The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door is cheap, noisy and unrefined

Key Points
  • The Yaris is designed for cheap, utilitarian transportation.
  • Ponderous handling, a bumpy ride, and a noisy cabin make the Yaris an unpleasant place to spend time.
  • Modern small cars have proven that you no longer need to sacrifice refinement to deliver a good value, but the Yaris hasn't caught up.
  • Better options are available from a handful of manufacturers, including Toyota itself.
The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door — not to be confused with the Yaris iA, a Mazda-derived sedan also sold on Toyota lots — is the cheapest model in Toyota's lineup.

Don't be fooled. It's not the best value.

With a lackluster powertrain, uninspired dynamics, low-rent interior trimmings and confounding equipment availability, it's quite the shock that the Yaris is still on sale in 2018.

Not only are there better options elsewhere on the market, but Toyota will sell you an assortment of better vehicles at the same price as our optioned-out Yaris car.

The Good

The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door
Mack Hogan | CNBC

At $15,635, a base-model Yaris is the cheapest way into a new Toyota. But that base model is a three-door affair, so if you want to fit humans in the back without a hassle the real base price climbs $16,760.

The Yaris is usable for four adults, though five would be ambitious. Cargo space is too limited to go out of town with more than two people.

Props to Toyota for including a pre-collision system, lane-departure warning and automatic high beams on every Yaris, even the base models.

The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door
Mack Hogan | CNBC

My tester was a top-of-the-line SE trim that costs $19,335. While it kept the standard five-speed manual transmission, the SE had upgrades like remote keyless entry and cruise control that the standard Yaris lacks. It functions as a more reasonable model to push than the base model, as I suspect few people in 2018 are seeking out cars that lack cruise control and require a physical key to unlock the door.

A lot of people want simple and reliable transportation at a low cost. The undeniable quality of Toyota manufacturing means that you can be fairly sure time itself will stop before the Yaris does. It's reliable.

The Bad

Inside the 2018 Yaris
Mack Hogan | CNBC

As Toyota knows, it's a lot easier to make a reliable car with tried-and-true bits than try to ride the cutting edge. That philosophy, while sometimes necessary, has been deployed to a fault in the Yaris. It feels years behind its competitors and its fellow Toyotas.

In the past five to ten years, we've seen a renaissance of good small cars. While they were often seen as cheaply built, unrefined cars for those who couldn't afford something better, newer models of the Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta and more show that we now can make desirable, rounded cars at a reasonable price.

The Corolla, Corolla iM and Yaris iA are all available for less than $19,335 yet feel like actual modern cars with modern refinement.

The Yaris makes no attempts to disguise its cheapness.

The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door
Mack Hogan | CNBC

I could forgive the hard plastics everywhere, as the class pricing requires some cheap materials be used, but most competitors try to at least make the interior look nice with a few pieces of glossy trim or brightwork. Not so here, where the infotainment appears pasted in and massive seams where panels were placed are visible all around.

The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door
Mack Hogan | CNBC

It also has a very strange set of equipment. Automatic high beams are standard on every Yaris but automatic lights aren't available. That's strange, given that automatic high beams are more complicated and expensive to implement. The base models get Toyota's Entune infotainment -- which has been annoying to use since it launched — but they don't get cruise control.

Also, only top-end models get an immobilizer, which is the device that ensures the engine won't start if the chip in the key isn't recognized. It's standard anti-theft technology that costs almost nothing to add.

The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door
Mack Hogan | CNBC

With a clumsy, vague shifter and only five forward gears, the Yaris rids me of any affection for its manual transmission. The 1.5-liter engine makes 106 horsepower, which is anemic even in this low-power class. It also delivers its limited might in a noisy and unrefined way. Road and wind noise seep into the cabin, while floaty handling doesn't quite match the bumpy ride.

Final Thoughts

The 2018 Toyota Yaris 5-door
Mack Hogan | CNBC

I can't possibly recommend a Yaris. If you're looking for a small, reliable car, you have a handful of good options from a variety of companies.

One of those companies is Toyota. The is Yaris unrefined, underpowered, lacking in value and a total mystery to me.

Toyota still makes some nice small cars. I like the Corolla iM — tested at a cheaper price than the Yaris, mind you — and in limited experience have enjoyed the new Corolla sedan and Yaris iA.

Regardless of whether you want a good small car, a good small car that's reliable or a good small car that's a Toyota, the Yaris 5-door isn't the answer.


Exterior: 2.5 stars

Interior: 1 star

Driving Experience: 1 star

Value: 2 stars.

Overall: 1.5 stars

Price as configured: $19,335