2007 Toyota Yaris

Small cars with small engines may not be sexy, but they are thrifty. The Toyota Yaris, which replaces the Echo as the automaker?s subcompact sedan and liftback, is a reliable, affordable car that runs on 87 octane fuel and averages between 34 and 40 miles-per-gallon, depending on the driving conditions. While its 106-horsepower engine won?t win any races, it?s adequate for buzzing around town, or to take on the occasional road trip. The 3-door liftback (tested), features a fold-flat second-row seat that opens up a decent-sized cargo bay, that?s large enough to stash a week?s worth of groceries, a few suitcases, or even a road bike with the front wheel removed.

Simple, functional interior

Like the Echo, the Yaris is engineered to be produced in both left- and right-hand drive versions. For this reason, all of the gauges, temperature and audio controls are located in the center of the instrument panel, and on a center stack beneath it. There is no tachometer on the 3-door model: a conspicuous absence on the manual-transmission test car. On the positive side, both of the front doors have bottle holders integrated into the map pockets, and there?s a nice-sized enclosed bin above the glove box. The center stack has functional shelves for stashing small electronic items to the right and left of the control knobs. A large cupholder to the rear of the center console can easily hold a large bottle of water as well.

The front seats are comfortable and easy to adjust, with good lower lumbar support. The rear seats are very short of legroom, but they?re adequate for a child seat or to carry two extra passengers for a short distance. The 60/40 split second-row seats fold forward by releasing two latches on the seatbacks of the outboard seats. The operation takes far less than the 30 seconds we specify for out bicycle-friendly vehicles. With the second-row seats in place, there?s enough room in back for a few bags of groceries, and a standard tonneau cover keeps the items away from prying eyes.

Comfort and convenience features are generous of a car in this price range, including air conditioning, independent front suspension, tilt steering wheel and power steering. Options on the test car included antilock brakes ($300), side and side-curtain airbags ($650), remote keyless entry ($150), and a power package that adds 15-inch wheels, power windows, locks and mirrors, a MP3-compatible audio system with in-dash CD changer, rear windshield wiper, and the 60/40 split rear seats ($1,680).

Slow and steady wins the race

The Yaris? four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission provide adequate power for daily commutes, though 20- 50 mile-per-hour acceleration leaves something to be desired. Don?t expect to pass any cars merging into traffic. As is typical in small engines, the best power is at the top of the band, so the Yaris functions pretty well at highway speeds.

Visibility is good all the way around the car, which is a good thing, since pint-sized cars don?t get much respect from full-sized trucks and sport-utility vehicles. The 15-inch wheels make for a more stable chassis on the highway, or when it?s necessary to make an emergency evasive manuever. Because the Yaris is such a light car (under 2,300 pounds tested), it tends to bounce around in a good headwind. While steering response is generally good, the Yaris doesn?t always feel as solid on the highway as heavier cars with more powerful engines.

Sporty, Euro-style exterior

The pint-sized liftback is simple but stylish on the outside: especially for fans of similar European cars. Short front and rear overhangs and a relatively low center of gravity give the Yaris a sporty appearance. On the other hand, it?s 5.5 inches of ground clearance means that drivers need to be careful of rocks and tree roots on graded roads. A rear window wiper is a handy feature, improving the rear visibility in rain and snow. The liftgate is wide enough to make for easy access to the cargo area: an especially handy feature when loading in bikes or luggage.

Pricing for starving college students

The Yaris is Toyota?s smallest and least expensive model. Base prices begin at $10,950 and $11,850 for the liftback and sedan respectfully: expect to pay a little more for automatic transmission models, and the upscale S sedan. The fuel-thrifty Yaris is currently on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.

Likes: The Yaris is a simple, inexpensive car that has a functional, stylish interior, and gets exceptional fuel economy: up to 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway. It?s a great first car for people on a budget, and it comes with Toyota?s flawless reputation for safety and reliability.

Dislikes: The manual transmission model (tested) should come equipped with a standard tachometer. Antilock brakes, while available, are a fairly expensive option. Because of its size and relatively light curb weight, the Yaris tends to drift at highway speeds in windy weather. It?s best use is as a city commuter.

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