2009 Toyota Yaris Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
December 14, 2008

The 2009 Toyota Yaris is a recession darling, with cheap running costs, a low price, and a reputation for dependability.

In compiling this review that covers the Toyota Yaris Liftback, the experts at TheCarConnection.com have found some of the best reviews on the 2009 Toyota Yaris, then added more information on the Yaris, based on TheCarConnection.com’s firsthand experience, to help make the results more useful.

In 2007, the Yaris replaced the Echo in Toyota's lineup as its least expensive new vehicle. Three Yaris body styles are available for 2009: a three-door Liftback, a five-door Liftback, and a four-door sedan.

The 2009 Toyota Yaris Liftback model rides on a very short, 96.9-inch wheelbase and is one of the shortest new vehicles, at about 150 inches long. It's ideal as a commuter that can fit into the tightest parking spots, yet handle longer trips when the need arises. The sedan is nearly two feet longer and has three more inches of wheelbase length, translating to more backseat space and better stability on the highway. For both versions, while the Yaris maneuvers well, its suspension is somewhat soft.

Standard under the hood of both vehicles is a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 106 horsepower—adequate for a small, light (less than 2,300 pounds) car of this type. Buyers can choose either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic on the 2009 Toyota Yaris; the engine works quite well with both, though it's a bit louder with the automatic. Fuel economy is very good, at 29 mpg city, 36 mpg highway with the manual. All models come standard with 14-inch wheels and air conditioning.

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The interior is a contrast of elements good and bad, desirable and tacky, as Toyota obviously is trying to make a fashionable cabin while watching its price very carefully. The instrument panel itself in the 2009 Toyota Yaris has an attractive, almost gimmicky design, with the speedometer in the middle of the dash and a tall center stack of controls down the middle, but on closer inspection, it's made of hard, easily scratched plastics. Hatchback models don’t get a standard tachometer either. Front seats are rather small and skimpy, while the backseat on the Liftback is tough to get into but decent for space; kids should be just fine back there. Base Liftback models are very spare, with manual winding windows.

Ride quality in the Yaris sedan is a bright spot. Although the Yaris Liftback’s ride can be somewhat choppy, the added length of the sedan gives it more of a stable, planted feel on the road. Combined with rather soft suspension tuning, it rides smoothly and quietly, with less road noise than many other small cars.

The 2009 Yaris Liftback Sport model is a new addition to the lineup. The Yaris Liftback Sport gets body-color bumpers and side rocker panels; in addition, it picks up sport seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter knob, 15-inch wheels, a rear defroster, a rear wiper, and an audio system with MP3 capability and an auxiliary jack.

The Yaris is one of the lowest-priced new cars for sale in the U.S. market. Toyota prices the five-speed manual Liftback from less than $13,000 including destination.

The Yaris is one of the worst-performing cars in the federal government's safety tests, with only three stars for side-impact safety, and the IIHS rates the Yaris as "marginal" for rear impact. Major safety features such as anti-lock brakes and side impact airbags are now standard, but electronic stability control is not offered on the 2009 Toyota Yaris.

7

2009 Toyota Yaris

Styling

The 2009 Toyota Yaris proves that small economy cars don't have to look dull, even if the more daring styling stirs controversy in some areas.

The 2009 Toyota Yaris is Toyota's smallest, least expensive model. Research by TheCarConnection.com finds its styling to be much better received than that of its predecessor, the Echo. For 2009, a five-door Liftback joins the three-door Liftback and four-door sedan in the model line.

Autobytel says, "Overall, the styling is a bit quirky, with the grille and headlights almost creating the automotive equivalent of a grin, but it helps distinguish the Yaris and imparts some personality." Automobile Magazine reports, "The two-door hatch's funky styling was born in Toyota's European design studio," adding that, compared to the Echo that the Yaris replaced for 2007, the Liftback and sedan "no longer look like automotive design don'ts." Road & Track notes that the four-door Yaris sedan "looks like the little brother of the Corolla."

Much attention has been paid to Toyota's departure from the usual conservative styling of its smallest cars; Autoblog thinks "the design is deliberately weird enough" to be sold under Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand instead. "Indeed," continues the Autoblog reviewer, "Toyota's supposedly hipper sub-brand offers the xD, a five-door on the same architecture as the three and four-door Yaris models."

A more sport-oriented "S" model adds sport seats, larger wheels, a mild body kit, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Autobytel reports, "Outside, the S body kit and 15-inch wheels worked wonders on our tester, at least implying some sport if not actually delivering it." However, Road & Track points out that "Yaris owners can up the ante with TRD accessories including suspension modifications, sport exhaust and 18-in. alloy wheels."

The interior design is a bit more controversial; the layout "lends the Yaris a bigger feel inside," says Autoblog, but Autobytel gripes, "A center-mounted gauge cluster is nothing new, and neither are our complaints about it." Automobile Magazine has a particularly negative view, stating, "Toyota insists that drivers eventually get used to the unconventional location—yeah, and convicts eventually get used to cell block D." But Road & Track sees more humor in the center-mounted gauges, quipping, "Now everybody in the car can see how fast you're going, or how much fuel you have left."

6

2009 Toyota Yaris

Performance

The 2009 Toyota Yaris does best in the city, where it sips fuel, is easy to park, and has enough pep to quickly get from one light to the next.

The 2009 Toyota Yaris offers just one engine, a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 106 horsepower. That's not much, but considering the Yaris only weighs about 2,300 pounds, the power-to-weight ratio isn't bad.

Car and Driver reports, "Performance is about what you'd expect from a 106-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine—not great, but not dreadful, either." MSN Autos calls the Yaris' passing ability "brisk" and "fairly quick," adding that the engine, although loud during acceleration, is "a relaxed, quiet highway cruiser." And Autobytel says "once its driver gets used to where the meat of the motor is and learns how best to extract the power, this littlest of Toyotas offers acceptable gusto."

Nearly all reviewers prefer the standard five-speed manual to the optional four-speed automatic transmission, although many note the engine's narrow power band. "The manual shifts nicely, but the engine calls for lots of shifting to get the best performance," says MSN Autos, who add that the automatic, though not as fast, "allows good performance." Edmunds finds the manual gives the 2009 Toyota Yaris "a peppy, sporty feel," and compliments the engine for being "smooth and vibration-free, even at high rpm." ConsumerGuide reports that the automatic works fine around town, "but feels overmatched in fast-moving traffic and hilly terrain."

Where handling is concerned, opinions vary widely (and wildly). Car and Driver says the Yaris' handling is "estimable for a car of this class, particularly the feel and response of the steering, which is electrically assisted to just the right degree." Edmunds also likes the feel of the steering, commenting, "Unlike some other systems of this kind, the Yaris' has a natural, crisp feel with even weighting." ConsumerGuide echoes the compliments about steering feel, but warns that grip in turns is limited by the narrow tires. MSN Autos concurs: "Handling is OK if the car isn't pushed hard."

ConsumerGuide also notes the Yaris isn't so stable in bumpy corners and is "prone to wander in gusty crosswinds." Autobytel lodges a similar complaint, reporting that the steering "feels a touch floaty at higher speeds," and adds that "the suspension is on the soft side and the front end plows when pushed hard into corners." Yet Autoblog observes, "Crosswinds and passing semis likewise leave the Yaris unperturbed."

Reviewers approve of the braking power of the 2008 Toyota Yaris. Edmunds cites "reassuring braking power," and ConsumerGuide points out "drama-free stopping, but be sure to get the optional ABS."

Autoblog says that "with less than gentle mixed driving, the Yaris will cheerily deliver 36 mpg, besting its EPA estimate," while Autobytel reports overall gas mileage of only 27.5 mpg, but acknowledges "a staff of heavy-footed editors."

5

2009 Toyota Yaris

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Toyota Yaris has more interior space than one might expect from such a small, affordable car, but the quality inside doesn't transcend the price.

The 2009 Toyota Yaris boasts more interior space and comfort than other cars its size, but the materials used are perceived as cheap by more than one reviewer.

Despite the fact that the sedan is 169.3 inches long, compared to the 150.6 inches shared by both the three- and five-door Liftback models, the Liftback models still have more interior space. "The interior is very cleverly thought out, with a lot more space and storage than expected, and on-target ergonomics," assesses Autoblog, while Car and Driver reports space in the Toyota Yaris Liftback's backseat is sufficient, and "the hatchback has a clever back seat that slides forward for more cargo space and also has reclining seatbacks." That goes for both three- and five-door Liftback models.

ConsumerGuide is more critical of the driving position, saying, "Long-legged drivers may want more rearward seat travel," and adding that some testers found the steering wheel too distant and pedals too close. An MSN Autos reviewer has trouble tilting the steering wheel high enough to clear his legs.

In terms of both aesthetics and functionality, reviewers don't like the center-mounted instrument cluster. ConsumerGuide reports that the gauges aren't canted toward the driver, and "testers find its location diverts attention from road." MSN Autos agrees.

Fit and finish are also areas where the 2009 Toyota Yaris falls flat in the eyes of several reviewers. Autobytel points to a "hard as cardboard" headliner and "hard plastic on the door sills and armrests, hard plastic on the lower dash upon which the unfortunate knee will occasionally brush, and the stiff seats that feel more like one big piece of rigid foam rather than traditional, somewhat soft cushions." They also note the "flimsy movement" of the climate controls. Autoblog criticizes easily scuffed hard plastic, surfaces that don't quite match, and storage compartment lids that feel vulnerable.

Autobytel finds "more issues than one expects from this brand," such as irregular gaps along body panels and cup holder covers that wouldn't sit flush, but the review praises the minimum of wind noise and lack of squeaks and rattles. However, ConsumerGuide reports, "Some wind rush is evident from the base of the windshield. Engine noise intrudes at all times, and road noise is prominent at highway speeds."

5

2009 Toyota Yaris

Safety

The 2009 Toyota Yaris has been significantly upgraded in terms of standard safety equipment, but TheCarConnection.com notes that it still trails other cars in its class.

The 2009 Toyota Yaris takes a significant step forward for 2009, with ABS and six airbags (dual front, side, and curtain) becoming standard features. Stability control, however, is not offered.

Not all of the crash-test data is in yet for the 2009 Toyota Yaris. NHTSA's Web site shows it scoring four out of five stars in frontal impact tests, but no rating is given for side impact, presumably because the six airbags—optional last year—now included as standard equipment could affect the outcome. NHTSA also awards the Yaris four stars for rollover resistance, according to Edmunds.

Previous Toyota Yaris models scored unimpressive safety ratings, achieving only three-star ratings—the lowest mark typically awarded—for side impact, along with four- and five-star ratings for frontal impact. With the side airbags, the IIHS rates the Yaris "good" for side impact but "poor" without.

5

2009 Toyota Yaris

Features

The 2009 Toyota Yaris offers some nice features, especially in "S" trim, for a subcompact starting at around $16,000. However, others in the segment offer more for the same money.

The 2009 Toyota Yaris can be had in two trim levels: the base model and the "S" version. Both trim levels are available on all three body styles. Also, air conditioning is standard across the model line.

Autoblog points to driver and passenger cup holders that "cleverly fold out of the dashboard," also noting "storage cubbies on either side of the center stack, as well as two covered bins in the top of the dashboard and a conventional glovebox on the passenger side." Speaking of cup holders, the Yaris S has four of them, one of which is in the fold-down rear center armrest. However, not everyone approves of the dash-mounted ones placed directly in front of the air vents, including Autobytel, which observes, "Not only are they awkwardly placed, but they make it hard to keep the morning coffee hot while blasting the a/c on a 100-degree day, or keeping a soft drink cool while warming the interior or a frigid winter's morn."

Road & Track notes that upgrading to the "S" trim level adds "redesigned body kit, unique sport upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Yaris owners can up the ante with Toyota Racing Development accessories including suspension modifications, sport exhaust and 18-in. alloy wheels." AM/FM/CD audio also comes with the "S" trim, according to Car and Driver.

Of course, all of these add to the sticker price, moving Autobytel to remark that the bargain base price is "a distant memory if you check every box on the order sheet." ConsumerGuide agrees, pointing out that with some options, the prices "climb to the level of larger, more powerful cars that come with safety and convenience features that cost extra on the Yaris."

Cars.com observes that some options are included as standard on the "S" version, such as "rear defroster, rear window wipers on hatchback, fog lamps, CD player with auxiliary jack, and 60/40 folding rear seat." Other options include power mirrors, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and power windows/locks.

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Styling 7.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 5.0
Safety 5.0
Features 5.0
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