2013 Toyota Yaris 5D LE

Handling & Ride Characteristics – “Simplicate, then add lightness,” Sir Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars.

Handling dynamics is where the Yaris shines. We can’t believe the least expensive Toyota can achieve this type of handling character. This alone would make us a potential buyer. Be clear though, we are not saying the Yaris will generate a supercar like 1.0g in the skidpad. The significance is in its communicativeness, and balance. The Yaris is capable of going through corners like a sporty sedan. The softly sprung suspension means body rolls are easily felt, and the rear end rolls noticeably more. This transparency in weight transfer offers communicative feedback and predictability, yet the softness enables the Yaris to handle bumps and potholes at ease.

The handling is provided by no other than the conventional MacPherson struts with 24mm diameter anti-roll bar in the front, and torsion beam in the rear. How would this essential recipe in all subcompacts differentiate itself here? The secret is not in the hardware, the surreptitious ingredient is the Yaris’ 2,315 lbs curb weight.

The lightness makes the suspension tuning (reduce the use of beefy and massive control arms/components) easier to accommodate for its mass, and resulting in intuitive handling. At the limit, understeering is modest but the tires have enough on reserve to sustain the limit before the front tires will beg for mercy. Cornering limit is much higher than anticipated.

Making contact on the ground is a set of 175/65R15 Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 standard touring all-season tires on steel rims. The skinny tires are capable of generating 0.8 lateral g-force in the skidpad.

Consider as rarity in this segment, out of all the electronic steering we experienced, the Yaris is the best, yes, this steering is second to none in this segment. The on-center feel is apparent. The more you steer away from center the effort gets progressively heavier. Road feel is of course not sports car sharp but it is not as vague as a typical Toyota. Feedback is also good.

Its 3-turns lock-to-lock, and the 30.8’ turning diameter makes three-point turn a rare occasion. To sharpen the turn radius more if necessary, the correctly located hand-operate hand brake can be used. The problem though being a Toyota, electronic safety threshold is overpowering.

The standard Traction Control (TRAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) systems are over conservative. They can’t be turned off when vehicle speed is above 30 mph. Regardless, how hard you try to corner the car, the Yaris will never squeal its tires. We sense that the chassis has much higher limit than the system is tuned.

Brake Performance & Feel – Lightness = Petite = Lightness

The lightness circle goes like this. Lighter curb weight equals less massive brakes are needed for the job which reduce unsprung weight and resulting in less beefy suspension components therefore ultimately lighter overall curb weight. This theory is supported by the tiny 10” x 0.87” vented brake rotors with single piston calipers in front, and 7.87” drums in the rear.

Under emergency braking at freeway speed, stopping distance is shorter than expected, accompanied by heavy of nose dive. The rear feels slightly unsettled, perhaps, it is due to the drum setup in the rear but it is generally stable when braking up to 9/10th. On paper, the hardware is capable of stopping the Yaris from 70 mph in 173’. Pedal effort is linear to the input, and very intuitive to modulate.

Going down gradient from 8,500’ to 4,000’ on SR89, the tiny brake rotors are capable to slow down the car without any fade. Also the transmission is adaptive the terrain as Toyota emphasis on its Electronic Control Technology with Intelligence (ECT-I) jingle. How exactly intelligent is it? Going downhill in D, it knows when the brake pedal is applied for more than 2 seconds it will automatically downshift a gear to promote engine braking.

Toyota’s Star Safety System (TSSS) came with the car for free which includes the aforementioned TRAC and VSC, also 4-channel Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology in conjunction with the Electronic Throttle Control with Intelligence (ETC-i).

Gimme a break! Do we really need all these? Unintended acceleration anyone? The small throttle pedal and the now properly designed carpet mounting hardware to eliminate carpet-to-pedal interference reminded us why Toyota has this over conservative TSSS watchdog monitoring over your right foot, even the court finding revealed that unintended accelerations were due to driver errors. For those whom can properly drive, the TSSS is overkill here in the Yaris since the driver plenty of time to react to the yawningly slow acceleration.

Powertrain Performance & Refinement – Crave for more…a lot more at times.

“Adding power makes you faster on the straights, while subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere,” Sir Colin Chapman. In our humble opinion, this is only true if the car is actually moving before it can go anywhere even it weights nought pound. The fact is the direct carryover powertrain in the Yaris is just insufficient.

The suspect hidden behind the front fascia is a lightweight (172 lbs) 4-cylinder 16-valve DOHC with Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) engine (1NZ-FE). The aluminum cylinder head features variable valve timing on the intake cam that can adjust the intake valve opening between -7 to 33 degree before top dead center, and closing between 12 to 52 degree after top dead center. The adjustability is applied via the timing chain drive hydraulic cam phaser. The 1NZ-FE’s 1,497 cc displacement comes from the 75 x 84.6 mm undersquare bore-and-stroke layout with 10.5:1 compression ratio in the aluminum block. The cylinders are breath through the single path plastic intake manifold for weight reduction and to maintain colder intake air temperature since amount of heat transferred from the cylinder head is reduced. Rearward facing exhaust manifold offers a more direct flow path for the exhaust system enhancing volumetric efficiency is also employed.

The 1NZ-FE pumps out 106 hp @ 6,000 rpm (21.8 lbs/hp) and 103 lb-ft of torque @ 4,200 rpm (22.8 lbs/lb-ft) on unleaded regular gasoline. Not bad for its displacement.

Mated to this transversely mounted engine is a 4-speed electronic automatic transmission (U340E) driving the front wheels. From the number of forward gears and the traditional PRNDL dogleg shift gate, we can chase the U340E history back to the Y2K Echo where it was first used.

The transmission is dated in the era where 6-speeds are the commodities. To our surprise though, the software has been optimized. The shiftings are responsively quick. It is willing to downshift, and hold gear at engine redline. We also greatly applaud for its eagerness in auto downshifts to promote engine braking appropriately.

Due to the 1.5L engine size, driving in the horsepower sucking altitude, the engine is laboring to make power. To simply maintain freeway speed, the powertrain feels unease and busy. It gear hunts between 4-3-4-3 with jerkiness. To fix this, we manually shift to 3rd. The attempt to pass slower traffic ahead, 3-second advance respond time is required to summon up the much needed velocity while the engine drones our ears out and coarseness felt through the steering wheel.

The engine is not meant for sustaining high revs and struggling to breathe as it approaches its 6,400 rpm redline. If you are in the urban area like the Bay Area, the engine is smooth and is sufficient to cruise along with all the Prius’.

Mesh the easy to modulate with linear response throttle to the floor, the powertrain propels the Yaris from 0 to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds, and reaches the quarter mile in low 18 seconds at 77 mph. The Yaris has met the benchmark to earn the “Super Slow” rating, and makes any base model midsize sedan feel like a sports car.

The motorcycle like 11.1 gallon fuel tank capacity enabled us to travel close to 300 miles before the low fuel warning light comes on. The LE trim offers no tachometer. Our trusted calculation concluded that traveling at 70 mph in top gear the engine revs at approximately 2,900 rpm with torque convertor locked. Our observed fuel consumption ranged from 32.2 to 40.4 with 36.6 mpg average. Our test drive exceeded EPA’s 30/36/32 combined ratings, thanks again to its low curb weight and the, looks are deceiving, 0.29 coefficient of drag.

Overall Impression

Scoring System:
Powertrain Performance & Refinement

Handling & Ride Characteristics

Brake Performance & Feel

Comfort & Workmanship

Features & Technologies

Will I buy one factor

My recommendation factor

Lamzgarage factual ratings. Dollar-to-Horsepower: $162.50/HP; Dollar-to-Trunk Space: $1,104.17/cu-ft.

Afterthought – First time in history. A Toyota product has earned our recommendation, but…

…if Toyota buyers consult the opinions of the Consumer Reports (CR), the Yaris isn’t looking too good there. CR recently suggested five new cars to avoid due to their low ratings in the CR tests. These models are: 1) Scion iQ, 2) Chevrolet Spark, 3) Mitsubishi i-MiEV, 4) Toyota Yaris, and 5) Toyota Tacoma.

CR indicated that the Yaris subjects you to “noisy cabin, uncomfortable seats, and jittery ride”. However, we didn’t notice any one of these being severe enough for us to avoid the Yaris. What we would like to see in the Yaris is this. Keep everything the same for the L, & LE. Except on the SE, fit the 2ZZ-GE (180 hp @ 7,600 rpm and 130 lb-ft of torque @ 6,800 rpm) engine, mate it to a 6-speed manual gear box with mechanical limited slip differential and price it at $20,000. We will buy one right now. But until then, if you are looking for a basic transportation in the subcompact segment, you won’t go wrong with the Yaris.

Therefore, for the first time in history and despite three out of five models listed in the CR avoid list are Toyotas, Lamzgarage.com is recommending the 2013 Toyota Yaris SE with MT. End.

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