Toyota Yaris 3-door/5-door liftbacks earn fresh Euro styling

2015, Toyota, Yaris

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).

By Bob Plunkett

More Toyota car reviews?

Images of the 2015, Toyota Yaris

2015 Toyota Yaris design
2015 Toyota Yaris design
2015 Toyota Yaris interior
2015 Toyota Yaris interior
2015 Toyota Yaris hatchback
2015 Toyota Yaris hatchback
2015 Toyota Yaris sublime
2015 Toyota Yaris sublime