2009 Toyota Yaris

Better than taking the bus?

2009 Toyota Yaris
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My guess is that few people can deny that the unveiling of the Toyota Yaris was a vast improvement over the outgoing Echo. Among the greatest automotive eyesores of the last century, the strangely disproportioned Echo emerged in 1999 as the tired Tercel took a much-needed bow from the Japanese manufacturer’s lineup. Remaining in Toyota’s fleet until 2005, the Echo had a significant following, thanks to its favorable price tag and fuel sipping sensibilities.

FAST FACTS

1. Fuel economy is rated 29 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, with slightly better results from the five-speed manual.

2. The ‘09 Yaris is available in three versions and two trims. The three-door hatchback, five-door hatchback and four-door sedan come in either Standard or S trim.

3. 2009 saw the addition of a five-door hatchback to the Yaris lineup, as well as the implementation of anti-lock brakes and side-curtain airbags as standard equipment.

Evidently, however, my opinions do not unanimously represent those of the general public, as there are countless fan websites and community forums dedicated to this visually horrific automobile.

Few can argue that the Yaris, unveiled in 2005, is a superior vehicle on all accounts. Surprisingly, or perhaps thankfully, this updated subcompact isn’t hard to look at either.

ABS AND SIDE-CURTAIN AIRBAGS NOW STANDARD

2009 saw the addition of a five-door hatchback to the Yaris lineup, as well as the implementation of safety features such as anti-lock brakes and side-curtain airbags as standard equipment. Gone are the days when the only factor going in the favor of inexpensive vehicles was the fact that they were inexpensive. As economic and environmental concerns heat up, more people are buying smaller vehicles and want as much bang for their buck as possible.

UNCOMFORTABLE AND ASININE INTERIOR

Unfortunately, while the exterior is an infinite improvement, I can’t say the same for the interior. The price tag maybe inviting, but the cabin is not. While Toyota’s least expensive offering boasts exceptional headroom and decent passenger space, seating is firm and generally uncomfortably arranged. Carried over from the Echo is the asinine stack of gauges located in the centre of the enormous dash making it more convenient for passengers to read than the driver.

The rack and pinion setup with electric power steering is precise and smooth offering excellent feedback, while ride quality (if you could call it that) is solid, very solid. Potholes and large road irregularities easily devour the tiny 185/60/15 tires on the optional 15-inch steel wheels. The front suspension setup utilizes McPherson gas struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar while the rear uses a torsion beam setup with coil springs.

FUEL-ECONOMY AT THE EXPENSE OF ACCELERATION

Freeway driving creates significant road noise as the 1.5-liter four-cylinder mill struggles to reach highway speeds in a reasonable amount of time. Off-the-line acceleration is dismal and attempting to pass or merge with faster moving traffic with 106 hp and 103 ft-lbs of torque would have been laughable if it weren’t so frightening. Speed demons aren’t likely to glance twice at the Yaris in any of its forms, however, as the main objective is economy, both in regards to finance and fuel consumption.

The front discs and rear drums are quite capable of stopping the five-door Yaris in ample time from whatever speeds it is capable of reaching. EPA estimates rate the fuel economy of the Yaris at 29 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, with slightly better results from the five-speed manual.

STARTING AT JUST $12,205

You know your expectations shouldn’t be too lofty when the ‘convenience items’ on the build sheet include a clock and cup holders, but with a base price of just $12,205 ($13,305 for the 5-door) the Yaris is easily accessible for those who require an inexpensive form of transportation or convenient alternative to taking the bus. However, the cost does escalate quickly as you tick off additional options boxes like that of the Automatic Transmission or Enhanced Convenience Package. Add all applicable taxes, freight and destination charges and the Yaris quickly matches the price point of significantly better equipped, higher quality previously owned vehicles.

The aforementioned cost of the four-speed automatic transmission combined with its sluggish performance attributes and poorer fuel economy lead me to recommend saving the extra grand by opting for the five-speed manual transmission. Use some of that money for personal one-on-one driving instruction if you haven’t driven a manual transmission before and treat yourself to a vacation with the remaining funds.

THE VERDICT

The introduction of the five-door hatchback means that the Yaris can now compete with the cargo room of the Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Aveo and Honda Fit – all its close competitors.

Aside from Toyota’s reputation for reliability, there isn’t much that separates the Yaris from this fleet of subcompacts. The ‘09 Yaris is available in three versions and two trims. The three-door hatchback, five-door hatchback and four-door sedan come in either Standard or S trim, which upgrades wheels from 14-inches to 15-inches, as well as adding a CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary audio jack and a ground-effects body kit.

Other stand alone options like power windows and doorlocks, air conditioning, cruise control, a rear window defroster, upgraded interior trim, keyless entry, foglamps, alloy wheels and a rear spoiler are also available, once again, at a price.

While the differences between its plethora of competitors may be minimal, many drivers will find peace of mind buying into the Toyota family merely due to reputation alone. Add in the fact that the 2009 Yaris now boasts a five-door hatchback among its many body style choices, with more room and utility than previous models and the Echo becomes a distant memory.

PLUS

Accessible price tag Exceptional fuel efficiency Proven track-record of reliability

MINUS

Central dash gauges Lethargic performance Well-equipped models get pricey

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