Toyota Yaris Liftback Review

toyota yaris liftback review

My automotive odyssey began in a Ford Pinto. I didn't need Ralph Nader to tell me that The Blue Oval's first sub-compact was a death trap. The Pinto was so nasty on so many levels I'm surprised it didn't spontaneously combust in shame. Then again, why would it? Ford had no shame. Like the rest of the Big Three, their greed, arrogance and incompetence handed the small car market to the Japanese. As far as I can tell, nothing much has changed in the last 35 years. Once again, gas prices are squeezing cash-strapped motorists. Once again, domestics don't have a compelling answer. And once again, Toyota does: the Toyota Yaris.

Do without any optional frills (power windows, remote keyless, a radio) and an autobox Yaris Liftback will set you back about twelve large. If the repo man has never darkened your drive and you have a grand to put down (or are willing to also do your own shifting), payments are within spitting distance of $200. That's to own the car, not a lease with a phone book's worth of fine print. And not just any car, but a brand spankin' new, made-in-Japan, everyone's-sister-knows-it'll-never-break Toyota. A Hummer driver spends twice as much just to keep the tank topped off. Speaking of which, you get over 35 mpg in a Yaris, with a three-year bumper-to-bumper hakuna mutata.

Of course, when I say "you" I mean poor people. Sorry, members of the working class, seniors on a fixed-income, recent college graduates and teenage children of heavily mortgaged parents. Let's face it: very few Americans outside this frugal-by-necessity subset would be wiling to drive a car this small. Even die-hard greens would favor a mid-sized hybrid over a car that could double as an H2 escape pod. Actually, that's being kind. The Yaris Liftback looks like a demonically-possessed doorstop. While the Yaris' ass-in-the-air stance has a certain Gallic charm, the tilted coffee table windshield and grotesquely oversized headlamps makes you wonder if the shape was penned by an adolescent (or alcohol-impaired) M.C. Escher.

Like the new Civic, the Yaris' windscreen angle takes it toll on cabin karma (though not on the bugs glancing off its slightly angled surface). There may be drivers who are perfectly happy looking across an acre of uninterrupted dash, through a narrow aperture, between enormous pillars, at a hoodless vista filled with vehicles four or five times as large as the tin can surrounding them, but I'm not one of them. Obviously, the Yaris' raked glass improves its fuel-efficiency at speed. I'd gladly pay a tad more at the pump for a less SUV-ish [non-Pontiac] vibe, and instrumentation that doesn't look like a digital Quonset hut plonked in the center of a black plastic field.

Fortunately, miraculously, the Yaris provides enough head, leg and shoulder room for four full-sized adults– as long as they don't mind sitting on fabric with a half-life greater than plutonium 239. The Yaris' roll-up windows are a welcome bit of nostalgia (if only to freak out the grandkids) and all the switchgear clunk clicks with firm but fair tactility. The stereo proves my long-held theory that economy-cars need kick-ass tunes more than expensive ones. The Yaris' radio makes FM sound like AM and AM sound like a SETI beacon heard from somewhere inside the Pleiades star cluster.

The Yaris isn't a pig to drive. Who knew that a handbag-sized four-cylinder engine could generate enough oomph to transport kith, kin and 2335 lbs. worth of car down a road without inviting comparisons to continental drift? Needless to say, Toyota's tweaked the Yaris' erstwhile powerplant seven ways to fun day: intelligent variable valve timing, double-overhead camshafts, 16-valves, direct ignition and an electronic throttle. OK, maybe not "fun" per se. But the Yaris is a peppy little thing that only develops asthma at highway cruising speeds, where additional forward momentum requires kicking down into third and… patience.

The Yaris' handling is equally remarkable. With a dinner plate-sized turning circle and power-assisted rack and pinion steering, the four-wheeled micro-lite is predictably nimble in the cut-and-thrust of urban warfare. And unpredictably stable through the corners. Throw the Yaris Liftback into a proper turn and she'll hang on with all the tenacity of a Rush Limbaugh caller. Eventually, the Yaris' all-season rubber squeals surrender, but it's just a bit of harmless fun in a too-boring-to-do-again-except-to-prove-it-can sort of way. The front disc, rear drum set-up is equally steadfast, and the suspension makes rough roads feel like rubberized rough roads. How great is that?

Pretty great– at the price. Again, the Yaris is a superb value proposition. If you have the extra cash and want a stylish runabout, you wouldn't choose a Yaris over a MINI. But if you don't have the cash and don't want to bum rides, use public transportation or throw more money at your decrepit gas-guzzler, Toyota wins. Again. Still.

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  • Anyseven Anyseven on Aug 18, 2009

    My father just bought a 2009 yaris 3 door hatchback with cash for clunkers deal. We love the car so far, plenty of leg room for people up to 6' in the front and average size in the back, more leg room than my VW Golf in the back for sure. It's an automatic with plenty of pep for city and freeway driving. I live in Los Angeles so it's a prefect car for here. Trunk is big enough for trips to the market, and with the back seats down plenty of room for luggage on a road trip for 2 people. I would have to say long trips for 4 people would be a challenge to try to fit luggage. Oh, one thing I found annoying is with the drivers window down on the 2 door model, I find wind baffling noise at around 30mph, this is hard on the ears. I'm not sure if the 4 door model suffers from this problem. Anyway I can live with it. Over all I would recommend this car to anyone, and the gas mileage is the best part. I want to give as little of my hard earned cash to the greedy gas suppliers as possible.

  • Mor2bz Mor2bz on Aug 28, 2010

    I drove one. I thought the interior made the Corolla's look like a POS. Drove good too.

  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
  • TitaniumZ Of course they are starting to "sour" on the idea. That's what happens when cars start to drive better than people. Humanpilots mostly suck and make bad decisions.
  • Inside Looking Out Why not buy Bronco and call it Defender? Who will notice?