2010 Toyota Yaris
Base price: $12,605 – $14,605
As tested: $18,801
MPG: 29 city/35 highway
- Fun and easy to drive with respectable gas mileage
- Roomier than expected
- Safety features and crash test results
- Better, larger Toyotas available for about the same price
- Fiesta, Versa and Fit better choices for the same money
- Expensive when equipped with even modest equipment
By Jim Prueter
Yaris: Good but there are better choices for the money
(This review was written in January 2009 about the 2009 Yaris. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model but writing has been updated to include what’s new for 2010)
We Americans have pretty much always shied away from small cars in favor of large SUVs, pickup trucks and full-sized sedans. There’s nothing like a full-blown recession, a disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico and $3 gasoline to change our opinion.
Last year Toyota couldn’t build enough Priuses to satisfy our appetites. Ditto for small cars like Nissan Versa, Honda Civic, Ford Focus and our test vehicle this week, Toyota Yaris. These vehicles were literally flying off dealer lots, with Prius commanding window-sticker-plus pricing and SUVs gathering dust, even with rebates up to $7,500.
In January 2009 regular unleaded was selling for $1.42 a gallon, and sales of these gas sippers ground to a halt. The number-one selling vehicle in the U.S. at the time was the full-sized Ford F-150; number two the Chevy Silverado pickup. Prius sales were down 68 percent with prices rumored to be up to $1000 below dealer invoice. Civic, Focus and Versa sales were all down more than 50 percent.
So to paraphrase the infamous words of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, you have to ask yourself this question: “Do you feel lucky?”
If it’s time for you to buy a car, you’re likely considering (at least dreaming) about something slightly more than you need, a bit more luxurious, a bit larger, something with a bit more gravitas and a look of prosperity.
After all, none of us buy just what we need. We don’t absolutely need oversized tires and chrome alloy wheels, power leather seats, satellite audio systems with MP3 compatibility and a six-disc CD changer. But those things do afford the opportunity to allow us to escape a bit during our daily commute, especially with the news full of job uncertainty, political bickering and of course the oil disaster in the Gulf.
But buying over your head in this environment isn’t a practical thing to do. A higher car payment and a sudden increase in gas prices (did any of us really believe $1.50 gas would last forever?) could cause stress and anxiety even our iPod can’t overcome. So, “Do you feel lucky?”
Now that I have you feeling less rambunctious, let’s consider this week’s tester: the 2010 Toyota Yaris. It’s the least expensive Toyota model and it’s a pretty good car. Yaris is available in a sedan as well as a three-door liftback and new for last year a five-door liftback. Model trims include base and S variants.
For 2010 we drove a very well equipped Yaris S 4-door sedan with a base price of $14,165. It came equipped with the $3,205 optional Sport Package that included alloy wheels, color-keyed front and underbody spoilers, side rocker panels, rear spoiler and the “S’ badge. It also included front fog lamps, sport seats, leather trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, power locks, windows, outside mirrors, AM/FM/CD with MP3/WMA playback capability, satellite radio, 60/40 split fold-flat rear seat with reclining and sliding functions, rear window wiper and remote keyless entry. Check off a few more options like cruise control and our “economy car” suddenly listed just shy of $19,000, too much for entry-level transportation. Compare what that kind of money will buy, and you’re into a new Camry for a few hundred dollars more.
Even a base Corolla with AM/FM/CD, six airbags, 60/40 split rear seat, air conditioning, rear window defogger, fog lamps, intermittent windshield wipers, power remote outside mirrors, and 16-inch wheels comes in at just $15,450.
The Yaris five-door and sedan are the biggest of the three trim levels with the three-door starting at $12,605, but that’s with crank windows and a five speed manual shifter. Still, air conditioning and six airbags are included.
We especially enjoyed zipping around our heavily populated urban area and its suburbs in our “S” model test car. Steering is quick, parking a snap and the ride compliant and smooth. Mind you, this isn’t like driving a Mini Cooper, but the handling feels good and we thought the 106 horsepower sufficient. Visibility is excellent, and we had no complaints about the brakes.
Overall we averaged just over 33 miles per gallon in mixed city/highway driving, a bit disappointing for a vehicle this size. We expected closer to 40 mpg.
As expected, the engine does get buzzy sounding under full acceleration, and the interior noise level is certainly louder than pricier sedans. But it’s not unbearable. The seats are comfortable, something we can’t always say about economy cars.
Our tester came with an automatic transmission, but we’ve also driven a manual shifting Yaris that operated smoothly. The clutch is very light-touch so driving and shifting in traffic isn’t a burden.
The interior is rather plain with too much hard plastic. Some may find the dash quirky looking with the main gauges sitting on top of the dashboard in the center rather than directly in front of the driver. We first saw this in the Toyota Echo, which Yaris replaced three years ago.
Outside, Yaris is rather conservative looking with a front nose that strongly resembles Camry, Prius and Corolla.
Standard safety gear includes basic belts, dual front and front-seat-mounted airbags, and front and rear side-curtain airbags, four wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, child-protector rear door locks, and tire-pressure monitoring system.
New for 2010, all Yaris trim levels get standard electronic stability control system, traction control and a rear defroster. A five-speed manual transmission is now available on the four-door hatchback, and hatchbacks with the manual shifter gain a tachometer. Crash test ratings are always important but especially so in small cars where drivers and passengers may not feel as safe. Yaris earned the highest possible rating of “Good” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in both front and side impact crash tests. In crash test by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the four-door Yaris sedan earned four out of a possible five stars for driver protection in front and side impacts, and four stars for front passenger protection in front and side impacts.
Overall, Yaris is pleasant to drive and roomier than expected. It’s a pretty good choice and should please most owners. But we also think there are other small cars that warrant a look for this size vehicle. We especially liked the Nissan Versa, which has a better-looking interior and seems roomier and quieter than Yaris. We also like the Honda Fit, but our favorite in this class is the new Ford Fiesta just now hitting dealer showrooms.