The Toyota Yaris has a body that's designed more to be functional than gorgeous.

Courtesy photo
CNHI News Service

Today's compact cars are designed for people with tattoos, lip piercings and colorful hair.

How else could you explain the proliferation of weirdness that's being crammed into so many economy cars?

They've gone from being the most boring corner of the automotive world to the loudest and most obnoxious, with their million-watt stereos, disco-inspired interior lights and aggressive body styling that looks like it wants to punch you in the nose.

Fortunately, Toyota has corralled all its tattoo-and-piercing cars into a separate brand for young people called Scion. It leaves room in the Toyota lineup for much more sensible cars like this one, the Toyota Yaris.

The Yaris is perhaps the most straightforward, simple compact car on the market today. It's so straightforward it's a bit of a rebel, going against the grain at a time when the rest of the industry seems to be trying to outdo itself in garishness, year after year.

That makes the Yaris a more practical alternative to all the "look at me" compacts it competes with.

It starts with the styling. While visual gimmicks seem to be the trend in small cars, with both extreme boxiness and odd, asymmetrical designs becoming the norm, the Yaris isn't like that.

It's just a very small car designed to maximize the available cabin space, so it looks a squished Camry on the outside. It pays off on the inside, though, because the Yaris is a remarkably usable vehicle.

It's easy to get in and out of the front and back seats, for example, and the rear seat can be folded down with just one hand if you need to.

Where other cars will sacrifice practicality for sexy styling, the Yaris does the opposite. Toyota engineers seemed to figure out what the most comfortable, easy-to-use design would be in this size car, then built a body to make it work.

In my test car, a liftback model with a manual transmission, the cargo space was deceptively voluminous. The back seat looks like it's awfully close to the rear window, but when you actually start piling up your groceries back there, it seems to get bigger. The seat slopes back, which makes it a bit more comfortable for back-seat passengers and leaves more volume at the bottom of the cargo space.

On the flip side, Toyota seems to have spent all its time on practicality at the expense of the driving feel.

Personally, I think tiny cars ought to be exceptionally fun to drive, and this one isn't. Even with a manual transmission, which feels like you're shifting with a dead fish, the Yaris doesn't ever feel happy about accelerating or turning.

It is comfortable on the highway, though. For just getting you places, without regard to the emotion or thrill of the process, it will do just fine.

This car's biggest strong point has to be Toyota's reputation. Small cars aren't known for being the highest quality, longest lasting or best built.

People who may have had bad luck driving cheaper cars in the past would be pleased to see the Toyota badge — and all the quality and dependability it stands for — on the hood of their next car.

It's another reason that, while the Yaris may not be the most daring or wild car on the market, it's certainly one of the most logical.

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