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USA Today – Yaris Pleasant Enough to Drive

Jim Healey of USA Today reaches similar conclusions as VehicleVoice ( and AutoPacific ( relative to the upcoming Toyota Yaris. Excellent replacement for the Toyota Echo, low entry price, but seems a little expensive when loaded with equipment most American drivers demand.
ATLANTA — Yaris is a small, economy car that will replace the unloved Echo in Toyota’s U.S. lineup this spring, and while it is pleasant enough behind the wheel, Yaris seems to fall short of Toyota’s promise of a premium vehicle at a bargain price.
Two body styles of Toyota’s Yaris are offered in the USA, a four-door sedan and a “liftback.”
Final judgment must wait for specific pricing, which Toyota won’t announce until closer to Yaris’ March or April on-sale date. But $12,000 to start is a fair guess, and for that price you won’t get a radio, possibly not a tachometer, definitely not anti-lock brakes. (Photos/audio: Toyota Yaris with Healey’s comments)
Most of the desirable features are available, for a price. If that strategy bumps Yaris up to, say, $14,000 outfitted as most Americans like, then it will be within a few hundred dollars of bigger, more refined cars such as Honda Civic and Toyota’s own Corolla. Not incidentally, Corolla’s fuel-economy rating is better than Yaris’, and Civic’s is nearly as good, even though both are bigger, heavier and have more-powerful engines.
The industry axiom is “small cars, small profits,” and it’s often true. So why bother introducing a subcompact into the size- and space- and power-loving American market? Because 45% of small-car owners — the most of any segment — eventually trade up to pricier, more-profitable models known as premium compacts, such as Civic and Corolla, according to the Power Information Network. And within that group, a significant number — 30%-plus is common — stay with the same brand, PIN data show.
In other words, buyers captured by small cars don’t require as much expensive persuading to get them to move up through the same car company’s more-profitable models.
Hoping to leverage Yaris’ appeal, Toyota says it put two separate engineering teams to work on two versions of Yaris — a four-door sedan and a two-door hatchback — and kept them apart to encourage independent design.
Toyota calls the hatchback a “liftback,” sensing that “hatchback” remains a pejorative term in the U.S. market.
The sedan is the bigger car, outside and in. The rear seat in the hatchback slides fore-aft to maximize either legroom or cargo space. With the rear seat all the way back, there is plenty of adult legroom. That’s remarkable in such a small vehicle.
The main test vehicle was a two-door hatchback equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.

Impressions from zipping around this burgeoning metropolis and environs:
• Steering. Good. It’s Toyota’s new electric system that saves fuel because the engine doesn’t have to turn a belt that drives a hydraulic power-steering pump. It’s hard to get an electric setup tuned just right; too darty or uneven. But Yaris’ seems on target. On-center feel was good. The car stayed pointed straight ahead without the fussy little steering wheel motions required by some machines. And turning feel was smooth and responsive.
• Shifting. The manual gearbox operated smoothly with little of the rubberiness associated with inexpensive cars. The light-touch clutch made start-stop traffic pretty easy.
• Handling. Crisp enough in corners to be interesting and entertaining. But your Mini-driving friends won’t be jealous.
• Comfort. Adequate, especially by the low standards of economy cars. Seats feel good, not always a given in low-price cars. Relationship among steering wheel, pedals and controls is about right, not a given even in expensive cars.
• Quirks. The gauges aren’t all illuminated with the same color. Some gauges are digital readouts while others are conventional analog designs. Seems a visually messy hodgepodge. Main gauges are on top of the dashboard in the center, instead of directly in front of the driver. That’s getting common, and automakers say it allows the driver to glance at the gauges without shifting focus from the road ahead. It’s not a look or an approach that everybody will like.
Yaris is Toyota’s best seller in Europe, where competent handling and a satisfying driving feel are more important than lavish appointments.
But the U.S. market, which doesn’t much like small cars in the first place, might be slower to embrace one that feels good to drive but lacks expected features.
The biggest threat to Yaris, though, could be two other small, Japanese cars hitting the market at about the same time: Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. They should be priced similarly to Yaris and might offer more for the money.
Versa, for example, has more passenger and cargo space, will be available as a four-door hatchback instead of just a two-door hatch, has a more powerful engine yet appears to be as fuel-efficient as Yaris. Nissan says its testing shows Versa with automatic transmission is good for 38 miles per gallon in combined city-highway use. Yaris with an automatic has a government rating of 39 mpg in combined driving. Less is known about Honda’s Fit, but the point is, wait for all three to be in showrooms before deciding.
2007 Toyota Yaris
• What is it? Small, front-wheel-drive, economy car replacing the Echo in Toyota’s U.S. lineup. Available as a four-door sedan or a hatchback, which Toyota calls liftback. The two versions are different cars, developed by different engineers. Manufactured in Japan.
• How soon? On sale in March or April.
• How much? Exact pricing isn’t set. Toyota says starting price will be “well under $13,000.”
• Who’ll buy? Mainstream younger buyers (well, younger by Toyota’s fogey-ish standards) who want economy cars but think that those offered by Toyota’s Scion youth brand are too radical. Toyota expects Yaris buyers to be 35 to 45 years old, 45% of them single, 45% college-educated. Median annual household income should be $45,000 to $65,000.
• How many? 70,000 a year.
• What’s the drivetrain? Same as in a Scion xA or xB: 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine rated 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 103 pounds-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm; five-speed manual transmission (standard); four-speed automatic (optional).
• What’s the safety gear? Basic belts and front air bags. You have to pay extra for front-seat, side-impact bags; front- and back-seat head-curtain air bags; anti-lock brakes.
• What’s the rest? Standard features include air conditioning; power steering; tilt-adjustable steering column; interval wipers; P175/65-14 tires on steel wheels. Many common features such as stereo; cruise control; power locks, windows, mirrors cost extra.
• How big? Sedan and hatchback differ considerably. Sedan is 169.3 inches long, 66.5 inches wide, 56.7 inches tall on a 100.4-inch wheelbase. Hatchback is 150 inches long, 66.7 inches wide, 60 inches tall on a 96.9-inch wheelbase.
Passenger space is listed as 87.1 cubic feet in the sedan, 84.1 cubic feet in the hatchback. Cargo space is listed as 12.9 cubic feet in the sedan’s trunk, 12.8 cubic feet in the hatchback’s cargo area behind the back seat. All versions weigh about 2,300 pounds.
• How thirsty? Manual transmission models are rated 34 miles per gallon in the city, 40 on the highway, 37 in combined driving. Automatic transmission models are rated 34/39/36. Regular-grade (87 octane) fuel is specified.
• Overall: Reasonably pleasant to drive and relatively roomy, but unimpressive fuel economy for the small size and poorly equipped unless you spend extra.

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