By Tim Healey
Toyota's Yaris sometimes gets lost in the small-car shuffle, losing press to the Honda Fit, the Nissan Versa, and Toyota's own (admittedly larger) Corolla. The little subcompact quietly soldiers on with minimal changes for 2010.
The biggest news is the addition of standard traction control and a standard antiskid system. Otherwise, there aren't any major changes in store.
Available as either a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, the Yaris now comes in a single Base trim level-the S version has been dropped. An available Sport package offers a lot of the features that were part of the S version. The front-wheel drive Yaris is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 106 horsepower and mates to a 4-speed automatic transmission.
My tester was a five-door hatch, with standard features such as the aforementioned traction control and antiskid system, ABS, 14-inch wheels, air conditioning, and a luggage cover. Base price: $13,305.
Options included the All-Weather Guard Package (larger windshield-washer fluid tank, heavy-duty heater and starter, rear heater duct, and daytime running lights, $110), cruise control ($250), remote keyless entry ($230), the Power Package (power door locks, power windows, power outside mirrors, a 60/40 split rear seat that also reclines, slides, and folds flat, AM/FM radio with CD player, MP3 capability, an auxiliary jack, satellite radio capability, CD text display, a rear window wiper, a rear window defroster, 15-inch alloy wheels, and engine immobilizer ($1,970), and carpeted floor mats with a cargo mat ($150), and a security system ($359). With the $720 destination fee, the as-tested price checked in at $17,094.
Subcompacts like the Yaris aren't known for their blazing speed, but the Yaris gets out of its own way well enough in around-town driving. There isn't much power in reserve, but it handles the stoplight-to-stoplight battles with aplomb.
Handling is typical for a short-wheelbase hatchback-there is some nimbleness to the Yaris, thanks to its small footprint. Steering feel is generally better than one would expect, but there is a little too much play on-center. At least the steering has an appropriately heavy weight to it.
The ride is on the stiff side, but it's not terribly punishing. Crosswinds can push the hatchback around a little bit.
The interior feels a bit cheap compared to other cars in the class, thanks to an abundance of plastic, but it does offer some decent storage options, and there is enough legroom up front for six-foot tall drivers. The center-mounted speedometer is an odd choice, since it requires a glance away from the roadway to read. Engine noise and all sorts of mechanical buzzes can be heard while underway. Quiet, the Yaris is not.
The rear cargo area isn't extraordinarily roomy, but it's still useful, especially with the rear seats folded down.
Fuel economy is rated at 29 mpg city and 35 mpg highway-numbers that will no doubt make the Yaris an attractive choice to high-mileage minded buyers.
Properly optioned, the Yaris could be a good value-at $17K, it treads a bit too close to the larger Corolla. It's not as sporty as the Honda Fit or as all-around (ahem) versatile as the Nissan Versa. But it's plenty competent on its own merits, and it holds strong appeal for urbanites who value a small footprint and high mileage. If Toyota can add some higher-quality materials and lower the sticker price a bit, the Yaris might get more buzz in this class.