Toyota enters the revitalized U.S. market for small and inexpensive cars with its 2007 Toyota Yaris, a model name that has appeared in Europe since 2000. But the 2007 Yaris, both the U.S. and European version, is a serious upgrade from the previous non-U.S. version. It uses Toyota's new styling, evidenced in its round nose, and has all of Toyota's strong build quality.
But this car is also designed to hit a rock-bottom price. Our test car, a three-door hatchback model (a sedan model is also available), has a base price of $10,950. Unfortunately, gadget fans won't find much to entertain them in a car designed for this low-end segment. Our Yaris had the $1,290 Power Package, which included a decent-sounding audio system with an MP3/WMA single-CD slot and an auxiliary input jack.
The power train is similarly basic in the 2007 Toyota Yaris, with the engine being its technology high point. The 1.5-liter four-cylinder power plant uses Toyota's VVT-I intelligent variable-valve timing and electronic throttle control. The five-speed manual is nothing to write home about; an equally unexciting four-speed automatic is available as well. Active safety equipment, such as traction control and even antilock brakes, is also sacrificed to keep the price in the bargain basement.
Although we focus on tech here at CNET, we found that the 2007 Toyota Yaris's low-tech nature does make it fun to drive, with a bit of hooliganism thrown in. For more normal purposes, it's comfortable enough for a commute and functional enough for errands around town, although it doesn't offer the luxury of navigation. It falls short in many departments for road or weekend trips. In this era of high gas prices, its fuel economy will be a welcome relief.
At this price level, the 2007 Toyota Yaris doesn't offer much in the way of cabin gadgets. However, Toyota has managed to keep the interior from looking cheap. The manually adjustable front seats are comfortable, and the cloth feels soft but tough. Fit and finish on the dashboard seem solid, and the materials have a nice texture. But an inexpensive build means less sound insulation, as we recorded 73 decibels during our sound-level check.
Toyota creates an interesting configuration for A/C and vent controls in the Yaris.
The instrument cluster--what there is of it--is centrally mounted on the dash. This arrangement makes it harder to monitor the speedometer, but this car doesn't go all that fast. The speedometer has a nice electroluminescent look, and a small LCD with a paper-white background sits to the right of it, displaying fuel level and trip information. These are nice touches on a down-market car.
The stereo fills a double-DIN slot at the top of the stack. Interestingly, the spec sheets say that without the Power Package, the Yaris merely comes prepped for a stereo, so expect a gaping hole in the dash. This is also a very aftermarket-friendly dash, with a size suitable for some pretty swanky head units. The stereo included in our test car had a single-CD slot that played MP3 and WMA discs. The controls make it easy to navigate folders and tracks, and the display shows ID3-tag information. An auxiliary jack behind the shifter allows for an MP3 player.
An auxiliary stereo input and light-kit button sit on the floor near the stick shift.
The audio quality in the 2007 Toyota Yaris is not bad, due to the fact that the seating position is high and the four speakers are set near floor level. This arrangement keeps any one seat from being blasted by one speaker, with the sound welling up from below. It's not really immersive, but there's some clarity at average volumes. Higher volumes ruin the quality quickly.
As expected, navigation, Bluetooth, and voice command are not offered on the Yaris. But Toyota has used the space left over by the lack of electronics creatively, putting odd little compartments everywhere. It has a glove box, as well as a compartment above the glove box. There is also a similar-size compartment above and behind the steering wheel, along with one in the lower dash by the driver's left knee. Other little cubbyholes can be found on either side of the stack.
The Yaris includes some unexpected storage compartments, such as this odd hatch behind the steering wheel.
This penchant for storage is also shown in the cargo area of the hatchback Yaris. With the rear seats up, there is space for a few grocery bags. But when these seats are folded flat, the cargo area becomes fairly large--which is good because the seats don't offer much people room. Legroom is cramped in the rear, even with the front seats fairly far forward.
Our test Yaris came with one other interesting touch: a $275 interior-illumination kit. This kit amounts to a couple of blue LEDs mounted in a pan just in front of the stick. While relatively simple, the effect is cool.
With its simple five-speed manual transmission and small size, the 2007 Toyota Yaris will be fun for people who like to thrash cars around. The power train isn't as peppy as the one on the 2007 Honda Fit, but with good rev control, the Yaris can be pushed around in an entertaining manner.
The engine is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder with double overhead cams and Toyota's electronically controlled variable-valve timing, making it the most advanced part of the Yaris. Still, it produces only 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque at 4,200rpm, which means drivers need to get the engine revs up more than in other cars before attempting to take off from a stop. Hill starts, a specialty of our San Francisco testing grounds, are especially challenging with this engine.
Although small, the Yaris's engine is efficient and gets excellent gas mileage.
Once moving, this engine propels the 2007 Toyota Yaris along adequately. We found it easy to hit 80mph while merging on to a freeway, and active use of the transmission prevented too much speed loss when attacking freeway hills. The gear ratios in the transmission require some getting used to: First gear should be held longer than in most cars, up to about 15mph, with second gear taking over to about 35mph. Third gear can hold out and even cruise at 55mph. There isn't a lot of overlap in these ratios because of the engine's low torque. Of course, that also means torque steer is nonexistent.
The Yaris's suspension works adequately to damp out and ride over potholes, and it feels steady enough around corners for a car of this class. It uses MacPherson struts in front and a simple torsion beam in back. There is no traction control or other roadholding electronics included or available for the Yaris, so it can't be pushed too hard around corners.
The upside of the small engine in the Yaris is its fuel economy, rated by the EPA at 34mpg in the city and 40mpg on the highway. In our more lead-footed testing, we observed 31mpg in a mix of city and freeway driving. Low emissions give the Yaris a ULEV-2/Bin 5 rating.
Beyond front air bags and side-impact door beams, the 2007 Toyota Yaris doesn't have a lot going for it on the safety-technology front. But these combine with the body construction to give it a reasonable four stars for front collision and rollovers from the NHTSA. For side impacts, it gets only three stars, most likely due to the lack of side air bags.
The Yaris hatchback is pretty bare-bones as far as roadholding technologies. Traction control and antilock brakes are neither included nor optional. The sedan version's top upgrade package does include antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.
The 2007 Yaris gets Toyota's comprehensive warranty of three years/36,000 miles and a power train warranty of five years/60,000 miles. Corrosion protection is for five years with unlimited mileage.