The cars we loved.
Small cars today arguable have more personality than they did just 10 or 20 years ago. Today a wild variety of sub-compacts exist that range from performance oriented to the expected economy car, but with higher reliability, fuel economy and performance. For Toyota’s entry-level Yaris, it leans strongly towards the economy car in the full sense of the word. The Yaris anchors the lowest range of cars sold by Toyota in America, a slot once held by the Echo and the Tercel before it. In that respect, it is the closest of any Toyota in the US range that pays homage to the company’s humble roots as a peddler of small basic cars. Now, just entering its third generation, the Yaris has stayed under the radar by Toyota sales standards. Each year the smallest car from everyone seems to have grown. For Honda, the Civic had become so large that the Fit was introduced to fill the void it left by the upwardly aspiring Civic. The Yaris has remained small since its inception, leaving the bigger car needs to the Corolla.
Toyota has also been a bit more consistent with refinement to its small cars, until now. Toyota no longer leads the field as it once did in the smallest car category. Consumer Reports, seemingly quick to recommend any Toyota, passed on the Yaris in favor of The Honda Fit and Suzuki SX4 as recommended choices. In Fact, the Yaris has ranked at the bottom of Toyota’s own quality rankings since its inception in 2006. Though its fair to note that the bottom of Toyota’s quality rankings would be beyond the top of Nissan, Chrysler or Land Rovers. The sales of the Yaris trail those of the Nissan Versa, Honda Fit and Chevrolet Aveo for many of the same reasons the automotive press views the Yaris as an appliance: it’s dull looking. Much better looking than the car it replaced (the Echo),the Yaris was an attempt to make a more mainstream looking small car. By 2005 the second generation of the revised Yaris came in cute faced two-door hatchback and a somewhat more Corolla-like four-door sedan.
Unexpected Quality Issues
It would seem that Toyota has left its traditional mainstream line of small cars out to dry, while it has lavished all of its design moxy on the Scion and Lexus brands in the US. Mainstream might be a relative term, as the Japanese styled Yaris looks like more fun on the outside than it is in. The front is cute, as if styled by Pichu and intended for young mostly female drivers. The inside looks surprisingly uninspiring with its all grey plastic interior bits. Grey is by the way the only interior color available. Like the Saturn Ion, the driver shares the instrument panel with the passengers in the center stack. A 2005 second generation revision would improve the layout, but a more conventional arrangement would not come until the arrival of the 2012 model. The sub-compact car landscape has received quite a bit of attention lately as manufacturers have sought to make their least expensive cars more expressive. The attention to detail seems to have passed up the Yaris. Reports of uneven seams of interior panels have surprised more than a few media outlets. Even buyers of small cars are learning to expect better fit and finish, but such sub par quality from a Toyota was unheard of. True to its entry-level mission, the Yaris came with a simple array of body configurations (3 or 5 door) and trim levels(3) to make ordering simple.
Low Key Performer on the Street and in the Showroom
Very few options beyond cruise control are available from the factory, leading to dealer installed gimmicks like stripes to increase the otherwise slim profit margins. As to be expected the Yaris is no pocket rocket. What should have been a light car gains bloat with the addition of airbags and selective sound insulation. Power comes from a 106 hp 1.5 litre four-cylinder with DOHC and Toyota’s variable valve technology called VVT. The four speed automatic transmission is a nice option, but in a car with this little power, the standard five speed manual is a must for the driver who wants to make the most of the available power. It’s unlikely that the buyer interested in performance would opt for the Yaris anyway, considering that better performing cars like the Fiesta look more exciting (inside and out) and cost less. Power may seem sufficient on paper, but the Yaris struggles to reach 60 mph from a stop at 10.9 seconds. By comparison, 20 years ago a Suzuki Swift GT, a similar “performance” sized car with 6 less horsepower could do 0 to 60 in 9.8 seconds. Although the lack of an airbag gave the Suzuki a slight weight advantage, it could still outperform the Yaris on any twisty road course. This is due mostly to the Yaris having a simple torsion beam rear suspension.
A more recent competitor, the Ford Fiesta has a similar setup and can get to 60 mph almost a second quicker at 10 seconds and handles better according to Motor Trend and Car and Driver. Where the Swift GT’s shorter wheelbase contributed to a choppy ride, the Yaris has a more stable ride due to being slightly wider and having more space between the axles. The general ideal of pushing the front and rear axles further apart seems to be a standard practice in today’s small cars. Also trending is the tendency to make up for lateral space with tall airy greenhouses with plenty of glass. For basic transportation and high fuel efficiency (38 mpg) without the complexity of being electric, the Yaris might have been the top choice amongst sub-compacts had it been available ten years ago. Today the small car landscape has changes so much with that it seems to have caught Toyota by surprise. While the company was busy pioneering high end hybrids like the Prius, conventional gasoline sub compacts were making advances under its nose, leaving it at a disadvantage when cash strapped potential buyers were shopping the low end of the market.
New Look and Limited Configuration
Names like Kia, Hyundai and Suzuki, once the makers of second-rate sub-compacts, now dominate the market due to compelling designs and high value. Cute marketing web campaigns for the Yaris won’t be enough to change things in Toyota’s favor, the Yaris needed an infusion of Scion DNA . That’s just what the 2012 models got with a look that mimics Nissan’s popular selling Versa. Available only as a four door hatch, the new look might appeal to more buyers. The Pichu like front end retains some of the playful charm of the 2011 model, but Toyota is hoping to attract buyers who are not the primary audience for Japanese animation this time around.