2008 Toyota Yaris

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Review: 2009 Toyota Yaris Sedan

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2014.
By Evan Griffey of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.0

Bottom Line:

The Yaris lacks any real fun quotient, but then, it was never conceived to thrill. It is, however, designed to conjure phrases like “easy on the wallet,” “good on gas” and “as reliable as a Swiss watch.” The Yaris does these things well.
Pros:
  • Hits the target, 29 city/35 highway mpg
  • Toyota quality, reliability
  • Smooth ride, refined power delivery
Cons:
  • Sparse standard-equipment list
  • High-in-saddle driving position
  • One bland sedan

At its essence, a car is just another household appliance. It gets us from point A to point B and back again. However, each category of automobile has its own special purpose in the grand mechanical scheme. Some cars are fun to drive, while others are highly functional. Some are even a combination of the two. Economy cars are designed to be effective, relatively no-frills transportation for those looking to drive to and fro without spending a whole lot of dough. Even so, they don't have to bore a driver to tears while doing so, do they?

The 2009 Toyota Yaris is finely focused to deliver value for the dollar and smiles at the pump. But beyond that, it does little to inspire. Nevertheless, the Yaris finds itself in the right place at the right time. Times are tough and people are working harder than ever before to make ends meet, and the Yaris is a true recession buster. It offers cheap running costs and a low sticker price, and embodies Toyota's reputation for reliability.

Model Lineup
Available as a 4-door sedan, a 3-door liftback and a new 5-door liftback, the Yaris is the only subcompact offered in three distinct configurations. The 3-door hatch lists for $12,205, the sedan starts at $12,965 and the 5-door hatch starts at $13,305.

The standard-equipment list on these base Yaris offerings is a little disappointing, which may leave many real-world drivers wanting more. Base trims don't come with a stereo, just four speakers wired up with no place to go. Front side airbags and side-curtain airbags for both rows of seats and ABS brakes are also not listed as standard fare.

Checking the $1,500 Power Package on the options list delivers power door locks, mirrors and windows; cruise control; a rear window defroster and an AM/FM/CD head unit.

The S trims add fog lights, 15-inch steel wheels, a rear wiper and sporty badging and body upgrades in the form of low-slung bumper treatments and sculpted side rockers, as well as the ever-important AM/FM/CD head unit. Opting for the S trim pushes the bottom line to $14,825 for a 3-door; $15,125 for a 5-door; and $15,880 for the sedan version.

Under the Hood
The Yaris is motivated by Toyota's tried-and-true 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with VVTi variable valve timing, which has been refined in the Yaris' predecessor, the Echo, and a number of early Scion offerings. The engine generates 106 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm. In the Yaris, the DOHC engine is backed by either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic.

Inner Space
A quiet, yet sparse, interior is par for the course in this vehicle segment. We found the general fit and finish in the Bisque-colored cabin good, but the seats were unyielding with little lateral support; the overall driving position was too upright, too tall in the saddle. Driver controls are well-placed, and there is ample rear seat room, so let the carpooling commence.

The lonely center dash gauge cluster took a little getting used to, as did the bare dash behind the steering wheel, which we used to stick a Post-It note with driving directions. A more technically advanced GPS would also work nicely in this spot, but that is not in the budget.

On the Road
The Yaris tells no lies. It is the classic commuter car: frugal on gas as well as excitement. There is no snappy throttle or peppy attitude, just confident, low-intensity cruising. To elicit a sense of urgency, nothing less than tickling the carpet at full throttle will do the trick. The 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine did impress with its refinement: there was no howling at the wind or straining vibrations coming from under the hood during hard acceleration. The automatic transmission absorbed a good deal of power, and a manual could be coaxed into a more spirited demeanor, but even then you're asking a lot of a mere 106 horses. Furthermore, the numbers most Yaris buyers focus on are 29 and 35, the car's city and highway EPA fuel-efficiency ratings. On that note, we experienced 35.9 mpg combined during our week behind the wheel.

Our Pacific Blue sedan conducted business in a no-nonsense manner and did an admirable job in most situations — just aim it at point B and go. The MacPherson strut, torsion bar suspension soaked up road irregularities and the occasional pothole with the expected commuter competence. The ride was compliant and the Yaris handled as expected, smooth and predictable with good feedback as the car approached its limit of adhesion.

Visually, the Yaris sedan is well-proportioned and fairly aerodynamic, but has no landmark styling cues that allow it to stand out from the crowd. Picking one out in four lanes of gridlocked traffic would challenge even the most gifted "Where's Waldo" enthusiast.

Right for You?
The Yaris is not designed to rouse the racer within; it's reliable yeoman transportation, and it excels in this arena. Budgetary concerns are resonating with the buying public, and with the strengths of the Yaris — namely, price, fuel efficiency and reliability — it is no surprise that the entire Yaris lineup is a bright spot in Toyota's portfolio.

The Yaris is a great first car or college ride, where the thrill of owning a vehicle overshadows the lack of a driving "experience." It is also good for commuters who put more emphasis on a cheap entry price, affordable upkeep and smiles at the pumps than aesthetics or handling. And with the versatility of its sedan and 5-door liftback models, more families may gravitate to the Yaris as well.

In these trying economic times, the subcompact segment is getting a lot of action, and buyers really need to look past the bottom line and concentrate a little more on the standard equipment list to see how much comfort, convenience and "true value" comes in that entry-level package. The Yaris could do better in this regard.

Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compacttuning. Today Griffeyfreelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.

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BB01 - 9/17/2014 7:12:04 AM