Ace of Base: 2018 Toyota Yaris 3-Door L

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

At the instant noodle end of the Toyota showroom, cars come in three flavors: Good, Better, and Mildly Spicy (L, LE, SE). Within these trims, few options are offered, unlike domestic truck manufacturers who very nearly allow their customers to order their rigs a la carte. Of course, there’s a lot more profit in trucks, so they’re worth the trouble.

The littlest Toyota, which definitely wins an award for Most Entertaining Windshield Wiper, is now packed to the gunwales compared to the cheap seats hawked by the manufacturer in past years.

In the ‘90s, many people stepping into a base Toyota expecting a junior Lexus were rudely awakened by crank windows, the lack of a passenger side mirror, and trunk caulking apparently applied with a shoe. All that has changed, because these days the Yaris (née Echo, née Tercel) is equipped with features once reserved for the snazziest machinery.

For their $15,635, base Yaris shoppers will find air conditioning, a tilt wheel with audio controls, and a backup camera. A natty touchscreen infotainment centre is on board, in which one finds a USB port, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth capability, and Geordi LaForge’s duty manuals for the starship Enterprise. You know what drivers of base Toyotas had as infotainment years ago? In most cases, absolutely nothing.

In fact, I remember helping a buddy install a new deck in his mid-90’s Corolla that had suffered some unusual body damage. “A mere matter of a moment’s inattention,” he explained. Anyway, when we were trying to find the car’s wires to hook up the rear speakers, we found the car in fact had no such units, causing my friend so much angst he did not attend his recreational hockey league that evening.

I grew up in a world where drivers of base Toyotas had to make do with only one sideview mirror, adjusted by rolling down a window and placing a greasy thumbprint on the reflective facing. Now, a rear wiper and defroster are standard equipment, as are power windows and an array of handy interior lights. Such decadence.

The 1.5-liter inline-four making 106 horsepower is standard across the board, so extra shekels do not bring you extra ponies if upgrading to a more expensive Yaris. That figure might not sound like much, but it is only charged with motivating a shade over 2300 pounds.

In this author’s first-hand experience, the four (yes, dear reader, your eyes do not deceive you – four) speed automatic is not worth the cash, as it simply hoovers what power the engine has to give and sounds like nails in a Cuisinart while doing so. Stick with the stick for maximum driving and financial satisfaction.

In 1992, a base Tercel made 82 horsepower and cost $8,488, which equals roughly $14,800 when converted to inflation-adjusted bucks. That’s less a stack of bills than today’s Ace of Base contender, which has added power accessories, more horses, better infotainment options than ‘90s kids could ever have dreamed of, and a cubic acre of safety equipment.

Packed to the gunwales, indeed.

[Images: Toyota]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • Albigensian Albigensian on Feb 15, 2018

    My 1982 base Tercel came with a piece of plastic where the radio was supposed to go; apparently even an AM-only cost too much. And sheet plastic on the floor, where one expects carpet. And a 4-speed stick, when other Tercels of that year came with a 5-speed. All resting on a set of 146/60R13 tires. It was absurdly reliable, however, although it would have been more durable if it hadn't rusted so badly. And as compared with the 2018 Yaris, it had four doors and a full-service spare. I doubt that Toyota made a profit on these (even if they removed everything removable from it). Its purpose was so Toyota could advertise "Tercel- starting at $XXX!" to get people in the showrooms. Only to discover that if they wanted an automatic and a few amenities they'd have to pay at least $2,000. more. Is there still a market for "minimal but reliable transportation" cars? Well, yes; it's a perennial. Because, any car at all is far, far better than no car at all (or even one that may not start, or may leave you stranded). Although these may not be profitable for the car maker.

  • Ernest Ernest on Mar 13, 2018

    Brother in Law bought a new Tercel when he went off to college. About five grand, as I recall (I co-signed the note). Light Blue, no power robbing accessories whatsoever. But he drove the damned thing for ten years, sold it to a cousin who drove it for another five or so years. These days, he isn't a starving college student anymore. His wife's on her third Lexus LS... which i think was Toyota's marketing plan all along when they marketed those base cars. They were cheap... but well made and reliable.

  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...
  • CEastwood From zero there is nowhere to go but up . BYD isn't sold in the U.S. and most Teslas are ugly azz 90s looking plain jane drone mobiles . I've only seen one Rivian on the road and it 's not looking good for them . I live out in the sticks of NW NJ and EVs just aren't practical here , but the local drag strip thrives in the warmer months with most cars making the trip from New York .
  • Lorenzo Aw, that's just the base price. Toyota dealers aren't in the same class as BMW/Porsche upsellers, and the Toyota base is more complete, but nobody will be driving that model off the lot at that price.
  • Mike The cost if our busing program is 6.2 million for our average size district in NJ. It was 3.5 last year.