With the 2020 Yaris hatchback, Toyota gives its Mazda-derived Yaris sedan a smart hatchback companion that manages to be both sportier and more practical. The new hatch, also a Toyota version of the Mazda2 sold elsewhere in the world, is a big step up from the outgoing and aging Toyota-built Yaris hatchback, a vehicle that sparked no joy to look at or drive. It debuted at the 2019 New York International Auto Show.
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In its place is a cute little hatch with a grown-up interior that’s not a sensory deprivation chamber. This would be my choice over the sedan, which I also like, for its useful 15.9 cubic feet of cargo space (and more with the rear seatback folded). It’s a car that’s inexpensive but does not scream “cheap,” and it promises not to be a punishment to drive.
The sporty look that Toyota calls “cab-rearward” does get a big-mouthed Toyota face that adds unneeded visual weight to the front, but the rest of the car shows the graceful lines of the current Mazda design mode. And the interior would look good in a car a class up. Mazda is a leader in interior design these days, and the skill shows even in the modest little Yaris. It’s a lot harder to create an appealing design on such a tight budget. Obvious care went into the clean interior with pleasing shapes and details, including extra touches such as the dashboard stitching. An extra couple inches of wheelbase over the previous hatchback makes for better backseat space, too.
Toyota hasn’t been stingy with standard features, accenting the inexpensive but not cheap feel. The hatchback also seems positioned as a more upscale choice than the sedan, offering just LE and XLE trim levels and skipping the sedan’s base L trim. No Yaris hatch comes with tacky plastic wheel covers (as did the previous hatch’s base model). All get good-looking 16-inch alloy wheels, along with a 7-inch touchscreen (accompanied by a Mazda knob controller), six-speaker audio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, heated side mirrors with LED turn signals, a proximity key with push-button start and a tilting and telescoping steering wheel. Also, as with many other Mazda vehicles, if you want in-car navigation, all the hardware is on board and you can add it with an accessory SD card.
But you should treat yourself to the XLE. It adds imitation leather that has a decent look and feel, as well as automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic LED headlights and a leather-trimmed-and-stitched steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle.
Safety is standard, too, with a low-speed front collision system with automatic braking. It is the one place where the 2020 hatchback steps back a little from the outgoing model, which had a Toyota system that worked beyond city speeds to about 50 mph. But it’s the only step back versus many forward.
I’m sorry that the hatchback model won’t be offered with the manual shift that’s available in the sedan version. It’s the fun choice but also actually a useful choice in a car like this. It lets you get the most out of the 106 horsepower, making it feel peppy versus the automatic in the city. And the gentle and forgiving Yaris manual is easy to master for newbies learning to row their own. Of course, it’s also just a ball to flog the little car.
But offsetting that is the 2020 model’s six-speed automatic, a big improvement over the outgoing model’s museum-piece four-speed. There also is a Sport mode to sharpen response and, though we’ll have to drive it to confirm, Mazda Sport modes in general are actually sporty. Yaris couples that Sport mode with a Mazda chassis that gives the Yaris sedan better handling than most similar vehicles. The shorter hatchback (almost 10 inches shorter than the sedan) promises to be even more nimble, and Toyota also touts its 32.2-foot turning circle – both are worth noting if narrow streets and tight parking spaces are part of your motoring life, as they are in mine.
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Time will tell if there is still a place in the market for a sensible budget car you could actually enjoy — less expensive with more features even than the new group of subcompact SUVs. If there is, Toyota’s new Yaris hatchback is positioned to be one of the winners.
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