2009 Toyota Yaris Sedan Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel
2009 Toyota Yaris Sedan
Six months ago you might have been interested in a Toyota Yaris sedan because of its 30+ mpg gas mileage. Now, after looking at your investment portfolio, interest stems from the low price.
Cheer up. If you're thinking "low-priced subcompact equals automotive penalty box", you're wrong here. The Toyota Yaris sedan feels much more substantial than its hatchback siblings (plural, as a five-door model joins the three-door this year) and offers all you really need in a car. If it doesn't automatically open for you as you walk up to it, park itself, light your feet at night, coddle you once inside in leather-and-wood sumptuousness, direct you with a built-in navigation system, or perform any of the other wonders of contemporary luxury cars, the Toyota Yaris sedan does perform all of the basic, important, car functions. There's plenty of room for four real people, and maybe even five for a while, there is more than merely adequate power for any driving challenge you're likely to come across, and it doesn't skimp on standard safety equipment, with anti-lock brakes, side and side curtain airbags included in all models this year.
Besides the five-door lift-back model and standard ABS and full airbag coverage for all versions, model year 2009 changes to the Toyota Yaris line include availability of cruise control in the lift-backs, satellite radio capability, new color choices, and a new grille. If you must have a nav system, a good aftermarket one is every bit as good as one that is manufacturer-installed, at a far lower price. And a road atlas is even less expensive... (and if you're thinking *that* way, you're probably looking at a bare-bones 3-door lif-tback with manual transmission and power nothing :)
Power is still from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, matched to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. If that doesn't seem like much, a Toyota Yaris only weighs around 2300 pounds, so the available 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque are just fine. It's a Toyota torque motor, so the automatic extracts no real penalty, and it's able to fearlessly tackle freeway on-ramps and grades. Ride comfort is better than expected; the driving experience is not much different from that of a Corolla or even Camry except for the smaller size. Which has advantages come parking time.
The Toyota Yaris sedan comes in base and S trim levels. "S" is more "sporty-looking" than "sport" as it's an equipment and cosmetic upgrade, with a semi-"aero kit" of front and rear spoilers and rocker panel extensions outside and the equivalent of the Convenience Package plus leather trim on the steering wheel and shift knob. I've just spent a week with a base-model Toyota Yaris sedan with the automatic and more comprehensive "Power Package" after a week with a high-performance sports-luxury sedan. Such is life, and the time with the Toyota Yaris was not automotive purgatory. Call it back-to-basics simplicity instead. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The Toyota Yaris sedan does all that is necessary, and performs its duties very well. It's not a status symbol, but do you really need a status symbol? Like a no-frills airline versus first class, it'll get you there, for less.
APPEARANCE: Don't look for sport, don't look for luxury, do look for function. Appropriate to its place in the Toyota sedan lineup, the Toyota Yaris has all of the styling elements seen in the larger Corolla and Camry, but its proportions are more juvenile. It's the baby of the line, so that is appropriate. Like a human baby with a big head, or a kitten with oversized ears, the Toyota Yaris sedan's passenger cabin seems huge in comparison with the short hood and trunk. The roofline is totally sedan, extending back past the rear passengers' heads to a steep, short rear window. At the front, the Toyota "T" logo caps a bulge above the grille, as also seen on the Corolla and Camry. The grille has been reshaped slightly this year, and the former single crossbar replaced by multiple small, solid rectangular elements, but the large, bright headlights, bulbous nose, and smile-shaped grille still form a face that can only be described as "cute". At the sides, plastic wheel covers over steel disc wheels are the order of the day for the standard Toyota Yaris. Large taillights and a bright trim strip above the license plate, the only brightwork on the car, highlight the tail.
COMFORT: That proportionally-large passenger cabin implies space inside, and that's no illusion. If the style and materials are plain, basic, and functional, so be it -- it works. Well. The front seats of the Toyota Yaris are as good as those found in cars a class or two above, and and the driver's seat is height-adjustable, unusual in the low price class. The rear seat, while narrow, has more head and leg room than is found in some more expensive small luxury sedans. Whether for kids, friends, or car pool, it will happily hold two average-sized adults, or three for at least a short distance. Up front the instrument panel is unusual, with the main instruments placed at the top center, angled toward the driver. You'll quickly get used to it, and it forces you to move your eyes more than with the regular instrument placement, a positive contribution to driver attention and so safety. A tilt-adjustable steering wheel and air conditioning are standard equipment. Optionally, as part of the sedan's Convenience or Power Packages, the rear seat can fold 60/40 for cargo versatility. The Toyota Yaris Convenience Package adds an AM/FM/CD/MP3 CD/auxiliary jack input audio system and rear defroster; the Power Package adds power windows, mirrors, and door locks, upgraded interior trim, and cruise control to that. The windows aren't one-touch and there is no remote fob (let alone proximity sensor) so you'll have to actually put the key in the door lock. You'll live... and remember to lock and unlock the car and not lose the fob. Trunk space is reasonable considering size and likely use.
SAFETY: Small does not mean unsafe. The Toyota Yaris protects its passengers with a strong, reinforced cabin structure, front and rear crumple zones, adjustable headrests and three-point safety belts for all seating positions, and front airbags with front-seat passenger detection to determine passenger weight and consequent airbag deployment force. New for 2009, seat-mounted front side and full-length side curtain airbags are also standard, as are antilock brakes.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Solid construction and strategic use of high-tensile steel for strength without excess weight and various sound-deadening materials to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness give the Toyota Yaris sedan's occupants a quieter driving experience than expected. Its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam-axle rear suspension is tuned moderately, with a good balance between passenger comfort and handling characteristics. A tight turning circle helps make parking easy, and the power assist on the steering is spot-on for the car's mission in life.
PERFORMANCE: When 300 horsepower is not uncommon, how can a car get by with only 106? Easily enough if it only weighs a little over 2300 pounds. While no dragstrip champ, and with a four-speed automatic, my Toyota Yaris test car had no difficulty merging with traffic or getting up hills, whether on the highway or back roads. There was still reserve power at 70. The 1.5-liter twincam, 16-valve four-cylinder engine has VVT-i variable cam phasing for lower emissions and a broader torque curve. Specs are 106 hp at 6000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm, but in the Toyota manner it has strong, useful torque just about everywhere, so it matches to the wide-ratio four-speed automatic just fine. Uphill/downhill shift logic in the transmission control virtually eliminates "hunting" between gear on grades, and I never found the need to shift manually. EPA mileage estimates are 29/35; I averaged just over 31 with mostly city driving and little attempt to maximize fuel economy.
CONCLUSIONS: The Toyota Yaris Sedan gives an honest, economical, low-maintenance driving experience. It's all the car you may really need.
2009 Toyota Yaris Sedan
Base Price $ 13,765 Price As Tested $ 16,214 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with VVT-i variable cam phasing Engine Size 1.5 liters / 91 cu. in. Horsepower 106 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 103 @ 4200 rpm Transmission 4-speed automatic (opt) Wheelbase / Length 100.4 in. / 169.3 in. Curb Weight 2326 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 22 Fuel Capacity 11.1 gal. Fuel Requirement 87-octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P185/60R15 Goodyear Eagle LS (opt) Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, ABS standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut/ semi-independent torsion beam axle Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 29 / 35 / 31 0 to 60 mph est 10.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Power Package - includes: power doorlocks, windows, outside mirrors, 60/40 split folding rear seat, AM/FM/6CD audio with MP3 and WMA playback, mini- jack for external audio player, satellite radio capability, cruise control, upgraded interior trim, rear window defroster, 15-inch steel wheels with full covers $ 1,500 Carpeted floor and trunk mats $ 150 Rear bumper protector $ 79 Destination and delivery $ 720