If you're in the market for no-frills transportation, Toyota has a car for you.
It's the Yaris, available as either a four-door sedan or two- and four-door hatchback. Made in Japan, it's about as basic as econoboxes get, with the emphasis on economy of operation and affordability, so don't look for over-the-top luxury goodies or driver-pampering modcons.
But the Yaris sedan I drove kind of misses the mark in terms of affordability. It comes in just one model and, with a final price tag of more than $18,000; after a few options and freight and delivery, it actually costs more than a base 2010 Hyundai Sonata GL, for example, and is much more than its closest rival, the Civic DX. Truth be told, the Civic is a superior automobile in virtually every area.
But first, a few specs. Aside from paint choices and one or two model eliminations, not much has changed from 2009, and power for this generation of Yaris is still provided by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder that develops 106 horsepower. It has drive-by-wire throttle, variable valve timing and is not one of the models affected by Toyota's massive recall.
However, it is one of the smallest engines on the market these days and is definitely showing its age. You can mate it with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. My tester had the latter and, with this drivetrain combination, it has fuel economy almost identical to the manual gearbox.
All things considered, the manual is probably the way to go here, if for no other reason than the automatic will run you an additional $1,000. Still, the Yaris - in either body style - is a frugal car to drive and has excellent fuel economy numbers.
Speaking of numbers, it also has pretty decent trunk space: 387 litres, compared to 340 for the Civic sedan, and back-seat leg- and headroom is actually quite reasonable, all things considered, with a 60/40-folding rear seat. I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time back there, but for its market, it's good enough.
While we're inside the car, a few other observations. First up, what is the instrumentation cluster doing in the centre of the dashboard? I realize this is kind of a Yaris trademark, but I've never liked it and think it's counter-intuitive and pointless.
Secondly, the cup-holders come in the form of two fold-out receptacles located on either end of the dashboard right in front of the fresh-air vents. Toyota's explanation here is that in winter, the warm air will keep beverages hotter longer and in the summer, cool air will allow them to stay chilled. Whatever. This is just awkward placement; these should be on the centre console somewhere, and they should be larger and adjustable. I suspect a lot of people interested in this kind of car primarily want it for commuting, and that morning double-double needs to go somewhere more convenient.
My tester had the Convenience package, which includes air conditioning, power windows, power-adjustable/heated outside mirrors, power door locks, and keyless entry. It'll run you an additional $1,600, and, all things considered, is money well spent. I'm all for basic A to B transport, but it's nice to have a few creature comforts.
I also think that the Yaris is under-tired. It sports P185/60R15 rubber, which is one of the reasons it gets good fuel mileage. But, were I to buy this car, I'd get something a little fatter on there to enhance the handling and ride a titch.
On the other hand, as of 2010, ABS is standard issue on the sedan, as is an electronic brake force distribution system, side curtain airbags and front seat side airbags, all of which is good.
Suspension is the ubiquitous MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam with coil springs arrangement in back. Don't expect to carve any corners with this puddle-jumper; that's just not in the cards here.
All in all, the Yaris has a kind of rambunctious unrefined flavour. It does what's required of it, but the engine tends to wail during highway driving, and in slippery weather, the front wheels break traction at the slightest provocation.
Noise, vibration and harshness are pretty bad as well - although no worse than a Civic - and the Yaris feels like what it is: an inexpensive automobile. Somehow, Honda has managed to make the Civic feel much more upscale than it actually is; the same can't be said here.
One interesting note: the sedan actually has a slightly lower base price than the LE four-door hatchback - by about $170. The two-door hatchback is the cheapest of all, at just over $13,500. Whichever model you choose, you get a full tank of gas with the deal.
2010 TOYOTA YARIS SEDAN
Type: Four-door economy sedan
Base Price: $14,750; as tested: $18,630
Engine: 1.5-litre, four cylinder
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Horsepower/Torque: 106 hp/103 lb-ft
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 7.0 city/5.7 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Civic, Chevrolet Aveo, Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Suzuki SX4, Hyundai Accent