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2007 Toyota Yaris Review

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2007 Toyota Yaris 3-Door Liftback

Three dollars for a gallon of gasoline may be shocking to Americans, but it would be happy nostalgia for Europeans, where fuel can be twice as much, or more. So what kind of cars are popular in Europe? Small, economical, but roomy ones. Cars like the Toyota Yaris Liftback.

Yaris is a new nameplate for Toyota in the U.S., but it's been well-received in Europe, where it's Toyota's best seller. Here, the second-generation Yaris, in both hatchback (``Liftback'') and sedan body styles, will be Toyota's new entry-level model, replacing the Echo.

With its small size - only twelve and a half feet long - the Liftback can fit easily into tight urban parking spaces. At five and a half feet wide and an even five feet tall - over three inches taller than the sedan - there is much more room inside than expected, aided by an optional split rear seat that can be moved backwards for extra legroom. And if its fuel economy isn't quite as high as that of a hybrid like a Prius, it's not exactly thirsty with EPA estimates of 34 mpg city and 40 highway. With a base price of $10,950 ($13,510 as tested), it's half the price of a Prius. Even at $4 a gallon, that difference buys a lot of regular unleaded.

Small size plus great gas mileage equals commute module, a genre that, in hatchback form years ago was pejoratively known as ``econobox.'' Econoboxes of the 70s and 80s were no-frills vehicles, with few creature comforts and minimal power. The Yaris is a much more developed vehicle, with the precise construction, quality materials, and attention to detail for which Toyota is known. It's not at all cramped, and with its 1.5-liter, 106-horsepower engine, it has no trouble keeping up with traffic. Even driven hard, it sips fuel - I averaged over 35 mpg in a week of mostly highway driving. It's not boxy-looking, either.

The first Yaris Liftback I drove was an automatic, when the Yaris line was introduced to the press in suburban Irving, Texas, last Fall. I've spent the past week with a manual-transmission model with key convenience upgrades. As expected, performance with the five-speed stick was better than with the four-speed automatic. But fuel economy should be nearly the same for both, and the ease of driving an automatic in traffic is undeniable. In either form, the Yaris Liftback should make a great commute module - or a good low-cost car for anyone on a budget. Even though it's Toyota's entry-level car, it's much more than basic transportation.

APPEARANCE: What box? No box here. Toyota calls the Yaris Liftback's shape ``mono-form,'' and, with its large passenger cabin and short nose that slopes only slightly less than the well-raked windshield, it is almost a one (rounded and highly styled)-box design. Simple, ``cheap-looking'' styling is not to be found. All body panels are complexly-shaped and highly figured. At the front, the wide grille and large, bright headlamps create a friendly-looking face. Large window areas mean good visibility, and the side windows' dip toward the front and the small auxiliary windows just behind the A-pillars improve forward quarter vision. The roof is aerodynamically curved to reduce wind resistance, which, at 0.29, is very low, improving fuel economy and stability. The hatch, and all rear bodywork, is three-dimensionally curved. Extra-large taillights add both visual appeal and safety.

COMFORT: The Yaris Liftback is as stylish inside as out, with multiple colors and textures. Small outside does not necessarily mean little space inside. The car's height allows good headroom, especially for front passengers, while its width and careful interior design enable two or even three people to be comfortable in the rear seat. With the ``Power Package'' option group, that rear seat is the car's best interior feature - it's split 60/40 and each part may be adjusted fore and aft six inches. And each back is adjustable for angle. Unless front passengers are extremely tall, legroom is far better than airline economy class, and people up to about 5 foot 10 should fit well. The front passenger seat is spring-loaded to ease rear access. This can be a very functional carpool vehicle. Each part of the rear seat folds flat, allowing a large cargo area that can easily hold a bicycle (front wheel removed), musical instruments, or other large unwieldy items.

The front seats have better than expected comfort. Like the Echo, the instruments are in a hooded pod at the center top of the dash, but they are the backlit ``Optitron'' type first debuted in Lexuses some years back, and very easy to see. Standard air conditioning and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel add convenience. The strange dash layout pays an unexpected dividend. Because there is no center console, there are three gloveboxes, one in front of the driver and two stacked in front of the passenger. Other useful ``Power Package'' upgrades include power windows, locks, and outside mirrors, rear wiper and defroster, upgraded wheels and tires, and a very good audio system with both MP3CD and auxiliary audio player ability.

SAFETY: Yaris passengers are surrounded by a reinforced safety cage, with front and rear crumple zones and energy-absorbing materials in the roof and doors. Dual airbags are standard, with front side and full-length side curtain airbags and antilock brakes optional.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Although, at 2,300 lbs., the Yaris Liftback is light by contemporary standards, it is solid and comfortable on the highway at speed. It's clean aerodynamic shape helps considerably with stability in crosswinds. Light weight comes from not only from its small size, but from the design of its unibody structure and use of high-tensile steel. Good structural rigidity translates into good ride and handling qualities. It's suspension design is typical for the class, independent in front by MacPherson struts, with a torsion-beam axle in the rear. The springs and shocks are tuned softly, for comfort, and the steering is not over-assisted. It's nimble and fun to drive. Clever use of soundproofing materials and technologies keeps it as quiet as many mid-sized cars, especially at lower speeds.

PERFORMANCE: The Yaris's 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is as sophisticated as any other Toyota engine, with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, VVT-i variable valve timing, coil-on-plug direct ignition, and electronic throttle control. Its 106 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 103 lb-ft of torque (at 4200 rpm) are more than adequate to enable the car to keep up with the flow of traffic, especially with the standard five-speed manual transmission. There is good low-end torque, but to get the most out of the engine it needs to be revved at least to the 4200 rpm torque peak - which will have to be done by feel as there is no tachometer in the Liftback. Foot to floor, when power fades (or the rev limiter kicks in), shift. Even when driven like that, fuel economy is excellent. EPA figures (for the stick) are 34 mpg city, 40 highway, or 39 for the automatic. In a week with more than the usual highway driving - and no regard to maximum fuel economy - I averaged 37 mpg.

CONCLUSIONS: Forget about the cheap econoboxes of the past. The 2007 Toyota Yaris Liftback combines excellent fuel economy with space, comfort, and decent performance, all for a low price.

2007 Toyota 3-Door liftback

Base Price			$ 10,950
Price As Tested			$ 13,510
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve inline
				 4-cylinder with variable valve timing
Engine Size			1.5 liters / 91 cu. in.
Horsepower			106 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			103 @ 4200 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		96.9 in. / 150.0 in.
Curb Weight			2,293 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.6
Fuel Capacity			11.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87-octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				185/60 TR15 Bridgestone Potenza RE92
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				 semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain		front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		34 / 40 / 37
0 to 60 mph				est. 9.5  sec

Power package with 15-inch steel wheels - includes:
  power doorlocks, windows, outside mirrors, 60/40
  split reclining, sliding, and fold-flat rear seat,
  AM/FM/CD audio with MP3 and WMA playback
  and auxiliary jack, rear wiper, rear defroster, 
  15-inch steel wheels with full covers		$ 1,290
Carpet floor and cargo mats			$   150
Rear bumper protector				$    65
Interior light kit				$   275
Rear spoiler					$   200
Delivery and processing				$   580