In 2006, Toyota replaced its popular Echo econobox with the Yaris - er - econobox. Known as the Vitz in Japan and elsewhere, the Echo/Yaris was one of the company's best-selling models and popular around the world.
But the Yaris wasn't just an Echo that had been breathed upon, Toyota wanted us to know. Among other things, it had new electric rack and pinion steering, an electronic throttle, revised suspension tuning, improved front head restraints, optional sliding/reclining rear seats, increased interior storage, improved crash protection for occupants and pedestrians and more parts that could be recycled at the end of the car's life.
It was also a fun-to-drive little runabout that came with a reasonably affordable price tag and, as it turned out, did a reliable job of getting you from A to B, while returning extremely competitive fuel economy into the bargain.
Equipped with a standard five-speed manual transmission, the '06 Yaris delivered a miserly 6.9 L/100 km in the city and 5.5 L/100 km on the highway. With the exception of hybrid and diesel-powered vehicles, these were, and are, some of the best numbers in the industry.
Power was delivered by a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine that had twin overhead camshafts and Toyota's variable valve timing feature. It developed 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The emphasis was on thrift and economy, and you could order either the five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission.
Initially, the Yaris was offered in two- and four-door hatchback body styles. A sedan came later. Three trim levels were available: base CE, middle-of-the-range LE and top-of-the-line RS. The CE was only offered as a two-door and, if you wanted a 60/40 folding rear seat, for example, you had to step up to the LE or RS. It may have had a modest starting price, but you could spend almost $18,000 on a Yaris if you ordered all the bells and whistles.
Like the Echo, the Yaris retained its controversial centre-dash instrument cluster. The speedometer, tach, fuel gauge and clock were all housed in a binnacle that was smack dab in the middle of the dashboard and inclined slightly toward the driver. Whether one liked it or not, it was unusual, and some consumers found it difficult to see the logic behind this arrangement. Ditto with Toyota's wacky "Uncle Yaris" ad campaign. Aimed primarily at under-30 buyers, it was what Toyota liked to call "disruptive advertising" and the company devoted a website to it. Transport Canada has just one safety recall to report, for the front seatbelt pretensioners on some '06 and '07 models. Apparently, in a "severe frontal impact" situation, the pyrotechnic mechanism that releases the seatbelt can ignite surrounding insulation and cause a post-accident fire. Dealers will replace the offending insulation, gratis. The U.S.-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this warning on file as well.
NHTSA also has but one technical service bulletin for this vintage of Yaris, and it's a fairly minor issue, concerning repairs for vehicles that may pull to one side.
All is sweetness and light from Consumer Reports here. This organization gives the Yaris a "much better than average" grade, with top marks in just about every category. Curiously, CR also calls the Echo's replacement "unimpressive," despite its otherwise positive ratings. Still, CR thinks it's a "good bet."
As far as market research firm J.D. Power is concerned, the only fly in the Yaris ointment is found in its powertrain design quality. This area of the car gets the lowest rating J.D. Power can give, yet its predicted reliability is "better than most," and it receives this organization's "Most Appealing Subcompact Car" award. This apparent dichotomy is probably a result of the American consumer's stubborn reluctance to embrace small-car technology. J.D. Power bases its results on surveys and feedback from the '07 Yaris, but there are no real differences between it and the '06 version. Interestingly, the centre-dash instrumentation layout gets low marks as well.
Unsurprisingly, Toyota's entry-level model has held its value remarkably well. You can expect to pay anywhere from about $8,500 to $13,000 for an '06 Yaris, and the four-door models cost more than the two-door versions, with the top-of-the-range RS models being the priciest of all.
2006 Toyota Yaris
Type: Economy hatchback
Original Base Price: $13,580; Black Book Value: $10,825-$13,250; Red Book Value: $8,175-$10,200
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder
106 hp/103 lb-ft
Transmission: Four-speed automatic/five-speed manual
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 6.9 city/5.5 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Civic, Mazda3, Suzuki Swift, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Chev Aveo, Pontiac Wave