By on October 19, 2016

2015 Toyota Yaris, Image: Toyota

Toyota doesn’t immediately spring to mind when a buyer thinks of driving excitement. Far from it, in fact.

While the brand carries an enviable reputation of reliability, strong resale value and general popularity, it suffers in the performance and youthful appeal department. That could change, with Auto Express reporting that Toyota could build on its return to the World Rally Championship with a production hot hatch.

Volkswagen Golf R, Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus RS…Toyota Yaris?

Toyota wasn’t always lacking in performance appeal. The 1980s Corolla GT-S and Celicas of various decades looked good and injected a shot of low-cost adrenaline into a staid lineup. True, the brand still has the 86 (formerly the Scion FR-S), but a rear-drive 2+2 with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder carries limited appeal, and sales show it.

A souped-up variant of the oh-so-economical Yaris is the brand’s entry into the WRC, a motorsports competition Toyota sat out for the past 17 years. Stripping off its sensible shoes, the WRC Yaris sports a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder making north of 300 horsepower. That output kicks mountains of sand into the face of the stock Yaris.

In hatchback guise (not the Mazda 2-turned-Yaris iA sedan) the Yaris makes 106 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque from its 1.5-liter four. The model could benefit from some muscle, says Toyota’s European president and CEO.

“It’s no use doing motorsport if you can’t reflect it in your product,” Johan van Zyl told Auto Express. “What you’ll see is that we want to totally integrate it into our offering.

The next-generation Yaris hatch won’t appear for at least another couple of years. Still, the automaker has engines in development — namely a 1.5-liter turbo making about 180 hp — that could one day find a home in the little subcompact. van Zyl spoke for Toyota of Europe, but a hotter Yaris — if built — could help the automaker challenge hot hatch competitors in North America.

Performance-minded compacts and subcompacts are on the upswing. The Hyundai Elantra Sport appears this fall. Hell, even Nissan is getting a foot in the door with its upcoming Sentra SR Turbo. Still, is the Yaris worthy of a hot hatch, or would the model’s name, so long associated with a tepid commuter car, hamper interest?

Toyota’s potential hot hatch competitors enjoy plenty of name recognition and heritage. Perhaps when the next-generation model bows, Toyota should consider a name change.

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41 Comments on “Toyota Mulling a Hot Hatch, But Is the Yaris the Right Choice?...”

  • avatar

    Good luck with this, Toyota.
    And consider bringing back the name Paseo.
    Yaris is one of the worst car names to speak aloud on the planet (alongside Camry).

  • avatar

    I’ve had a soft spot recently for the little unloved Yaris. The problem for Toyota, however, is that in SE trim (the “sportiest” the Yaris comes in as of now) already sits at just north of $17k…and there is always the Corolla iM (the hatchback formerly known as scion iM). What would a hopped-up variant of the Yaris offer, as it wouldn’t necessarily be cheap.

    I guess the Yaris reminds me of my son’s current 197 Tercel. She ain’t fancy, but at almost 20 years old and with well over 230k on her, the little base Toyota has been the absolute champion in our family for reliability and dependability.

    • 0 avatar

      The Focus RS and Golf R are each in the $40k range today. A $40k Yaris would be tough to swallow for American buyers, I expect.

    • 0 avatar

      Have you tried driving one recently? What was once a economical choice for cost-conscious buyers is now a miserable experience for chumps and anyone unlucky enough to get stuck with one from a rental lot. It’s the 2016 AMC Gremlin.

      • 0 avatar

        Too bad. I drove a Yaris around 2009 and found it relatively fun, and thought it drove better than the new for 2009 Corolla at that time. Sad to hear it has gone downhill.

      • 0 avatar
        Pete Zaitcev

        I have driven a Yaris recently, and it was quite good. Much better than Versa Note.

      • 0 avatar

        I rented a Yaris a few years back to travel to Vegas and the grand canyon. Put a few thousand miles on it and absolutely loved it. It was fun to drive and fun to toss around on mountain roads. I thought it drove better than the rest of the competition, even the Fit. Just goes to show that personal views vary greatly. I have never seen anything good written about the current gen Yaris anywhere, but I loved it.

  • avatar

    Insert picture of Celica All-Trac Turbo here.

  • avatar

    The Corolla iM would make more sense. And, is there an “official” pronunciation for Yaris? I’ve always wondered if it’s “YAIR-is” or “YAHR-is”.

  • avatar

    Toyota already has all the parts in it’s bin.

    Lexus/Toyota 2.0L turbo + Scion IM/Auris hachback = 2018 Corolla FX16 GT-S.

  • avatar

    Well, I was going to ask why one would come out with an expensive version of a Penalty Box, but then I remembered the FiST, so I’m not going to write this off off-hand.

    That said, my first choice would indeed be a gussied up iM.

  • avatar

    I agree that the iM is a far more obvious choice for a hot hatch than the Yaris. It’s a much better looking car in person than in pictures, maybe even the best looking in its segment.

  • avatar

    The Yaris is woefully uncompetitive in the B-segment arena. The iA on the showroom floor is the vastly better car, and if you lease deal a Corolla, the Yaris makes no sense at all.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    A hot-hatch Yaris would be as literal a definition as I could think of for “lipstick on a pig.”

    The Toyota Corolla iM (previously the Scion iM) is a superior car in every way. It looks handsome, has better fit-and-finish, is larger, and is far more deserving of a performance variant.

    People who buy hot hatches tend to be very discerning, and so you need to start out with a good foundation if you want to attract them. They’re not the same kind of people who will pay 30% more for a car because you lifted it and added some chrome.

    • 0 avatar

      Volkswagen, Ford, Mini Cooper, Fiat, ? Am I missing a maker of hot hatches, or are hot hatch buyers actually the polar opposite of discerning by necessity?

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        The cars you mentioned are cars that drive well, and that’s why I say these buyers are discerning. With their expectations set as they are, customers of these cars won’t be fooled by a Yaris. The Yaris does not drive or handle well, and that seems to be inherent in what it is, basic transportation. It’s really a couple of missing airbags away from being a third-world vehicle.

        Nothing against the Yaris—although I don’t care for it—but unless Toyota wants to re-engineer it, I think turning it into a hot hatch is a bit of out of its depth. They should do that to the Corolla iM instead, at least.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s no hot hatch, but the iM is my favorite “cheap car” at the moment. I’m a hatchback fan, and I think for $20k its a decent deal. I don’t think it’s attractive, but looks are subjective and it is less ugly than the Civic hatch.

    • 0 avatar

      The previous gen Yaris had decent handling. The report mentions a new car in 2018 so I assume the plan would be to have the new variant on the new platform. Honestly if the pre 2013 had a performance variant I would be interested, never drove a third gen do can’t say much there.

  • avatar

    Does anyone here realize that the US-model Yaris is made in France? Go check VIN, I’ll wait. It’s the first French-built car sold in America since the 1980s.

    Other posters are correct. Although the Corolla iM is 1 class bigger in size, it’s scarcely higher in price. Owing to its Scion roots, the Corolla iM is available in one trim only. If they wanted to, they could build a base iM, matching the base Corolla sedan trim level, and sell it for the same as a “loaded” Yaris SE, which isn’t very loaded.

    I can’t speak for anywhere else, but here in Las Vegas, Toyota dealers only begrudgingly stock a couple Yaris each. I’m sure there isn’t much profit in them.

    99% of the Yaris I see in Vegas have rental-car barcodes. Imagine that!

    • 0 avatar

      The Yaris is an old school subcompact- it’s a straight up penalty box. It’s also priced very close to the Corolla and even lower trim Camry, both being HUGE increases in refinement.

      The Yaris straight up sucks, and for less than the price of a timing belt job, one can get a Corolla.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s a link to the new Yaris. Formerly known as the Scion iA. My guess is that they’d take the Mazda2 hatch and drop in the Miata’s 2.0.

  • avatar

    AWD version available?

  • avatar

    Remember when Toyota used to make fun, engaging cars?

    Pepperidge Farm remembers!

  • avatar

    I’ve always wondered if most subcompacts were too small to be efficient for Americans. It seems like compact cars are big steps up in terms of space, NVH, get better milage, are faster, and cost about the same.

    6 tall adult men can fit in a Corolla/Focus/Civic/Sentra/Elantra/Cruze. The only advantage of the midsizers are bigger motors, more space, and more options.

    It’d be nice if Toyota hooked it up with a fast Corolla / Corolla IM but that’s wishing for a lot. It’d just be nice if there were a >= 4 door that was more cost-effective than a WRX. You know, fewer problems, better milage, 2wd, ect. It’s a shame the Civic Si is a coupe and a sedan, a hatch and a sedan would be fantastic.

    The Fiesta ST is just too small for 4 larger adults and the Focus ST seems to be a little too hot with the weird issues that happen (though it might just be the monster energy crowd doing dumb stuff).

  • avatar

    A performance Yaris could be competitive enough against the Fiesta, Polo, Clio, etc. I doubt that there would be much of a market for it in the US, but cars like this aren’t designed primarily with the US in mind.

  • avatar

    I like the Corolla IM, it just needs turbo. Everybody else is doing it and that 1.8L doesn’t really cut it anymore. The Civic hatch looks insane, a Corolla IM-T would be a nice alternative.

    I’d be fine with a “warm” hatch, something like a 1.5-1.8 turbo like what Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and VW offer in their hatchbacks.

  • avatar

    Toyota certainly had “sporty” on its mind decades ago, who here knows of the Tercel GP-Turbo?

  • avatar

    Put 2.5 Camry engine into Corolla.

  • avatar

    I too like the iM, but the 1.8 normally aspirated engine is a deal killer. Maybe by the time I sell my TDI back, Toyota will have come to their senses and offer it with a better engine.

  • avatar
    Dr. Claw

    Should be the iM/Auris getting that treatment, not the Yaris.

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