Yaris: It’s A Car! If you go to the Toyota website to learn about the logical successor to the original, and fabulous, Corolla Tercel, that is the slogan with which you’ll be confronted.
Yaris: It’s A Car!
What you won’t find is any mention of how much power the Yaris makes (106 horsepower) or the specific type of transmission fitted to the vehicle (the venerable Toyota transverse four-speed automatic). Nor will you be tremendously impressed by the listed EPA mileage (37mpg highway). This isn’t an oversight on the part of the Toyota hivemind. It’s a way of qualifying customers. If your expectations for the Yaris are that it will, in fact, be a car, and that it will get about 37 miles per gallon on the highway, then strap yourself down, my friend, because your expectations are about to be met!
In the days when Michael Karesh regularly contributed to this site, he was deservedly famous for both his relentlessly data-driven approach to automobiles and for his shockingly poor cellphone photos of said automobiles. Mr. Karesh had a Craiglister’s approach to vehicular photography — but with the image floating above these words, I believe I’ve topped him. This is what happens when you run out of light and your SLR’s sitting on your desk at home, ninety miles away. At that point, it’s “Enter The Samsung”.
I rented a 2013 Yaris LE with a sticker price of $16,490 from Enterprise this past weekend. My goal was to drive to Brownsburg, IN to meet young tube-amp savant Bobby Getchell and take delivery of my Paul Cochrane-built Heritage Patriot amp, which Mr. Getchell had refitted with NOS Mullard and Sylvania tubes at some nontrivial expense. This would give me the chance to put four hundred or so miles on the Yaris in the course of a single day. I also used the little Toyota to take a friend to dinner, said friend being a young lady approaching six feet tall and possessed of a thirty-six-inch inseam. Remember that, it’s relevant later, I promise. Finally, I tossed the car seat in the back and obtained my son’s opinion on the thing.
Oddly enough, both my four-year-old son and six-footer friend said the same thing about the Yaris: it’s not roomy. The two of them wouldn’t have been able to coexist in the thing; moving the passenger seat far enough forward for my scion (as opposed to the Scion, which this Yaris emphatically is not) to be able to fit his legs between the end of the child seat’s thigh support and the back of the front seat would have rendered said front seat completely uninhabitable for the Dutch girl. But even with the front seat moved all the way back, it was impossible for Miss Thirty Six Inch Inseam to cross her legs in the car. She was forced to sit flat-footed and upright in the thing. “Not,” she pronounced, “as roomy as my Civic.” Well, that’s okay, it’s a class below the Civic.
What might be more relevant is that the Yaris doesn’t feel as roomy as the Fit, to say nothing of the dearly missed previous-generation Nissan Versa, which was sort of the class champion in many respects. Only Fiesta drivers will consider the Yaris a spacious place in which to do business. The Yaris before this one felt airier up front. It also possessed a sort of joie de vivre that this one completely lacks.
From the moment you hear that most despised of automotive sound signatures — a lackluster four-cylinder spinning up against a loose torque converter — you’ll know that the map of Yaris World has no room for Funtasyland. Oh, how it groans to move this relatively upright box around. How it moans on the freeway, where the relatively short fourth gear consigns it to a rev level that is unknown due to Toyota’s refusal to make a tachometer part of the dashboard but it is certainly higher than it needs to be. Dipping into third for a quick pass feels approximately as mechanically sympathetic as roping the rear bumper to a tree and making it do a prolonged one-tire burnout. “It’s so loud!” my clone said, “I can’t hear the song about how you should come back home on your own.” It’s true: the Yaris is the loudest car I’ve driven in some time. To put things into perspective, the day before my son and I had driven my leaky-roofed 560SL a hundred and ten miles from Columbus to Cincinnati and he didn’t bother to complain about the noise in that.
It doesn’t help that Toyota supplies the car with a stereo system that is nominally feature-complete (Bluetooth, iPod and 1/8″ plug compatible) but which cannot be heard on the freeway without being cranked to the point of distortion. Nor is wind noise well-controlled. If I drove the Yaris again for any length of time, I’d bring earplugs. I’m not kidding.
On the positive side, the dynamic composure of the littlest Toyota is far better on the freeway than it was in any generation of Tercel or Echo. It’s on par with the outgoing Corolla in that regard, rarely wandering under wind pressure and demonstrating a remarkable felicity of ride. It’s only when I’m bouncing around the brick-paved streets of German Village in Columbus that I realize how they did it: the suspension is so soft that the Yaris will scrape its nose on wavy pavement. This proved to be so amusing — setting the little car up to oscillate at forty MPH or so and letting it repeatedly bang its snout on the bricks — that it took the sound of a rattling Mullard tube from behind me to make me stop.
“I wasn’t going to say anything about the amplifier,” my passenger smirked, “because you were clearly so pleased with yourself.”
That I was. But should potential Yaris buyers be as pleased with the ownership experience as I was with the nose-grinding? To be truthful, this is not a car that I can recommend to anyone. The extra money that would be required to upgrade from this to a Corolla would be money well spent and it would almost certainly be returned to the customer upon the sale of the vehicle. The Yaris is inferior to the Corolla in every possible way. Even the fuel economy is less than brilliant, the overwhelmed 1.6/four-speed combo yielding about thirty five miles to the gallon, give or take a little measuring error, during a long trip in which I consciously laid off the throttle. At twelve grand, the Yaris makes a case for itself. At sixteen and a half, which places it just a grand south of a similarly equipped Corolla, it’s…
Well, it’s a car.
But it’s a car without a point.
The venue for these photographs was the old Brookville BMX track just east of the Ohio-Indiana border. Your humble author enjoyed dozens of races there from 1984 to 2004 and misses it dearly.