Is a Toyota Yaris a Good First Car? (8 Qualities Explained)

The subcompact Toyota Yaris is an excellent first car as it is fuel-efficient and easy to drive, possessing the qualities of a dependable Toyota.

toyota yaris good first car

8 Qualities That Make the Toyota Yaris a Great First Car

#1 Frugal Engine

The 1.5L four-cylinder engine in the Yaris is plenty thrifty and ideal for teenage drivers on a small budget.

It returns an impressive 35 mpg in mixed driving; 2018 and older Yaris models achieve a little less, but a low-30s mpg average is still an excellent deal.

The difference in fuel economy between the automatic and manual transmissions is negligible (around one mpg), so you can shop with confidence that any used Yaris will save you money in the long run.

Subcompacts and compacts are ideal for new drivers because of the savings at the pump, and the Yaris holds its own well.

 Fuel Economy
Hyundai Elantra37 mpg combined
Kia Forte35 mpg combined
Toyota Yaris35 mpg combined
Honda Civic33 mpg combined
Toyota Corolla33 mpg combined
Volkswagen Jetta33 mpg combined
Volkswagen Golf32 mpg combined
Mazda Mazda 331 mpg combined
MINI Cooper31 mpg combined
Volkswagen Beetle29 mpg combined
Range Rover18 mpg combined
Toyota Yaris vs. other cars in fuel consumption.

Note that the fuel economy varies between model years and trims.

If fuel efficiency is your top priority, include the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, VW Jetta, and VW Golf on your shortlist.

#2 Solid Safety Ratings (But Not Every Model)

Safety is crucial for first cars because the risk of crashes and collisions is higher among teen drivers in the 16 to 19 age group.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated the Toyota Yaris 5 out of 5 stars overall for the final two models – 2019 and 2020.

Older models achieved one less star overall.

Meanwhile, IIHS awarded the 2012 and 2013 Toyota Yaris four-door hatchback the Top Safety Pick.

It is a coveted recognition few mini cars enjoy – the Subaru Impreza and Ford Fiesta are some examples.

#3 Wonderfully Inexpensive Maintenance

Yaris’s running cost is generally in line with other Toyota cars – cheaper than the average car.

According to RepairPal, a Toyota Yaris costs approximately $333 per year to maintain, considerably lower than the $456 a year average for subcompact cars.

The year-on-year increase in annual maintenance costs info (below) helps guide your expectation.

The Honda Civic and BMW 3-Series are excellent benchmarks because the former is one of the cheapest to run, and the latter is an expensive luxury small sedan.

YearAnnual Costs (Toyota Yaris)Annual Costs (Honda Civic)Annual Costs (BMW 3-Series)
Yaris vs. Civic vs. 3-Series annual upkeep costs (CarEdge)

Just as importantly, the probability of significant repairs is relatively low for the Toyota Yaris:

  • 1.23% in year 1,
  • 5.87$ in year 5,
  • 11.89% in year 10, and
  • 22.91% in year 12.

Crucially, these figures are significantly less than the already-dependable Honda Civic.

For example, a ten-year-old Civic carries a 15.57% probability of significant repairs and a similar-age BMW 3-Series 40.39% (11.89% for the Yaris).

That said, a used vehicle’s condition varies depending on its care and service history, so it’s best to check and verify before buying.

#4 Strong Reliability

Toyota typically ranks among the top performers in Consumer Reports’ reliability survey.

It achieved position 3 in 2021 – behind only Lexus (luxury brand) and Mazda (mainstream).

JD Power consistently rated the Toyota Yaris’s reliability above-80 out of 100.

More impressively, RepairPal ranked the Toyota Yaris #1 out of 21 subcompact cars in reliability.

Owning a Yaris means your ride is less likely to fail you.

(Refer to the small cars comparison below to see how the Yaris stacks up against the competition.)

#5 Affordable Insurance for Young Drivers

Insurance costs for a safe subcompact like the Yaris isn’t a big concern because it is one of the cheapest to insure.

An 18-year-old can expect to pay in the vicinity of $4,900 per year for full coverage, although your premium will depend heavily on where you live.

See the table below on the average full coverage cost for the various age groups (assuming good driver and credit):

MINI Cooper$4,578/year$2,067/year
Toyota Yaris$4,935/year$2,228/year
Honda Civic$5,070/year$2,289/year
VW Jetta$5,416/year$2,445/year
Toyota Corolla$5,570/year$2,516/year
BMW 3 Series$6,019/year$2,717/year
Toyota Yaris vs. other cars insurance costs (CarEdge)

16-year-old males can expect the highest insurance costs among teen drivers.

As far as stylish compacts go, the Mini Cooper is an excellent choice as it is inexpensive to insure, although it isn’t the cheapest small car to maintain.

#6 Super Compact and Easy to Drive

The Toyota Yaris has many qualities that make it an easy car to maneuver around town:

  • Quick and responsive handling – the car is lightweight yet provides ample feedback through the steering.
  • Diminutive dimensions – parking should be relatively effortless. Plus, maneuvering in heavy traffic shouldn’t pose a challenge.

That said, its 1.5L engine is far from the quickest in a straight line (0-60mph in more than 10 seconds).

But most new drivers don’t need a speed demon in an economical car.

#7 Good Visibility

The Yaris does not present any significant visibility issues.

The decent-sized windows and average-thickness roof pillars mean the outward views are adequate on all sides, except towards the back with its high rear deck.

But overall, the good visibility and compact dimensions make choosing the Yaris for your first car an easy decision.

#8 Reasonable and Stable Depreciation

The Toyota Yaris retains value fairly well, depreciating 47% after five years and 67% at the decade mark.

The table below assumes a $19,000 Toyota Yaris.

Vehicle AgeDepreciationValue LostResale Value
Toyota Yaris 10-year depreciation.

If you’re getting a used Yaris out of warranty, it’s wise to buy an extended warranty.

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla hold value better than the Yaris, though the difference isn’t significant.

 5-yr Depreciation10-yr Depreciation
Honda Civic39%71%
Toyota Corolla38%59%
Toyota Yaris47%67%
BMW 3-Series55%78%
Toyota Yaris depreciation compared to other cars (CarEdge)

Best Toyota Yaris Year for Your First Car

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base; auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.Reliability
2020 Yaris4/45/532/40/35NA
2019 Yaris4/45/532/40/3579/100
2018 Yaris3.6/4NA30/35/3278/100
2017 Yaris3.6/44/530/35/3279/100
2016 Yaris3.6/44/530/36/32NA
2015 Yaris3.6/44/530/36/3284/100
2014 Yaris3.6/44/530/36/3282/100
2013 Yaris4/4*4/530/36/3282/100
2012 Yaris4/4*4/530/35/3285/100
2011 Yaris2.8/4NA29/35/3183/100
2010 Yaris2.8/4NA29/35/3183/100
2009 Yaris2.8/4NA29/35/3186/100
2008 Yaris2.8/4NA29/35/3185/100
2007 Yaris2.8/4NA29/35/3184/100
Toyota Yaris model years comparison.

The 2012 and 2013 Toyota Yaris 4dr hatchback won the IIHS Top Safety Pick award.

Opt for either one if you want the safest Yaris for your first car.

The 2019 and 2020 Toyota Yaris are the most economical, as far as fuel efficiency goes.

Toyota Yaris Compared with Similar Vehicles

Choices in the subcompact segment are dwindling, but compact cars are equally excellent options – both sizes are super-affordable vehicles for first-time drivers.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Toyota Yaris32/40/3580/100$3334/45/5Good
Kia Rio33/41/3683/100$4343.8/4NAExcellent
Toyota Corolla Hatchback32/41/3583/100$3624/45/5Good
Honda Civic Hatchback31/40/3482/100$3684/45/5Good
VW Golf29/36/3276/100$6303.8/45/5Good
Hyundai Elantra33/43/3781/100$4524/45/5Good
Kia Forte31/41/3583/100$4514/45/5Good
Honda Civic30/38/3382/100$3684/45/5Good
Toyota Corolla30/38/3383/100$3624/45/5Good
VW Jetta29/39/3378/100$6094/45/5Good
Mazda Mazda 328/36/3180/100$4334/45/5Average
Toyota Yaris comparison with similar vehicles.

If you’re shopping for a new first car in the hatchback segment, the Kia Rio (also available as a sedan) is a compelling option.

It comes with long warranty coverage and solid build quality at an affordable price.

Plus, its fuel economy betters the Yaris’s.

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla remain the kings of compacts and are available in the sedan and hatchback body styles.

However, the competition isn’t far off and is better in some aspects.

The Mazda 3 comes with a premium interior, sharp handling, and a host of advanced driver safety features.

The Mazda 3 is slightly more expensive than rivals, but its all-wheel-drive provides excellent all-weather traction and is a rarity at this price point.

Further, the Mazda 3 is one of the safest compact cars with award-winning safety credentials.

The Hyundai Elantra returns outstanding fuel economy, has a roomy cabin and comes with a laundry list of safety features.

It’s a sharp-looking compact, particularly after its 2019 refresh.

The Kia Forte is another smart choice for a teenager’s first car with its thrifty engine, generous warranty, and a string of standard features at a lower price than rivals.

Kia may not have a strong brand appeal, but their cars offer excellent value for money and are worth considering for your first car.