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Test Drive Impressions

Test Drives with Colin Hefferon

Reviewed by Colin Hefferon

The Toyota Yaris
The Toyota Yaris.  Small and stylish.

The Toyota Yaris is a car that forces you to be honest with yourself. It's no luxury car and it's no boy racer. It's just a simple sub-compact. Now comes the honesty part: What do you really need in a car? I believe this is the car many Americans have been waiting for – it's stylish and functional yet it has great performance and it's easy on fuel. Price: TBA; warranty: 3/36,000.

First Glance:  "Vibrant clarity"

The 2007 Toyota Yaris is the first Toyota to arrive on these shores that uses Toyota's new Zen-like "Vibrant Clarity" design philosophy. "Vibrant" apparently refers to the design's innovative character while "Clarity" stresses its rationality. Or something like that. I'd call it edgy with a distinctly Italian flare (even though it's designed in France). Anyway, I think it's an absolutely gorgeous little car.

The Yaris has a forward-leaning stance like an athlete poised to compete. The impression created is of power with great balance. There's very little front overhang. With its extra wide stance, flowing shoulder line from front to rear and the integrated bumpers, it's extraordinarily well proportioned.

The most distinctive design feature of the 5-door (sold only in Canada; America gets 3-and 4-door versions) is the vaguely S-shaped doors, which catch the light in interesting ways. I was told engineering these doors posed a number of challenges and heated emails reportedly flew between Europe and Asia while things were getting sorted out.

This is the new design philosophy will infuse all of Toyota’s future offerings. God help those engineers!

In the Driver's Seat:  Small, sensible and safe

My sole complaint with the Yaris' predecessor was its inexplicable lack of power windows and remote key locks in Canadian-spec models. Thankfully this has been corrected in the 2007 model.

The radio has bad placement but the AC controls are great The ergonomics are now outstanding, with one exception: the sound system controls. I often had to take my eyes off the road to adjust the radio and there's no "zen" is crashing your car into a light pole. On the other hand, the HVAC controls, which are stacked vertically in the center console (to save space), are adjusted easily via huge rotary dials. No fiddling (or second glances) required.

Just because the car is small doesn't mean the doors are. Access via both the wide front doors and surprisingly large rear doors is very easy. The seats provide ample space even for the really tall folk among us. About the only ones who might find the front seats a bit tight are people like my friend Chuck who, though not much over 6' tall is, as they say, all legs.

The Yaris also proves that all you folks who think the only safe car is a big car are wrong. It received a prestigious Euro NCAP 4-star rating for both occupant and pedestrian safety. It has all manner of air bags and even whiplash impact lessening seats.

On the Road:  A great all-rounder

I managed put over 300 miles on the front-wheel-drive Yaris during the seven days I drove it in and around Toronto. It was mid-December and the weather was foul even by Toronto standards. I had to drive all manner of road conditions, mostly horrid. During both short hops and longer trips, the Yaris' road manners were exemplary and its handling nothing short of remarkable.

The Yaris is built on a new platform that produces quite a good ride. Speed sensing electric power steering works with the new suspension to produce truly remarkable turning and straight-line stability.

Power comes via an 1.5L, 4-cylinder engine producing 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. If you don't know what that means, don't worry. It's enough power for most situations.

Driving at expressway speeds (75mph) in fierce crosswinds posed no problems for this little beauty. Very little road, engine or even wind noise intruded at those speeds even with the heavy crosswinds.

I recorded 32mpg – not bad given the low temperatures, bad roads and the preponderance of city driving, but not all that great either.

Journey's End:  Subcompacts aren't as small as you think

I invite all you folks who remain unconvinced that any sub-compact can satisfy your space requirements to take a long, careful look at the Yaris. This one is a lot bigger inside than it looks.

That little hatch holds more than you think There is a large storage space behind the rear seats and the rear seatbacks can be folded down to accommodate large or awkward objects. My friend’s wheelchair fit easily back there.

The flat cabin floor means three people can ride in the rear seats in reasonable comfort provided none are too broad of beam. And when they’re back there, they’ll have a great view of what’s going on outside. Tall doesn’t matter. I’m close to 6 ft and I had at least 4 extra inches of headroom.

By the time I returned the car to Toyota at the end of the test week, I had made up my mind that this is the car I will buy for myself if – God forbid – I should ever lose this gig and actually have to put down my own money on a set of wheels.

The Yaris is everything I need or want in a car. It’s attractive and it’s compact enough to tuck into almost any space. Yet it’s roomy enough for four full size adults plus their overnight bags and a weekend’s worth of groceries. It’s cheap to buy and economical to operate. And because it’s a Toyota, it’ll run forever.

Top photo © Toyota.  Additional photos © Colin Hefferon

Vancouver-based Colin Hefferon regularly tests and reviews new vehicles. Though an automotive enthusiast by nature, Colin takes the perspective of the average car owner. Which, after all, is most of us! Colin Hefferon is the road test editor for About Cars where more of his car reviews may be found.

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