Made in Japan and formerly known as the Echo, the Toyota Yaris has traditionally been about as basic as econoboxes get.
The emphasis has always been on economy of operation and affordability, rather than performance or comfort, so don't look for over-the-top luxury goodies or driver-pampering modcons here, because you won't find them.
Aside from paint choices, one or two model eliminations, and the addition of ABS and a couple more airbags as standard equipment, not much changed between 2009 and 2010. Arguably, the 2010 version was a safer vehicle than the '09.
You could choose from a four-door sedan or two-/four-door hatchback, and power was provided by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder that developed 106 horsepower. Transmission choices were either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, and fuel economy was almost identical for either one. This vintage of Yaris was not affected by Toyota's massive unintended acceleration/wonky floor mat recall.
The sedan featured decent trunk space: 387 litres, compared to 340 for the Honda Civic sedan, and back-seat leg-/headroom was reasonable, with a 60/40-folding rear seat.
Idiosyncrasies of the Yaris included an instrumentation cluster in the centre of the dashboard, and cup-holders that came 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 for this latter feature was that in winter, the warm air will keep beverages hotter longer while in summer, the cool air will allow them to stay chilled.
The Yaris was bare bones, but you could get creature comforts such as air conditioning, power windows, power-adjustable/heated outside mirrors, power door locks, and keyless entry. Despite – or perhaps, because of – its frugal nature, it's always had a rambunctious, unrefined flavour.
It does what's required of it, and has proven to be reliable over the years, but the engine tends to wail during highway driving and, without traction control, the front wheels have a habit of breaking traction at the slightest provocation. Noise, vibration and harshness is bad as well – although no worse than a Civic, and this edition of the Yaris felt like what it was: an inexpensive automobile.
One note here. This car has always been under-tired. Its P185/60R15 rubber is one of the reasons it gets good fuel mileage, but handling suffers as a result. So don't expect to carve any corners with this puddle-jumper.
One safety recall to report and it's an odd one. An aftermarket electronic cruise control unit manufactured by Rostra Precision Controls can get funny if a two-way walkie-talkie radio is being used in the car. The radio may scramble the cruise control slightly and lead to "fluctuations" in engine speed. This glitch affects Yaris models going back to 2006. There is also a minor tire labelling alert from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but this is more of a bureaucratic note than a safety problem.
Six technical service bulletins to report from NHTSA. These include a possibly clogged fuel filter pipe, an accelerator mechanism that may need lubricating, and issues with the evaporative control unit. Some comments from owners: "seat belt failed to retract," "vehicle began to roll away in reverse from a residential driveway," "traction control system prevents vehicle from going up icy hills" and "driver's side window shattered spontaneously on the highway."
Consumer Reports is lukewarm; it likes the Yaris' competitive fuel economy, but has issues with its overall quality. "It trails behind better subcompacts," says the magazine, noting that the centre-mounted instrument cluster and "compromised" driving positions are "frustrations." Despite lacking the "recommended" badge of approval, it receives this organization's top grade for reliability.
Market research firm J.D. Power, meanwhile, gives this year of Yaris a "better-than-most" grade for predicted reliability and overall performance and design. It particularly likes its performance and powertrain quality.
From a base price of less than $15,000, the 2010 Yaris is now going for $9,000 to somewhere in the low teens, depending upon equipment level. The sedan is fetching about $1,000 more than the hatchback, with the exception of the top-of-the-line RS, which features different suspension and extra bits and pieces.
2010 Toyota Yaris
Original Base Price: $13,620; Black Book: $9,925-$12,625; Red Book: $8,900-13,075
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 106 hp/103 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual/four-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 7.0 city/5.7 highway (automatic); regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Civic, Chevrolet Aveo, Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Suzuki SX4, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio