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Brand New Toyota Yaris

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Tim O'Brien | Jan 6, 2009 | 10 Comments

Perky, breezy, not too squeezy, and more than a bit of fun to poke around town.

Toyota’s Yaris has ‘city smart’ written all over it. In updated YRX trim, it comes with a bit more style and a few more goodies. Even better, in five-door hatch form, it offers surprising accessibility and interior space to complement its spirited around town driving.

These days, we’re spoiled for selection in dynamically-involving small cars. From Hyundai’s i30, to the Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Mitsubishi Colt and Toyota’s Yaris, each is an appealing daily commuter and more than capable on the occasional long-legged run.

Today, some of the most enticing new car releases are the tiddlers – and soon we’ll have even smaller and more exotic ones to choose from. You might not have given them a second glance a decade back, but now the better ones are quick, quiet, comfortable and surprisingly competent.

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This is where the Yaris fits into things. Breezy and fun at the wheel, it’s a sensible choice for younger drivers and city commuters looking for something that won’t drain the pocket and offers modern styling and buying-value.

It is also an ideal choice as a second car for young families. It will run all week on a snort of petrol and it makes far more sense as ‘the fambly’ run-about than the bloated 4WD lard-wagons that clog school gates and push and shove clumsily around shopping centre car parks.

(Listen, I’m talking to you: save on fuel bills, buy something sensible, and enjoy driving again.)

Sure, the Yaris is not without shortcomings, but there will be few Yaris drivers who will be unhappy with their choice of wheels. We put it through its paces for a week.

Funkified interior

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Since it appeared on the Echo, and now carried through to the Yaris, the most noticeable feature of the interior is the central instrument binnacle, and the bare dash in front of the driver. There are shades of the old Morris Minor in this design.

I’m not sure it’s a great idea, might be a case of form over function here, but with a little adjustment you get used to it soon enough. Sure, the clarity of the digital read-out helps as it is large and clear, and has a spooky depth to it.

The front pews, for a $22k car (as tested), are on the money – like, comfortable and supportive enough but you won’t be writing home to Mum about them. Back seat passengers come in for special treatment though as the backrests on the fold-flat, split-folding rear seat are adjustable for rake.

Overall, the interior is nicely trimmed in the well-kitted and up-spec YRX. It comes with tilt and telescopic steering column adjustment, leather-bound wheel (with audio controls), wireless power door locks, power windows, power mirrors, front passenger seat under-tray storage, six-disc in-dash CD changer (MP3 compatible), standard air-con, and ample cup holders setting off a well thought-out cabin.

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That said, there are two gripes that let things down: the aircraft-grade plastic door trims look a tad down-market and the ‘long-stalk’ gear selector also feels (and looks) a bit old fashioned… it’s not like the snappy units found in the Europeans, Jazz or Mazda2 for instance.

Returning to the ‘plus side’ of the ledger, attention to safety deserves some plaudits as the Yaris YRX comes with lap-sash seat belts for five and dual air-bags as standard. It can also be optioned with front-seat side airbags, full-length curtain-shield airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.

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Best of all, if considering the Yaris for family duties (and I’d recommend you do), the ingenious cabin with its Tardis-like interior space will swallow four adults comfortably - providing you’re not about to head across the Nullarbor - or two adults and former Treasurer Peter Costello’s three kids: “One for Mum, one for Dad, and one for the country.”

Sharp exterior style

It has been with us for a while now – the Yaris – but its lines still work well. The steeply curved bonnet is echoed in the forward sloping hip-line, rising to a pert ‘Peter Wabbit’ tail.

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With large ‘eyes’, nicely balanced nose and cheeky lines, there is something a bit pet-like about the Yaris in hatchback form. The sedan has had a bit of a personality bypass though.

The YRX badge adds a few nice touches to the exterior. It sits on 15-inch alloy rims that fill the arches nicely and the front spoiler, fog-lamps, side skirts, and roof rear spoiler add to the on-road presence.

Ours, in bright yellow, scored a thumbs-up from the hip daughters - “Pretty neat car hey?” (or words to that effect).


On the drive

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Front to back and door to door, at 3785mm x 1695mm, the Yaris’s footprint is little more than a (sizeable) kitchen table. With a car of these dimensions, and with a zesty 1.5 litre DOHC VVT-i engine under the toe, you can slot it with ease around tight streets, into narrow high-rise car-parks and in and out of holes in the traffic.

While we had the four-speed auto, the Yaris YRX hatch can also be mated to a five-speed manual.

Away from the lights, acceleration is brisk. The Yaris goes about things with a nice high-tech rising buzz up over 5000rpm. But ours, with only 800km on the dial was still a little tight - we were reluctant to ‘stretch’ it too unsympathetically.

engine

We found the automatic can be caught out a little sometimes - it can be slow to kick down if you’ve been tootling along in slower traffic. While you adapt to its operation, it would be better if you didn’t have to absolutely bury the shoe to get it to kick down. It is otherwise a smooth-shifting unit.

Agile around town, the Yaris also did ok on a longer drive up country while in our care. That blunt shape is evidently aerodynamically-efficient as there is little wind noise at highway speeds. There is also little tyre roar intruding into the cabin; it only becomes apparent over coarse metal or broken bitumen (which rumbles a bit). All up, NVH is commendably low.

On this kind of drive, the light steering is a little lifeless at the ‘dead ahead’, but works well, and with good feel, when cornering. It’s engineered, you’d have to suspect, more for the tight streets and car parks of a city life.

It has also got a frugal thirst - we averaged just under 8.0 l/100km on a tight motor, factory claims an average 6.7 l/100km combined cycle. Lastly, in keeping with its up-spec positioning, the Yaris YRX comes with the requisite acronyms: ABS anti-skid brakes, 14-inch brake package with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA).

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So, overall, for its good road manners, ergonomics and ‘live-ability’, the drive also gets a thumbs-up.

Conclusion

The Yaris makes a strong case, weakened a little by the price premium for the YRX. It will, of course, win sales not because it offers zippy handling and funky looks – though it is zippy and funky - and not because it offers terrific packaging with tardis-like space and accessibility, but because it comes with one of the best badges in the business.

But while the big ‘T’ is one of the most trusted brands on the planet, the Yaris succeeds for what it is – a dynamically capable, robustly engineered, zesty and well thought-out small city car.

That it’s also bright and breezy, and with an appealing ‘personality’, is a bonus. For younger drivers and for young families, the Yaris YRX is worth a very close look. And right now, you should be able to do a pretty good deal.

The Insider’s Big Statement

“The market shift in Australia to smaller more-efficient cars that has been apparent over the past five years, will accelerate over the next five. This is not just a function of fuel prices, it is also reflective of a powerful shift in buyer sentiment. There are two things at work here: one, demand from consumers for cars that are cheaper to run, easier to own, and better adapted to changing lifestyle preferences, and two, manufacturers are taking giant strides in improving small car dynamics, style and versatility. The Yaris is a prime example.”

The Insider likes:

  • Snappy, perky style
  • Surprising interior space and accessibility
  • Comfort and on-road dynamics
  • Zesty, free-spinning DOHC donk
  • Ease of parking, manoeuvrability
  • Frugal thirst (for regular unleaded)

The Insider doesn’t like:

  • Auto can be a little slow to change down
  • ‘Aircraft-grade’ plastic door trims
  • Steering ‘wooly’ at the dead-ahead
  • Though up-spec, the YRX is pricey
  • Not sure about the central instrument binnacle

Gallery

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Specifications

Engine 1.5 litre VVTi DOHC
Capacity 1497cc
Fuel System Electronic fuel injection
Power 80kW @ 6000rpm
Torque 141Nm @ 4200rpm
Performance Untimed (quick enough)
Transmission Four-speed automatic electronically controlled with lock-up torque converter (Five speed manual also available)
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front: Independent, MacPherson struts, lower L-arms, gas dampers, off-set coil springs and front anti-roll bar.

Rear: Semi-independent trailing torsion beam, coil springs and hydraulic damper units

Brakes Front: ventilated discs 258mm

Rear: drums

With ABS, EBD, and Brake Assist (BA)

Wheels and Tyres Alloys 5.5Jx15, 185/60 R15 84H
Kerb weight 1045-1070kg
Economy 6.7 l/100km (claimed combined cycle)
Price 3 door manual $19,890

3 door auto $21,490

5 door manual $21,090

5 door auto $22,690

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