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  • 2009 Toyota Yaris

    Posted on June 4th, 2009 ninarussin

    Five-door liftback adds cargo versatility to Toyota’s value-priced subcompact

    By Nina Russin

    2009 Toyota Yaris 5-Door Liftback

    2009 Toyota Yaris 5-Door Liftback

    In 1994, I went to Japan to drive a Corvette between Tokyo and Kyoto for a magazine story. I wanted to see how the most iconic of American cars would perform in a culture vastly different than our own. While the Corvette turned plenty of heads, Tokyo’s narrow, traffic-filled streets were better suited for smaller cars.

    Driving the Toyota Yaris stateside, I feel as if the shoe is on the other foot. Despite Toyota’s popularity here, few of the models we see in the US reflect the automaker’s Japanese roots as faithfully as the Yaris.

    The Yaris’ diminutive scale is perfect for Japan’s two-lane rural roads, many of which are no wider than the average driveway.  Ditto for parking garages, where attendants use small cages to transport vehicles to the upper floors.

    High fuel prices are a fact of life in Japan: the average price of gas in 1994 was about five dollars per gallon. I would rather have filled up the Yaris than the thirsty Corvette that preferred premium.

    The Yaris interior reminds me of Japanese business hotels: designers make the most of its limited space with cleverly configured seats that fold and tumble, and small storage compartments around the passenger bay.

    Coming to America

    Though the Yaris is a relatively new model in the US, it has been a fixture in Europe and Japan since it’s introduction in 1999. The Yaris came stateside in 2006, replacing subcompact Echo.

    While its small footprint is ideal for overseas markets, the Yaris lacks the power, sound insulation and stability to perform well on American highways. Although the test car is equipped with optional 15-inch wheels, I can feel every seam in the pavement.

    The car’s 2400-pound curb weight enhances fuel economy, but gives the driver little protection against side winds on the open road. Wind noise around the front windshield is excessive when compared to the dead-quiet interiors of other Toyota models.

    The standard 106-horsepower engine has enough low-end torque to keep up with traffic on level surfaces. But when equipped with the four-speed automatic transmission, it struggles to accelerate on hills. I would highly recommend opting for the five-speed manual transmission, which gives the driver more control over engine power.

    Steering feedback is better at low speeds than on the highway, where there is a fair amount of steering wheel play. The Yaris’ 30.8-foot turning radius makes it easy to maneuver around a crowded parking garage, or make a U-turn.

    A MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension is soft in the corners. But its compliance keeps passengers from feeling some of the surface irregularities in the road.

    I applaud designers for creating a large greenhouse. Despite rather thick B-pillars, visibility to the front and sides is exceptionally good. Visibility to the rear is limited, in part due to the car’s of thick C-pillars. The US-spec side mirrors are smaller than those used in Europe and Japan, with reduced visibility.

    Five-door liftback adds interior versatility

    For 2009 Toyota has added a five-door liftback, to complement existing sedan and three-door Yaris models. The liftback’s wheelbase is three inches shorter than the sedan’s, but it has a taller, more configurable cargo area. Unlike the three-door model, passengers don’t have to struggle getting in and out of the rear seats.

    As is common with world cars, the gauges are above the center stack. Two covered bins to either side give the driver and front passenger extra storage space for paperwork.

    Three option packages on the test car give drivers most of the comfort and convenience features they want. Remote keyless entry adds $230 to the Yaris’ $13,305 base sticker price. A power package ($1,970) upgrades the standard fourteen-inch wheels to fifteen-inch rims, adds power door locks and mirrors and a 60/40 split and folding rear seat.

    The same option adds a MP3 compatible audio system pre-wired for satellite radio, a rear window defroster and rear wiper. Speaker quality isn’t the greatest, but it wouldn’t prevent me from buying the car. Floor mats add an extra $150.

    The base model comes well-equipped with standard safety features, including front, side and side curtain airbags. Antilock brakes are standard on the five-door model. The Yaris comes with front disc brakes and rear drums. While I don’t typically endorse rear drums, the Yaris is light enough for them to function acceptably. Most of the weight and braking takes place under the engine and front transaxle.

    The only hole in the car’s safety roster is lack of electronic stability control, either as standard equipment or part of an option package. Electronic stability control limits yaw to prevent the driver from losing directional control. On front-wheel drive cars that have a tendency to understeer, it can make the difference between a near-miss and a collision.

    Configurable interior

    Toyota Yaris Instrument Panel

    Toyota Yaris Instrument Panel

    Inside, the Yaris is notable for its well-organized passenger cabin and configurable cargo area. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of head and legroom in the back seats. The lack of a floor tunnel makes it possible for three small adults to fit in the second row.

    Bucket seats up front have modest bolsters to hold the driver and front passenger in place. I found lower lumbar support adequate for drives of a couple hours.

    Both front and rear doors have bottle holders:  the front doors also have map pockets. The Yaris lacks a center console bin. Covered bins around the center stack and the glovebox  provide plenty of storage options for small items. A couple of small trays on the floor console hold portable electronic devices, compact disks and water bottles.

    A twelve-volt power point on the center stack recharges portable electronic devices. The auxiliary plug-in is on the floor console. A gate shifter on the floor console lets the driver engage low gears without taking his eyes off the road. A standard tilt steering wheel helps smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view.

    With the rear seats in place, the cargo area is large enough to hold groceries or modest-sized suitcases. The second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor. The Yaris is on the small side for carrying bicycles. The Toyota Matrix is a better choice for cyclists and triathletes.

    Toyota builds the Yaris at its Takaoka and Kanto Jidosha plants, both in Japan.

    Likes: An ALV super-value with a surprisingly spacious and configurable interior.

    Dislikes: Lack of power. Electronic stability control is not available as standard equipment or an option.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Toyota
    Model: Yaris 5-Door Liftback
    Year: 2009
    Base price: $13,305
    As tested: $16,734
    Horsepower: 106 p @ 6000 rpm
    Torque: 103 lbs.-ft. @ 4200 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: No
    Off-road: No
    Towing: No
    Fuel economy: 29/35 mpg city/highway
    Comments: MSRP does not include a $720 destination charge.

     

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