The 2017 Toyota Yaris points to the future of cars

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When presented with a list of cars to test drive, the 2017 Toyota Yaris might not jump out at most people as the top choice. It’s not fancy, and it’s not a status symbol, but it’s got all the safety tech a person could want — and a touch screen — for $16,815.

The test Yaris had not one single extra. The optional equipment column was a big blank space. The 6-speed transmission was manual, the seat adjustment was manual; I almost expected to have to wind the windows down, but they were indeed electric. The 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine’s 105 hp was fine for getting around town and hopping on the highway, but it’s not going to win you any prizes at Friday night drag races.

While the optional equipment column was bare, the standard equipment list was long. The Yaris, Toyota’s least expensive model, has Toyota Safety Sense, which features a low-speed precollision system that uses a camera-and-laser combo to sense and impending crash and alert the driver. The system will apply the brakes if necessary, and it’s capable of scrubbing up to 19 mph of speed.

There’s also a lane departure alert to let you know if you’re straying from your lane. And automatic high beams use a camera to detect oncoming vehicles and adjust the brightness of your headlights. Autonomous it is not, but it is a lot of safety technology for the money.

In the center console, there’s a 7-inch color touch screen, which surprised me. I poked the screen out of habit and was happy to see it respond. It’s got USB ports and Bluetooth so you can hook up your phone and use it hands-free. The Connected Service Suite gives you access to Pandora, Aha, and Stitcher.

There are a couple of obvious groups of likely buyers for a car like the new Yaris. First-time buyers who need a car but don’t have loads of cash would do well to consider the humble Yaris. It’s also great for parents who want to buy safe, boring wheels for a new driver.

Then there are people who don’t like bells or whistles or anything newfangled in their cars. They’re still driving Toyotas from the late 1980s. Those drivers should consider upgrading to the 2017 Yaris — you won’t be overwhelmed by buttons and doodads, but you will get the latest in safety technology. And just a bit of new-car smell.

The 2017 Toyota Yaris points toward the near future of vehicles. This kind of safety and connected car tech is getting cheaper and more ubiquitous, and we’ll find it in more and less expensive cars as new NHTSA rules take effect. Making this technology standard in cars with lower price points is critical for moving the needle on the number of fatal vehicle crashes in the United States.

Featured Image: Toyota