By on May 11, 2006

 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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10 Comments on “Toyota Yaris Liftback Review...”

  • avatar

    A friend just bought one the other day and although nice there were area of what seemed like extreme cost cutting. The most alarming one was the sun visors. Like in most cars, there’s a hinge at one end and a clip at the other so you can rotate it to block sun coming in the side windows. Except in the Yaris, the roof is formed so that you can’t do this. They only rotate about 45 degrees, at which point they’re smacking you in the forehead. My friend – not realizing – forced it further and the whole thing popped out of the roof. This was the first day of ownership. Likely it snapped back in with a metal clamp. It’s like instead of mounting it permanently as it should be, they borrowed other Toyota parts that don’t work as they should in this application.

  • avatar

    As opposed to what?

    Was she supposed to signal as she pulled off onto the soft shoulder, gingerly stepping out of the car to push the deer off the hood, to then carry on down the road (after safely merging again with traffic, of course)?

    She had a hospital stay and a recovery period afterwards, that’s how the whole ‘hitting a deer’ thing works.

  • avatar

    I drive the twin under the skin Scion Xb. You get all the goodness, High MPG, Toyota Quality with the added bonus of greater space utility (I can carry air conditioners, lawn mowers etc) along with a killer radio and power windows standard. Not sure why anyone would get a yaris over and Xa or an Xb. I can buy just about any car but I prefer the Xb so the low price 14 large was an added bonus.

  • avatar

    Doesn’t the Yaris have electric steering borrowed from the Prius (as does the yaris-based xD) in exchange for the rack/pinion setup?

  • avatar

    Scratch that, I was under the influence that the Yaris had a purely-electric steering setup, but Toyota’s website corrected me.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    crwpitman, that’s a bogus criticism of the Yaris. Unless your friend had the sunvisors somehow twisted upside-down and backward and physically forced them, they work perfectly. Just tried it on the press Yaris in the driveway: they easily rotate a full 90 degrees from the shading-straight-ahead position to a shading-directly-abeam position, not the slightest interference with the roof, and there’s a substantial pull-out panel that almost doubles the shaded area.

    But that’s the problem with critiquing car second-hand, isn’t it. What else have you “heard” about how bad the Yaris is? I think it’s a fabulous little car, and I’ve actually driven one…

  • avatar

    I would like to note that Im a proud owner of a 07 Toyota Liftback and would also note that I LOVE it. If you are young and can afford a brand new car that gets AWESOME gas mileage then why not? I drove a 99 Toyota Tacoma for 4 years loved it but couldnt afford the gas anymore. Fresh out of vet tech school I needed something I could afford! I LOVE IT! I have plenty of room for my dog in the back who goes to work with me everyday I have nothing bad to say about the toyota yaris liftback. :O)

  • avatar

    I registered just so I could congratulate Mr. Farago on one of the most thoroughly entertaining pieces I’ve ever read. Thanks for the laughs.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

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

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