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PERFORMANCE | 6 out of 10
“There’s no slop in the Yaris’ handling”
“Performance is about what you’d expect”
Car and Driver
“Spry enough for commuter duty.”
“has enough snort to handle everything short of leading a police chase”
Though the little 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the 2008 Toyota Yaris Liftback makes only 106 horsepower, the little Liftback weighs less than 2,300 pounds, so in several cases, the powertrain was perkier than expected.
MSN Autos also has good words for the Yaris’ acceleration, deeming its passing ability as “brisk” and “fairly quick,” as well as adding that the engine, although loud during acceleration, is “a relaxed, quiet highway cruiser.”
“We sampled both powertrains, and found the manual gave the Yaris a peppy, sporty feel,” says Edmunds, also complimenting the engine for being “smooth and vibration-free, even at high rpm.” Consumer Guide reports that the automatic works fine around town, “but feels overmatched in fast-moving traffic and hilly terrain.”
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.”
Autobytel says that “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,” but Car and Driver has a decidedly lukewarm assessment: “Performance is about what you’d expect from a 106-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine—not great, but not dreadful, either.”
Reviewers’ comments regarding how the Yaris handles are all over the place. Car and Driver says that the Yaris’s 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, saying, “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 says that grip in turns was limited by the narrow tires. ConsumerGuide also notes the Yaris isn’t so stable in bumpy corners and is “prone to wander in gusty crosswinds.” Autobytel has a similar complaint, reporting that the steering “feels a touch floaty at higher speeds.” Yet Autoblog seems to observe otherwise: “Crosswinds and passing semis likewise leave the Yaris unperturbed.” Autobytel clarifies why the Yaris isn’t as much fun to drive as some other small cars, saying, “The suspension is on the soft side and the front end plows when pushed hard into corners.” A comment from MSN Autos perhaps best clues the smart review reader in on how the Yaris really is: “Handling is OK if the car isn't pushed hard.”
Reviewers report fuel economy figures that run the gamut from mid 20s up to the upper 30s, seemingly all reporting enthusiastic driving. 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, “which no doubt reflected a staff of heavy-footed editors.”
None of the reviewers are dissatisfied with braking on the little Yaris. Edmunds reports “reassuring braking power,” and ConsumerGuide echoes, “drama-free stopping, but be sure to get the optional ABS.”
Where reviewers really differ is on the question of whether the Yaris is fun to drive. Several reviews mention the word "tossable" in a positive sense, especially regarding the handling, but Autobytel differs. “At the end of the day the Yaris is a repackaged subcompact commuter car serving as A to B transportation and swilling as little fuel as possible,” the reviewer bluntly summarizes. “Fun is absent from the equation.”
After taking several different test drives of the Yaris Liftback, TheCarConnection.com’s editors can say they understand why the Yaris is perceived as fun to drive by some reviewers and an unexciting appliance by others. On tight, congested city streets at relatively low speeds, the Yaris Liftback feels peppy and nimble; yet in high-speed sweeping corners and interstate cruising, the Yaris feels out of its element.
The 2008 Toyota Yaris is a perky—and very frugal—little city car, but if highway poise is a priority, look elsewhere.