Toyota Yaris is the Camry of small cars

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 10:33 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 9 at 11:21 AM

Most everyone on Earth knows about Toyota Corolla, the bestselling car of all time. Not as well known is Yaris. It’s been around for a number of years, just not as well known as its popular sibling. Tracing its lineage, this car has been known as Tercel and Echo here in the states. The name changes could be responsible for little sister’s identity crisis.

I say sister because it is said that the Yaris name is a combination of the German word for “yes” (which is “ya”) and the Greek goddess Charis. How the two came together for a Japanese car remains a mystery.

You can get into a base model Yaris with manual transmission for just under $15,000. The mid-level three-door LE model I’m driving goes for $16,600, that includes destination and floor mats. It gets some exterior chrome trim to elevate its socio-economic appearance.

Obviously, at that price point there are no heated leather seats, sunroof, satellite navigation or keyless ignition. Some of competitors offer those as options for those looking for a little luxury in a small physical footprint. Yaris doesn’t. It is basic transportation that doesn’t wander from its mission. LE gets steel wheels with covers. The windshield is wiped with one arm.

Let’s Do The Numbers

Power comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque @ 4,200. Gear changes on my tester are done with a four-speed automatic and those into numbers know that five and six speed boxes are common in this class. The manual transmission is a five-speed.

Acceleration is respectable for a small economy car; Yaris is fine scooting around town. Much like its hybrid brother the Prius c, steep hills mean the engine and transmission are clearly heard working away, even when driving solo. Folks in North Dakota can ignore this observation.

At highway speeds Yaris is fairly quiet and comfortable, a big improvement over past generations. On urban streets it goes about its business just fine in the corners. There’s a touch of sport, mainly the suspension is meant to keep folks comfy.

People are looking for budget price and operation in this class, the EPA rates the automatic transmission model at 30 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway. These numbers are bested by nearly every subcompact competitor, in some case by 1 mpg, in other cases 5.

The View Inside

Hard plastics in the cabin are expected in this class, though Yaris sports a strip of soft touch material that surrounds the audio system. Don’t worry, there’s air conditioning. The knobs, like the transmission lever have decent though not silky operation. Remember, this isn’t a Lexus. Two grain patterns are molded into door panel to help dress it up.

Chairs are comfortable and fine for longer trips. Trim flaps that keep track hardware out of sight and French fries from dropping between the seats and the center console are made of cheap looking material. Toyota, may I suggest matching material (or at least color) for a more cohesive look? An airbag in the lower cushion positions front passengers to make the main frontal units more effective.

Sun visors are nicely adjustable. With an extending flap, they’re more effective than some in more expensive cars. There’s remote locking and power windows but buyers motor without cruise control and a tachometer in LE models. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope.

A USB port awaits your music player. I find the sound system with Bluetooth for phone and music player integration more confusing than need be. Even my 15-year-old son who insists on fiddling with each and every parameter on the cars I test left it alone after trying to decipher the four arrow keys around the knob. No surprise, the sound quality is average.

The glove box is of average size. No covered storage between the seats. Storage cubbies don’t get rubber inserts, coins and phones can rattle and slide around when Yaris is in motion.

Three Doors or Five?

I’m in a three-door, Yaris is available with two extra doors for buyers who want easier entry and exit dynamics. Once past the handy sliding front chair there’s a surprising amount of room in back. There are belts for three; two average sized adults get a reasonable amount of foot and knee room. No armrest or power port. There’s one seat pocket. Pretty standard stuff.

Generally, the TP trunk test is done with the back seat in the usable position and in that regard the Yaris scores a four. Considering this is a two-door (three I suppose) the back seat will go unused much of the time. Dropping the easy-to-fold split seats opens up a cave large enough to stuff 13 packs of the two-ply in. That’s one more than a Honda CR-V (with it’s back seat usable).
FYI, Toyota throws in a spare tire, not just a repair kit.

The Low Down On Low Price

Used to be there were very few choices in this price range, now the market is flooded with sub-compact cars. Accent, Fiesta, Fit, Mazda2, Rio, Sonic, Versa, and 500 are ready to do battle with Yaris and these days quality, sophistication and style is more the rule, not the exception. In short, we’re all winners. Small cars are not the penalty boxes they once were.

Few of these cars have a clear overwhelming lock on the market. Know yourself and car shopping will be easier. For example, Fit is supremely usable, 500 oozes with Euro charm and Sonic turbo is the athlete of the bunch. Yaris is the Camry of the group- comfortable and conservative. It’s not the roomiest, most fuel efficient or least expensive but there are plenty of buyers who believe Toyota is the gold standard when it comes to quality and durability. And for many buyers that’s all they need to know.

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