The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2011 Toyota Yaris Review - A Big Man In A Small Car

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Toyota Yaris

FYI: Toyota Yaris Specs, Comparisons and Prices – Toyota Buyers Guide

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

A Fine Little Commuter Car
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Yaris is Toyota’s tiniest car in the US . . . so far. Later this year, rumor has it, we will see the cute little city car we saw running around Europe called the iQ, which may be a new model for Scion, Toyota’s youth division.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

In the meantime we’ll take a close look at, and spend a week driving, the Yaris. This front-wheel drive, 5-passenger sub-compact comes in a 3-door liftback, 4-door sedan and 5-door liftback, all within a few hundred dollars of each other in base price.

Style and design are modern and up-to-date. In fact, it has almost a retro look to it with a nicely sculpted, rounded shape that reminds me of the iconic new Fiat 500. Large headlight housings seem to take up more than half the space from the nose to the base of the windshield and the details of the front leave no doubt of the brand identity. A slick wing above the rear window makes it look sporty and the wheel covers fit the style well.

Base price on our test car, the 3-door liftback “S” model, is $13,665. We have the $2,665 Sport Package on this one which includes body trim and cladding, integrated fog lamps, sport seats, leather steering wheel and shift knob, power locks, windows and mirrors, sophisticated entertainment and connectivity system (AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/XM, etc.), split rear seats, 15-inch wheels and tires, engine immobilizer and keyless entry. With the $760 delivery charge, the sticker shows $17,400.

In this price range the Yaris is competing with some tough new entries in the sub-compact field like the Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Nissan Versa, soon the fresh Chevy Aveo and aforementioned Fiat 500. These all start around 14 grand and get comparable mileage. For just a few thousand more you can have the new Hyundai Elantra or Kia Rio with better mileage and more upscale appointments. So do your homework if you’re looking for a car in this category.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Power for all three models of Yaris comes from a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. With variable valve timing it achieves 29-mpg in the city and 36 on the highway with the 5-speed manual transmission and just one click less on both numbers for the 4-speed automatic. Edmunds tests saw the automatic transmission version of the Yaris managing a zero-to-60-mph time of over 10 seconds – nothing to write home about but adequate for most users. With an 11.1 gallon fuel tank we can expect a cruising range of around 300 miles. Our test car had the automatic, which really added nothing to the driving experience. I would much prefer a manual on this kind of small car, but most buyers, I’m sure, would prefer the convenience of the automatic.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The driving position is upright and I found the fabric driver’s seat comfortable. Because of its vertical profile and relatively large doors, ingress and egress are exceptionally good for a small car. Even a big guy like me can ease in and out without having to fold up too much. The instrument pod is in the center of the dash above a simple stack with minimal controls. I didn’t find the center-mounted instruments particularly functional and wonder if there are some economies to be had by designing it that way. I would prefer it in front of the driver.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The rear seat space is limited, as you might expect, but surprisingly it slides fore and aft a few inches and reclines a few degrees for a bit more passenger room, or a bit more cargo room whichever you need at the time. With the seat backs folded we have a decent 26 cubic-feet of cargo space. With the seatbacks in position we can fit 9 cubic-feet worth of stuff behind.

Performance and handling on this 2,300-pound little car is quite good, I thought. The conventional MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion bar rear design is tuned well for a good balance of control and comfort. It’s not always an easy matter to find that balance in a little, light car. Electric power steering is light without much feedback but reasonably quick and precise. The front disc and rear drum brakes felt fine, though I must acknowledge, I did not challenge them much.

Safety features are about what we would expect with Toyota’s Star Safety System – ABS, TC, EBD plenty of airbags, etc. There is very little difference these days in the safety features of any cars.

Warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the drivetrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Free maintenance and roadside assistance are included for 2 years or 25,000 miles.

Over all I’d say the Yaris is a great little commuter car, or running-around-town car. I made a couple of longer freeway trips this week and found that dicing with heavy traffic was a breeze. I didn’t feel like I was in a subcompact. It’s roomy enough inside that I felt like I was in a bigger car.

At a combined fuel economy rating of 31 mpg Yaris will need to improve some to keep up with the competition with all the new entries in this bottom end of the market increasing mileage every year.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved