Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who think our jobs consist mainly of swanning around the Côte D’Azur, serenely manning the wheel of the finest European luxury sedan money can buy.

The reality is that for us, just like the majority of Canadians, cars like the Toyota Yaris are the meat and potatoes, representing one of the most important segments in the industry. Let’s face it – while it’s fun to fantasize over the latest sports coupe from Zuffenhausen or Maranello, the average person struggles to stretch the budget around even the most economical of new cars.

And while I do love sports cars with all the passion a red-blooded auto enthusiast can muster, the cheap and cheerful hatchback segment is one near and dear to my heart. In one guise or another, there’s been one parked in my driveway for the past couple of decades. At last count I’ve owned eight – and when it’s time for my current one to pack it in, I’m sure it will be replaced by another.

The subcompact segment used to be the epitome of compromise – the transportation you were forced to settle for when you couldn’t afford anything else. Not any longer. Fierce competition – particularly from the Korean brands  – has lit a fire under this segment, resulting in tremendous improvements in style and quality.

2013 Toyota Yaris Hatchback 5-Door LE
2013 Toyota Yaris Hatchback 5-Door LE
2013 Toyota Yaris Hatchback 5-Door LE. Click image to enlarge

When shelling out big bucks for a luxury car, one expects premium luxury and style as a matter of due course.

It’s even more impressive when creative minds blend budget materials and great styling to come up with something you actually want to drive – at a price you can afford.

I’d driven the Yaris when it first debuted back in ’07 and had come away largely unimpressed. Fairly devoid of any personality, the original Yaris offered little in the way of driving dynamics, not much refinement, and suffered from a distinct lack of cargo space. Against a highly competitive crop of excellent small cars, the Yaris seemed dated and lacking.

Completely overhauled in 2012, the smallest Toyota is a much better car in every way.

Like many of my enthusiast friends, I’m guilty of making jokes at Toyota’s expense. The Yaris, Corolla and the Camry are the enthusiast’s nemeses, soulless appliances for those who find no joy in driving. And yet – I will readily admit that I recommend them to family and friends without hesitation. The very attributes that a car buff finds so intolerable are what make cars like the Yaris so attractive to the average commuter. Like those stodgy yet utterly reliable family members who bore us to death yet are the first we turn to in a crisis – Toyota’s economy cars have earned a reputation for rock-solid dependability.

First of all – the base price of my LE, at $14,890 is probably equal to the amount of options on the last Audi that I drove. Add $1,100 for the Convenience package, which includes air, power windows, cruise and keyless entry, plus $1,000 for the automatic transmission, and my tester, with taxes and freight, topped out at $18,550, all in.

For that kind of money, I was expecting a dreary mess of hard plastic and ugly cloth upholstery, done up in boarding-house grey and with the fit and finish of a basement government office.

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