Behind the Wheel

2020 Toyota Yaris review: This ‘Yota is a Mazda that’s better than its price

The 2020 Toyota Yaris punches above its weight.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Folks are always fascinated about what I do for a living. "Oh, you drive a different car every week? That's so exciting!"

What follows is a fairly predictable set of questions. "What's your favorite car?" (Rolls-Royce Wraith). "Have you ever driven on a race track?" (Numerous times.) "What's the fastest you've driven?" (180 MPH in a Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn in Germany.)

But then I'll start asking them questions, trying to learn about what they drive and why. What car do you have and why did you buy it? What other cars did you consider? What do you look for in an automobile?

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris has Toyota looks up front.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It's my own form of market research. I can't review a car if I don't understand who my reader is and how to best guide them. It's part of why I don't dive too deep into horsepower and performance figures — I've found that, performance cars excepted, most vehicles perform adequately for the everyday tasks that people buy them for.

That brings us to this week's car, which is perhaps one of the least-interesting cars I've tested — but in a very good way. The sub-$20,000 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is aimed solidly at folks who want an affordable, entry-level vehicle that's safe, practical, and with just a touch of luxury-ishness.

My tester was the (slightly) fancier XLE trim, pricing out at $19,680. It's equipped with an adequate if unexciting 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a whopping 106-horsepower. The engine might be tiny, but it comes with the added bonus of 32/40/35 mpg (city/highway/combined) fuel economy. It's paired to a six-speed automatic transmission (and a real transmission too, not a continuously variable unit that some folks love to hate).

2020 Toyota Yaris The hatchback is convenient but the car also comes in a sedan variant.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It has 16-inch wheels, a bunch of airbags, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a seven-inch color touch screen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has push-button start, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Oh, and there's automatic climate control too, which I've seen missing on cars that cost way more than this.

Here's where things get a bit confusing. Toyota sells the Yaris in other markets around the world, and it's their own in-house vehicle. But the Yaris sold in America is a rebadged Mazda2 that's assembled at Mazda's facility in Salamanca, Mexico. It's related to the Toyota Yaris sedan which used to be called the Scion iA, which is also built by Mazda, but also has the Toyota brand on it.

Whatever.

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris rides okay, about what you’d expect for a sub-$20,000 vehicle.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

I've driven a lot of Mazdas and a lot of Toyotas, and it's obvious to me that this is a Mazda. That's not a bad thing. Mazdas vehicles have punched above their weight for a long time (I had a 2011 Mazda3 for years, and I've praised them frequently in these pages), bringing both upscale materials and design to lower-priced segments. That's true here too. The Mazda2 — I mean, Toyota Yaris Hatchback — doesn't feel like a stripped down econobox. It's small and maneuverable and the engine, though a little noisy, gets you through traffic nicely.

It's a great new car for a teenager or for someone looking to spend as little money on a new car as possible. New cars, after all, come with new car warranties and can appeal to folks who don't want to imagine what came before when buying something used.

The Yaris competes with the Honda Fit, which is a perennial favorite in this class, and it seems a little nicer and a little more polished, though with less rear-seat legroom if you anticipate carrying adults back there.

2020 Toyota Yaris Even low-cost models have an infotainment screen these days.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The front is comfortable and attractive enough, with solid buttons and knobs and dials that are all pleasing to touch and fiddle with (which isn't as common as you'd think). It seems to be a better car than it's bargain-basement price would indicate, with a solid ride, comfortable seats and two reliable names behind it.

I took it to Costco (as I have with all my COVID-era test drives) and, with the 60/40 seats folded down, was able to fill it with ease. It swallowed up toilet paper and paper towels and a case of Diet Dr. Pepper and all manner of other things. It's no Rolls-Royce Wraith, but I'd be happy to recommend the little Yaris to someone looking for a new car that won't break the bank.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Ford F-Series Super Duty is a potent pickup.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

For many, a pickup truck is as much a daily drivable vehicle as it is a tool for getting the job done. How much horsepower and torque a powertrain puts out is a big part of that. Most want enough to get the job done while keeping an eye toward fuel economy.

What's the difference between horsepower and torque? In simple terms, torque is the pull of the powertrain that gets you off the line from a full stop. Horsepower is what gets you going the speed you want and keeps you there.

Diesel engines tend to have more torque than gasoline-powered engines but have less horsepower. There's no perfect torque to horsepower ratio. It's all about which combination works best for you.

The engines on this list have the highest amount of horsepower and are available in 2021 model year pickup trucks in the U.S. See the 2020 horsepower champs by clicking here and the 2020 torque winners by clicking here.

No. 5 (tie) - 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500: 6.2-liter V8

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Seven different engines are available in the 2021 Silverado 1500 range, any of which provides strong payload and towing capabilities. The range-topping gas engine is the real showstopper, however, as the 6.2-liter V8 makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are good enough to help the truck deliver a 13,300-pound towing capacity and a 2,060-pound payload rating.

No. 5 (tie) - 2021 GMC Sierra 1500: 6.2-liter V8

2021 GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Carbon Pro

Photo courtesy of GMC

Like its Chevy brother, the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 has an available 6.2-liter V8 that achieves 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. It has a 2,000-pound payload rating and a 11,800-pound trailering capacity.

No. 4 - 2021 Ford F-150: PowerBoost hybrid powertrain

2021 Ford F-150 PowerBoost Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

430 horsepower

Ford's brand-new hybrid F-150 hits the market in 2021 and will bring some legitimate power numbers to back up its high-tech fuel system. The PowerBoost hybrid powertrain uses a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 with electric motors to produce a strong 430 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque.

No. 3 (tie) - 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD: 6.6-liter Duramax diesel

2021 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

445 horsepower

Diesel engines are usually best known for their torque delivery, but Chevrolet is offering a 6.6-liter Duramax diesel in the 2021Silverado 2500 HD that defies the tradition. It makes 445 horsepower and a whopping 910 pound-feet of torque, which allows the Chevy truck to tow up to 18,500 in certain configurations.

No. 3 (tie) - 2021 GMC Sierra 2500 HD: 6.6-liter Duramax diesel

2021 GMC Sierra 2500 HD\u200b

Photo courtesy of GMC

445 horsepower

The engine in the GMC Sierra 2500 HD is the same as in the Silverado 2500 HD. It produces the same 445 horsepower and 910 pound-feet of torque from the 6.6-liter Duramax diesel that's paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. It can tow up to 18,150 pounds.

No. 2 - 2021 Ford F-Series Super Duty: 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8

2021 Ford F-Series Super Duty

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

475 horsepower

The 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8 that powers the top-of-the-line trucks in Ford's F-Series Super Duty lineup produces 475 horsepower, but that's not even the most special thing about it. The Blue Oval has built a diesel engine to dominate the towing and payload wars, and as a result it produces 475 horsepower and 1,050 pound-feet of torque.

No. 1 - 2021 Ram 1500 TRX: 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

702 horsepower

There's no competition here. The Ram 1500 TRX is far and away the most powerful truck on the market today – or any other day, for that matter. The 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 that powers the 2021 TRX produces 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque, and makes the Ram the most powerful and fastest mass-produced truck in the world. All of that power helps the truck deliver an 8,100-pound towing capacity and a zero to 60 mph time of just 4.5 seconds.

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The Mercedes-Benz GLA was redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz GLA was completely redesigned for the 2021 model year, taking it from a mundane tuna can-like hatchback to a zippy, more traditional small SUV. Everything about it fits into the modern Mercedes SUV lineup. It's a mini Merc. It's formulaic and perfectly fine but it's just not that nice compared to what else you can get for around $40,000 (starting price is just over $36,000)

Mercedes sells the GLA in three variants with another on the way. There's the traditional GLA 250 and GLA 250 4MATIC, and the AMG GLA 35. A more high-performance version of the model, the AMG GLA 45 is coming soon. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available on most models. A variety of drive modes allow the driver to choose how much torque they want to allocate to what wheels and additional setup options for suspension and dynamics are available on pricier GLAs.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 The car's infotainment and driver information screens are housed together as one unit.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

As tested, the GLA 250 was powered by the standard 2.0-liter turbo-four that is paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. It delivers 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SUV had trouble off the line during daily driving. The GLA's turbo lag added together with low-end gearing confusion to make the mundane drive from stop sign to stop sign in a neighborhood a comfortable creep followed by a robust burst of energy. Once out of the neighborhood and up to full speed on the highway, the powertrain performed far better, however, there was nothing elegant about it.

The model's steering is numb, which is typical for its class. It's steering circle isn't as tight as is optimal.

Any promise of a tranquil ride that you would think would be relatively standard with a Mercedes is not something the GLA possesses. However, for as much road noise that permeates the cabin, it's still less than the awful rattling the previous generation GLA allowed in. For that we can all be thankful.

The added height of the GLA gives the vehicle a more SUV-like seating position than its crossover predecessor. Ingress and egress is easy, as it should be with a model of these proportions. Head- and legroom for front passengers is fantastic for a vehicle of the GLA's size.

Seats in the GLA are not uncomfortable, and certainly not the worst that Mercedes offers.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes wins points for the GLA's tech, which is easy to use, responsive, and pleasing to the eye. The GLA comes standard with the Mercedes-Benz two screens, in one large housing. Its Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) operating system runs two 7.0-inch screens. The centrally located screen, which controls the infotainment system, reacts to touch and can also be operated by a touchpad controller on the center console. The list of standard equipment also includes four USB ports, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

Buyers can upgrade their model to include a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen, 12-speaker Burmester audio system, wireless device charging, a Wi-Fi hot spot, head-up display, and navigation.

Mercedes gives every GLA a reasonable amount of active safety features. The list includes a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, vehicle exit warning, automatic emergency braking, driver drowsiness monitoring, and crosswind assist. To get the most desirable safety features, GLA buyers need to add on two packages, which drive up the price $2,800.

The SUV has ample space in the second row for adults.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The GLA's interior materials, cabin noise, and unrefined powertrain make it seem like a less-than premium SUV. The car's tech offerings give it a boost, but other models offer a longer list of standard and available safety technology.

Buyers who are savvy and looking to get the most bang for their buck will want to test drive similarly sized models like the 2020 Buick Encore GX, Jaguar E-Pace (it was refreshed for the 2021 model year with major changes), and Mazda CX-30 before committing to the GLA. They have interiors that are just as nice and offer price tags that are more wallet-friendly.

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