Gas prices are up, and so is America’s interest in small, fuel efficient cars. And while there are a number of new subcompacts arriving, one fresh effort of special interest is the 2007 Toyota Yaris. Now the Yaris replaces the uninspired Echo, and promises to not only be economical, but spacious and refined. Add in Toyota’s quality reputation and Yaris sounds like a complete package. So let’s see how complete it really is.
Over the years, Toyota has built more than its share of small cars. And that experience is reflected in the design of the all-new 2007 Yaris. And while American subcompact car buyers might have some trouble wrapping their tongues around such a very foreign name, the rest of the package will push most of the right buttons. Starting with the short overhang styling. Whether you choose the 4-door sedan or the 3-door liftback, you get a look that is in with all the latest upright small cars, young and racy, but still with just the right amount of cute. And a choice of 13 exterior colors, so buyers can’t use the old “they don’t make it in my color” excuse.
Both versions of the Yaris ride on wheelbases that are on the long end of the subcompact class; the sedan measuring 100.4-inches, the liftback a shorter 96.9-inches. Both are only a little over 66-inches wide, the same as Honda’s diminutive Fit, but narrower than newer compacts like the Civic and the Mazda3.
Despite exterior size, careful packaging allows Yaris to deliver impressive amounts of interior space, and a general dash layout that will be familiar to owners of the Yaris’ predecessor, the Echo. We’ve never really warmed to the center mounted gauge cluster since it takes your eyes off the road for too long, but the analog dials are large and clear.
Seating is basic, cloth and manual adjustments only. Back support is adequate, though our taller staff found thigh support wanting. Standard features include a tilt steering wheel and air conditioning. In the sedan climate controls are a triangular cluster, while the liftback presents them in a vertical stack. Operation is obvious but without some of the quality feel that we are used to in larger Toyotas.
Since so many buyers prefer to install their own audio systems, there is no standard stereo in the base sedan and liftback. A CD-stereo with auxiliary jack for your iPod is optional on base cars and standard with S-grade trim.
To keep prices low, curtain airbags are optional too, not standard as in the more expensive Honda Fit. Yaris has plenty of standard small item storage space and cupholders for both front and rear seats. A useful 60/40 split folding rear seat back is optional on the base 4-door and included with the S-trim, which provides a nice boost to the 4-door’s already respectable 12.9 cubic-foot trunk.
To boost this basic transportation down the road, Toyota equipped it with a not so basic powerplant. Also used in the Scion xA and xB, it’s a 1.5-liter twin-cam 16-valve 4. Output is 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque with Toyota’s Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence. Transmission choices are a standard 5-speed manual or our test car’s optional 4-speed automatic.
Of course with only 106 horses, it’s no surprise that the Yaris manages 0-60 in 9.5 seconds, and finishes the quarter mile in a leisurely 17.4 seconds at 80 miles-per-hour. But the 1.5 is very smooth for a small 4-banger. It spins up quickly, delivering what power it does have in a nice even flow.
But the Yaris makes up for its lack of speed with fuel efficiency. Our automatic transmission equipped sedan is rated 34 miles-per-gallon city and 39 highway. Mixed driving delivered an excellent 36 mile-per-gallon average.
The Yaris may not be a rocket on the straightaway, but it’s actually quite competent in the curves. The suspension is soft, but responds quickly to inputs from steering that provides better than average feel. Push it too hard, however, and the rear end does feel a bit loose. But it still delivers top notch grip for an entry-level car.
It stops pretty well, too. Braking runs averaged a straight and stable 125 feet, thanks to our car’s combination of standard front discs and rear drums, plus optional ABS.
Prices for this very competent little car start at only $11,530 for the Yaris 3-door liftback. The Yaris 4-door sedan has a base price of $12,405, while our S-grade test car starts at $13,905. Prices are less than Japanese-branded rivals and closer to Korean efforts like Kia’s Rio and the Chevrolet Aveo.
In the end, the 2007 Yaris delivers everything that Toyota promises. It’s economical, but also spacious, comfortable, and mostly refined. Only its European-style instrument panel seems out of touch with American tastes. But in a time of unstable gas prices that’s not much of an objection to the kind of competent, small car that is just what we need.
Engine: 1.5-Liter Twin-cam 16-valve 4
Torque: 103 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.4 Seconds @ 80 MPH
60-0 MPH: 125 Feet
EPA: 34 MPG City/ 39 MPG Highway
Mixed Loop: 36 MPG