota readers. With that let the real Lamzgarage style review begin.

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