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2010 Toyota Yaris Sedan (Toyota)
2010 Toyota Yaris Sedan (Toyota)

2010 Toyota Yaris

Toyota Yaris falls from grace Add to ...

Not so long ago (February), Toyota's Yaris subcompact ranked among the top 10 best-selling cars in Canada. Toyota was rolling out 1,200-1,300 of these sedans and hatchbacks, selling them to budget-minded, entry-level buyers looking for a car with the best fuel economy in its class.

No more. The Yaris fell out of the top 10 list months ago. In fact, sales of fuel misers have pretty much collapsed in Canada. Subcompact sales are down about 25 per cent, compact sales about 10 per cent and passenger car sales overall have slumped about 8 per cent this year.

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What's selling? Light trucks - pickups, SUVs and even minivans to some extent. Light truck sales were up 22 per cent last month alone. Fuel misers? Not so much.

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So it's tough to move a Yaris off a dealer lot these days. Small car buyers - when they're buying - are at the very least going for compacts like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf. The little, inexpensive Yaris ($13,620-$19,555) is struggling to find its way in a big, cutthroat world.

The Yaris is hardly alone, either. It competes with other subcompacts like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, as well as the Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Aveo. The newest kid on the block is the 2011 Ford Fiesta which is being launched right now.

The Yaris is, of course, an established player and Toyota has loyal customers, which means there is a core group who just walk into a dealership and point. The choices include two Yaris body styles - three- and five-door hatchback and four-door Yaris sedan.

Any one of them has a tidy little array of sales sweeteners worth noting: $1,750 in a factory to consumer rebate for cash buyers or $250 that can be combined with 0.0 per cent financing for up to four years.

Whichever Yaris you like, this is a pretty decent-sized car for a grocery-getter. In fact, this Yaris is about the same size as the Toyota Corolla of a decade ago and, in front legroom and headroom department, the Yaris is on par with the last-generation Corolla.

So there is decent space up front and the back seat is surprisingly good, too. With the driver seat adjusted for a six-footer, normal adults have room without bumping heads or knees. Credit toe room under the front seats for helping here.

As for the rest of the cabin, it's competitive econo-box all the way. You'll find lots of hard plastics and simple colour arrays. The standout design feature is a V-shaped centre stack that looks a bit like a pedestal. Unfortunately, without room for big cup holders, it's not very practical. The cup holders, instead, are placed on each side of the dashboard where they are less than useful.

Storage space in general is a problem, in fact. Console storage bins on either side of the centre stack are just not enough for today's gadget-filled world.

But I do like the controls on the stack itself. They are well organized, and the centre-mounted gauges - while they take some getting used to - function quite well. Height-adjustable front seats and a tilt steering wheel are good additions, too.

The powerplant here - the only one offered in the Yaris - is a 1.5-litre inline-four-cylinder with Toyota's latest VVT-i technology and your transmission choices are four-speed automatic ($1,000) or five-speed manual.

The engine produces 106 hp at 6,000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Decent numbers for the segment, but the engine is loud at full throttle and with so little power you find yourself digging into the gas often.

Even so, you won't spend much at the pump. We're talking super-miser here: combined city/highway fuel efficiency rating of just 6.3 litres/100 km for a Yaris with a manual transmission and 6.3 litres/100 km with an automatic. These numbers have allowed it claim the federal ecoEnergy award in the subcompact class for five years straight.

So that's the "go" side of the ledger. On the stopping side, the Yaris has excellent brakes - solid and strong. This is not a bad little runabout for driving manners, too. The MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion bar rear suspension deliver decent handling and a reasonably comfortable ride quality.

Sure, if you toss it around too aggressively, out comes the body roll and away goes the steering feedback. But really, who's doing that in a Yaris? Do take note, however, that at highway speeds, wind and road noise is substantial.

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Something else that is substantial - but on the good side - is resale value. In the recently released Canadian Black Book annual Retained Value Awards, Toyota and Lexus models took top spot in seven of 17 categories. The winner among subcompacts: Yaris.

Toyota has not neglected safety here, either. An antilock braking system (ABS) is now standard on Yaris, except for the base CE trim. An electronic stability control system is available on some models, as well. On the passive protection side, front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags (front and rear) are standard on the highest-volume models.

The Yaris is a perfectly competent transportation appliance, one with excellent fuel economy and a high resale value. But it can be a very noisy ride at higher speeds and when road surfaces are less than good. The little engine really needs to work if you want to keep up with the faster drivers and in-cabin storage space for your odds and sods is at a premium. And did I mention the awful cup holders?

So we're talking about a perfectly good car, but nothing special. Sales and incentive numbers reflect that story.

jcato@globeandmail.com

2010 Toyota Yaris sedan

Type: Subcompact car

Base Price: $14,750; as tested, $16,100 (including freight)

Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 105 hp/103 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($1,000)

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.9 city/5.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, Suzuki Swift.

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