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2009 Toyota Yaris - Heels on Wheels Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2009 Toyota Yaris 5-Door Liftback



By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

With compact economy cars becoming evermore desirable, the Toyota Yaris stands out as one of the cheapest choices – mentioned as both a compliment and concern. The Yaris is also the only model in its class to offer three different body styles.

I drove a 2009 Toyota Yaris 5-door Liftback with a 4-speed, 106-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. It came standard with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), LATCH child seat protectors, halogen headlamps, color-keyed handles and outside folding mirrors, 4 speakers, 4-way adjustable seats, 12-volt power outlet, and digital clock. Price at this point was $13,305. Everything else on the Yaris was an option: the Power Package at $1,580 (power door locks, power windows, 60/40 split seating, AM/FM radio with a CD player, text display functions, rear window wiper and defroster); a $250 Cruise Control system; $150 carpeted floors; $79 rear bumper protectors; and $129 arm rest. Total vehicle price was $16,213.

The best vehicle to compare this type of extreme compact vehicle to is the 2009 Honda Fit I drove recently with a 5-speed automatic, 117-horsepower 1.5-liter engine. Seating five with five doors (including the rear hatchback), the Fit came with paddle shifters, a voice-recognizing navigation system, 6-speaker audio system, MP3 or USB playback capability, programmable auto locks, rear window defroster, rear spoiler, and fog lights. At no extras, total price came to $19,630.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: I loved the Carmine Red Metallic color, which sometimes looked like chocolate and other times a mellow purple. The front shape resembles a Prius, but the Yaris's rear shape is non-existent, shrinking up like a dog with its tail tucked between its leg. A rear spoiler (like the Fit has) would help. Once inside I couldn't help giggling: It's just so small! I could just about touch the rear glass when turning. The driver seat lacked lumbar support; whereas the Fit was much more accommodating in this area. I don't see how any passengers in the second row could be comfortable. Extremely no-frills interior – the AC and the CD stereo are the only evidence of splurges.

Reliability & Safety Factor: There are standard safety features new to the Yaris – not necessarily new concepts, just the fact they are now standard on the 2009 models: anti-lock brakes (ABS); front airbags; and rear side air bags. The Yaris also has electronic brake distribution (EBD), but no vehicle stability assist (VSA). Round it out with LATCH and child protected rear door locks. The Fit has all this, plus VSA. Front and side crash ratings are to be determined; rollover gets four stars.

Cost Issues: At the very least, you're looking at the Yaris costing you $14,885 (you should not be without the $1,580 Power Package, but could do without the other extras, especially the arm rest). Knowing what I know about how makers package vehicle standards and options, I feel Toyota is taking advantage of their obviously cash-strapped consumer: Many, many features should come with the car. We're living in an auto world where audio steering wheel controls are as standard as power locks, and the consumer is taking a huge step back by actually having to pay for those power locks, let alone folding seats, power windows, AC and an arm rest! At any rate, a shopper should use this knowledge to talk down the price. (Toyota expects the Yaris buyer to be a cheapskate, afterall.)

Activity & Performance Ability: Nothing to shock or impress – this 1.5-liter was loud, yet capable on both flat and steep climbs. With the Honda Fit, the 117-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder is also somewhat loud, but more confident – the acceleration onto the highway was bold for its engine size. A rear Torison suspension beam does it's best to absorb bumps in the road, but you'll feel them and more responsive brakes – Hondas stop on a dime.

The Green Concern: The Yaris gets 29-mpg city and 35-mpg highway driving for an average of 31-mpg; the Fit gets 27-mpg city and 33-mpg highway for an average of 29-mpg. If you're getting anything above 28-mpg, your vehicle is doing better than most.

In my opinion, bite the bullet and spend three grand more for the Honda Fit – you'll get a generally more attractive shape, more comfortable seating and a bigger 4-cylinder engine. Frugality is a virtue these days, but the Yaris sends a message its driver is extremely – and unnecessarily – cheap.

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2009 Katrina Ramser