FRAZIER PARK, Calif. -- Through twists and bends we're prodding our vehicle -- the redesigned 2015 Yaris, Toyota's 5-door hatch-hinged liftback for the eensy-weensy subcompact class -- to run switchbacks on Lockwood Valley Road across the Sierra Madre Range of California in order to see how nimble it can be due to a rigid new body structure, retuned suspension and a potent yet fuel-sipping powertrain.
We discover that Yaris feels downright fun to drive. It zips to speed with a quick run through the gears, while handling seems sharp with the sport-tuned electric power steering system conducive to quick-cut maneuvers.
Besides, this is a way-cool cutie little car which conforms as a wild-style liftback with a tall yet streamlined-stubby package outside and a surprisingly roomy cabin on the inside with seats for up to five riders.
And although there's a Japanese parent, new Yaris is definitely a Euro hatch -- a Frenchy Euro thing, in fact.
That's because the new design for Yaris in 3-door and 5-door configurations stems from Toyota's ED2 design studio set in the south of France near Nice. All iterations of Yaris bound for North American markets come together at a Toyota assembly plant pitched in the north of France at Onnaing near Valenciennes.
With the new third-generation design, Yaris is relatively tall with a bullet-slick wedge-shaped profile and arching beltline plus a dramatic sloped face composed of a large raked-back windshield and brief hood accented by oversized corner headlamp clusters flanking a terse horizontal chrome grille and a massive gaping grille opening in black.
Virtually all body parts are tinted to the same shade in a monochromatic manner, save for a few streaks of black trim such as on center pillars separating side window sections or surrounds for front grilles and foglamps.
At the tail the top-hinged liftback door dominates in a bulging curve down to the step-notched bumper.
The new platform for Yaris feels extremely rigid, no doubt because of multiple crossmembers and braces on board.
A compliant suspension includes stiff MacPherson struts in front and a hydroformed torsion beam in back which brings anti-roll stabilization.
Tuned steering gear ratios in the rack and pinion steering system set up agile maneuverability, and a turning circle of only 31.5 feet for the 3-door sets Yaris on top of the class.
Brakes utilize front ventilated discs and rear drums, with Toyota's Star Safety System on tap including an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) plus brake assist (BA), and a vehicle stability control (VSC) device with traction control (TRAC) plus Toyota's Smart Stop Technology.
And all 2015 Yaris editions carry nine air bags, including the driver and front-passenger frontal air bags, front seat side air bags, front seat cushion air bags, side curtain-style air bags and a driver's knee air bag.
For peddle power Yaris packs a highly efficient 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with dual cams on top and Toyota's intelligent variable valve timing (VVT-i) device working to balance the power output with thrifty fuel economy. The plant produces 106 hp at 6000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm.
Through independent testing by the federal EPA, a Yaris equipped with the standard manual 5-speed gearbox comes up with frugal fuel consumption numbers like 30 miles per gallon for city driving and as much as 37 mpg on the highway. With the optional 4-speed electronic automatic transmission aboard, fuel scores total to 30 miles per gallon in town and 37 on the road.
Toyota builds the 2015 Yaris 3-door in L and LE grades, with the Yaris 5-door in L and LE grades plus sporty SE.
Yaris L grade stocks air conditioning and a 3-spoke steering wheel, power controls for windows and door locks, fabric-trimmed 6-way adjustable driver's seat and 4-way adjustable front passenger seat, 60/40 split fold-down rear seat, analog gauges including tachometer, 12-volt auxiliary power outlet, cargo area tonneau cover, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6-speaker Entune Audio with 6.1-inch touch-screen and AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA.
Toyota's MSRP for the base Yaris L grade tallies to $14,845 (3-door) and $15,945 (5-door).