- Excellent fuel economy
- Attractively styled Liftbacks
- Safety features
- Gimmicky centrally mounted gauges
- Doesn't handle especially well
- Flat, small front seats
The 2011 Toyota Yaris is a great city car for cost-conscious commuters, though those who expect a top-notch list of connectivity features will be disappointed.
The Yaris is now one of the oldest designs in the small-car market, and while in Liftback form especially it still manages to look quite stylish on city streets, its interior comfort and feature sets are decidedly behind the curve among small cars.
The two body styles of this model clearly cater to two different classes. While the sedan is slightly more conservative in its trims and interior treatment—and looking the most dated at this point, the three- and five-door Liftback models are more flamboyant, with a more pert, aerodynamic look; European design influences; and a rear roof spoiler atop the hatch. In short, we think the Yaris sedan is trying a little too hard to appear as a mini-Camry. Inside, the Yaris has a very unconventional look, with a center-mounted gauge cluster and Liftback models offering large storage areas behind a slim center stack of controls. 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.
While the 106-horsepower output from the sole 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the Yaris might seem low, it turns out to be perfectly adequate for all but a full load in this lightweight (2,300 pounds, or a bit more) small car. The engine works quite well with the five-speed manual gearbox, which has a light, easy clutch and decent linkage, or with the four-speed automatic, though it's a bit louder with the automatic. With the manual especially, the Yaris can be quite enjoyable to drive at low city speeds, but it's simply not as frisky as a MINI Cooper or Honda Fit, because of a suspension that's clearly tuned for ride, not handling. While the steering is nicely weighted, the Yaris leans and feels overwhelmed on tight, curvy roads.
Depending on your size and shape, and type of driving, you might find the 2011 Toyota Yaris comfortable enough, or bordering on tortuous. The Yaris has exceptionally short front-seat cushions, which gives little support for taller occupants, and there's little or no side support for curvy roads. That said, there's enough headroom and legroom in front, while in back two average-height adults should just be able to fit—with splayed legs, perhaps. The Yaris Liftback models ride on a very short, 96.9-inch wheelbase and are among the shortest new vehicles; at about 150 inches long, it can get pitchy or bouncy on certain types of roads. It's ideal as a commuter that can fit into the tightest parking spots, yet handle longer trips when the need arises.
Getting more intimate with the Yaris, you'll notice an interior that's obviously been affected by cost-cutting. While the instrument panel looks quite good from a few paces away, it's actually made of hard, easily scratched plastics, and the central gauge cluster is a novelty that few will find more intuitive or helpful. 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. The sedan looks like it might be roomier for back-seat occupants, but it's really not; it does, however, have a surprisingly spacious trunk.
Many automakers have been trying to get away from the old 'economy car' image, by equipping their smallest cars with some of the conveniences of larger vehicles. But the 2011 Toyota Yaris isn't one of them; it can't be equipped with leather seats, or even heated ones, and there's no factory Bluetooth connectivity (it's a port-installed add-on). The Yaris is a simple car with a simple lineup—and a single model offered for each body style and transmission. Thus, there isn't much to report with regard to high-tech options or extravagant features, although iPod connectivity, XM satellite radio, cruise control, and various appearance upgrades are among the options.