Car Review: 2009 Toyota Yaris Hatchback

Faster than a snail at least… you wish.

Intro

How counter-intuitive could a car possibly be? I mean, we’ve seen what Mercedes’ subdivision SMART has put out in terms of virtually useless, “niche” automobiles. Don’t get me wrong, small doesn’t necessarily mean useless. The General Motors’ Hummer H2 is a sizeable vehicle, with little use to it. But the thing is, the Toyota Yaris was never meant to be a “niche” vehicle, it’s just as counter-intuitive as one. It’s as comfortable as a porta-potty, embarrassing to be seen in, and it makes an old farm tractor look fast and exciting.

Oh, this is my father’s car, by the way. I would never willingly drive, nor purchase, a Yaris. If I had the money, I’d import a Mazda RX-7 or Toyota Supra from Japan or something. Those are much better cars. But I’m pretty much broke, unemployed, and in debt thanks to post-secondary, so I guess I’m stuck with this soulless and hateful machine for the next few years.

Also, my parents strongly disagree with this review, as they love this car. But then again, it’s so perfect for them and suits their needs so well it’s like it was designed for them. Keyword: them, not me.

Specs

Engine: 1497cc (1.5L) DOHC Toyota 1NZ-FE VVT-i

Horsepower: 106HP@6000RPM

Torque: 103lb/ft@4200 RPM

Transmission: 4-speed Toyota U340E automatic (also available in 5-speed manual)

Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

Curb Weight: 2340lb (1061.41kg)

Body style: 5 door hatchback (also available in 4 door sedan and 3 door hatchback)

Performance

If you know anything about vehicular power, you can immediately tell from the specs above that the Yaris is so underpowered it’s disgusting. “But power-to-weight ratio,” they said. “It’s good enough for daily use,” they said. No. I’ve driven this car and I can tell you, fast is the last thing the Yaris would ever want to do. It apparently does 0-60MPH (0-100KM/H) in 9.6 seconds, but it feels longer than that Transformers movie that everyone trashes. I know that this isn’t meant to be a fast car, but it’s so slow that it makes it dangerous from a safety standpoint. And when you do get up to 100KM/H (highway speed), it starts being shaken and swept on the road by the wind. Not only does this happen on good old windy New Brunswick days, but even on clear days, as the car is such an odd shape, that it seems Toyota put no thought into the aerodynamic properties of the thing. I’m honestly surprised that those highway safety associations and insurance companies haven’t deemed the Yaris unsafe for highway use. And this is the same company that produced the ever-so legendary Supra, and little fun-mobiles like the MR2 and Celica.

The Yaris is a performance atrocity, and that’s not only true for the 2009 models; brand new ones are also being trashed by professional reviewers all across the internet. There’s a very simple explanation for that. Toyota hasn’t changed the powertrain OR the chassis for the past 12 years. That’s right. Go out and buy a brand spankin’ new Yaris hatch, and you’ll have the same car that I’m reviewing, just… with a newer body and interior. That’s it. It’s truly disgusting. Not to mention that my test vehicle is equipped with the dreadful automatic transmission, which is extremely jerky and tall-geared for fuel economy. Maybe a manual would have improved my Yaris experience tenfold, considering it’s a light car. I can see the fun potential, but it’s all ruined by the economy-car ideology. However, two things I will praise though, are its handling and braking power. It’s a small, light car, so naturally it gets around pretty easily, and the brakes are tight and have no trouble stopping the thing.

The epitome of slow

Comfort

Now, I’m not super tall (around 5’11” or 180cm) but the Yaris is a very tight and uncomfortable place to be for me. Now, my father is much shorter than I am, and fits just fine in the Yaris. But I don’t. I have to pull the seat all the way back, and even then, my hands sometimes still hit my legs when trying to steer under normal driving conditions. My knees are just an inch away from the steering wheel, with the seat pulled as far back as possible. The hatch does have rear seats, and I have to (sadly) admit, that they are pretty okay when it comes to legroom. I barely fit in them, but they are fine for someone 5’7″. The seats themselves are a different story, though. They’re not plush, and feel like they’re filled with Styrofoam, instead of regular cushioning. Not to mention that my tester is missing features that came standard in earlier, 1990’s models, such as power windows and remote keys.

 

See? I told you it was tiny. (Note the crank windows)

 

Li’l family hauler

Practicality

I’ve already mentioned the features this car is missing compared to a $1000 Pontiac Grand-Am, but the impracticality doesn’t end there. The gauge cluster is located in the middle of the dashboard, thus making you take your eyes off the road and look to the right to see how fast you’re going. In other words, it’s dangerous. Why isn’t this illegal? I know that some other cars also do it, but it should be outlawed, though I don’t think any newer model cars still do it, so that’s good. Anyway, back to the snooze-mobile that is the Toyota Yaris. The trunk is very small, and is useless for kidnapping purposes buying more than $100 of stuff at Costco. You have to use the back seats, or fold them down to compensate for the sheer lack of trunk space. It is not what I’d consider a family-friendly car, even though it’s slow and “safe”.

How can we do this…

 

… when the gauges are in the middle?

Design

Whenever I drive the Yaris, I feel like I should put on a paper bag mask with two eye holes punched through it to hide my identity. I mean, the car suits my older parents, but me… oh dear. Whenever I’m in front of the wheel and pass by a group of people around my age, I can just feel the hostility and shame. They always give me a look that says “thank God I’ll never be like that guy.” A similar economy car, the Mazda 2, has better (and much less embarrassing) styling in my opinion. Driving a Yaris as a young guy is truly an embarrassing experience. Heck, I’d say most girls wouldn’t exactly be proud in this thing either. But then again, it can’t be worse than one of my friends’ worn, off-yellow VW Beetle with non-matching hubcaps, right? Right?

Not exactly the face of a killer…

 

The shape of Cartman from South Park… my favorite!

E C O N O M Y

I originally didn’t intend to write this section of the review, but I might as well point out this miserable car’s one crucial redeeming feature: its ease on the wallet. It’s what the Yaris was designed for. MPG? It should be measured in 100 miles-per-gallon instead. It just doesn’t use gas. Well, it does, but I personally think that the Yaris is more fuel efficient than a Toyota Prius, which is an even worse vehicle. The Yaris can also use whatever crap-grade fuel you put in it still run fine and make the most of it. It’s a car that was meant to be cheap to run and maintain. Yes, cheap to maintain. Sure a BMW 3-series is faster, but in the long run, the Yaris will still be standing strong and running like new, while the BMW sits roadside with smoke pouring out of all its openings. Toyota in general makes cars that just won’t die. There are plenty of Yarises (that sounds awkward, I know) out there that have lasted for 350,000 KM (approx. 220,000 miles) and are still going strong. It needs nothing in terms of special maintenance, and just requires the general maintenance that applies for all cars (oil changes, filter changes, brake jobs, suspension work, etc.)

 

Conclusion

Sure, the Toyota Yaris is a slow, hazardous and impractical little thing, but at the end of the day, it still moves from point A to B (well, if the journey doesn’t require highway speeds, of course) and won’t cost you a fortune and a mechanical headache while doing so. But, it will most certainly cost you your dignity.

 

This is what you pass on the highway. But it will never pass you.

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