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Toyota Yaris:  Totally Loveable!
By Kathy Chin Leong

I named it the Electric Blueberry. I know, something is weird is happening when you start naming your products and household goods. But hear me out. In middle school, my friend's mom had a Volkswagon VW bug, and it had a patterned roof with daisies. Mrs. Harris named it Daisy.  

So when I test drove the new Toyota Yaris subcompact, its shiny metallic blue sheen got to me. I had to name it the Electric Blueberry. Plus, the tiny thing is so darn cute that it needed a moniker to match.

Well, it's been awhile since I've driven such a small vehicle.  When you consider I've been reviewing SUVs, vans, and luxury cars, I first believed that taking a several steps down to drive a puny thing like this was going to be disappointing.  I've got news: driving E.B. was a delight to the point that I mourned when the car company came to pick it up. 

Toyota's smallest child has a strange name. Why Yaris?  It reminds of me a Russian name like Boris.  Anyhow, I will say off the bat that I don't like the name, and they need to go back to the drawing board on that one. Aside from that niggling detail, I love the car.  The size is something you just cannot complain about.

Small enough and narrow enough to park in the busy lot at Costco- that's a thumbs up for me.  It has excellent handling and turning radius which is also a plus when you have to commit to parallel parking in San Francisco on the street or have to slide in an angled slot in the parking garage.  Because the car's nose is not too long and the rear features a gentle angle that does not protrude very much, I did not have to worry about hitting poles behind me or in front of me.  Getting adjusted to parking and judging the distance between cars and objects is VERY EASY!

Base price for this little fella is $15,670, but you will probably want to add things to it. For the base price you get a stick-shift, five-speed car with regular key entry, two doors and a hatchback, a 1.5L 4-cylinder engine, Bluetooth, air conditioning,  and a 60/40 split fold down rear seat, and a port to recharge your iPhone or cell phone.  With projector beam headlights, it gets anywhere form 30 to 37 mph, depending on how you drive and where you drive.   Colorwise, you can choose from white, silver, black, red, or electric blue (my favorite). The interior will always be black, no matter what model you select.

While super small, the good news is that this model comes with 9 airbags, and the government safety ratings have concluded that the Yaris gets five and four stars (top rankings) for front, side, and rollover safety.  Styling wise, it has the looks of any standard subcompact car, except this one has an unusual face. Picture two eyes and headlights, the Toyota insignia down towards the middle as the nose, and then a big black grilled mouth that stretches as wide as the headlights. In the promo material, the Toyota folks say that the blacked-out grill adds "attitude."  Umm... okay?

On the inside, there's plenty of legroom and comfort that will get you far on long drives. While my daughter did get queasy in the back on our one-hour drive to see Grandma, I don't blame the car for that.  It is different transitioning to a small car when you sit low compared to a van where you are sitting up much higher. It also doesn't help when you read, either.

Back to our story.  The design of the black interior and dash is quite elegant with a retro feel. There are lots of circles. To the right of the driver on the dash, the temperature control, the fan control, and the air flow control are all shaped as circular dials, three lined up in a row. The instrument panel right in front of the steering wheel is full of circles representing the speedometer and so on.  Even the air vents are circular. 

When it comes to the feel of the car during the ride, this one has it nailed right. The car handles bumps and turns smoothly and gently so you are not rattling around. I give kudos to the sport-tuned independent Macpherson's struts, rear suspension and front suspension stabilizer bar.  The amount of noise is low, not as loud as in other compacts I have driven.  Let me tell you, having this quiet feature and smoothness is excellent, for a noisy and bumpy car gets taxing on the driver on long trips. 

It has a sturdy braking system that feels natural to the touch, and it's can get roaring in no time, so the acceleration is fast enough for you to pass cars on the freeway and merge in quickly. The seats are comfortable with an accordion design and slight wings hear the shoulders.  It has a glove-like feel so you don't feel like you are sitting on springs. 

And when it comes to safety, like I said before, there are airbags galore for the driver, passenger, side air and rear head airbags. Four-wheel ABS, front disc/read drum brakes, and electronic stability control makes you feel more like you are in tune with your vehicle.
Gas mileage, however,  is moderate compared to other cars. This one gets 30-37 mpg, a bit under the Honda Fit which offers 32-40 mpg.

And when it comes to cargo space, don't plan on going tent camping with a family of four with this one.  It contains enough space to carry a tent and a couple of sleeping bags, and possibly a small cooler.  You can flip one seat down to carry more if you need to. The 15.6 cu. ft. of cargo room is fine when you need only to do a few errands in town. It can hold perhaps four or five grocery bags side by side.  Don't expect to load all your groceries from an epic Costco expedition in this space. 

A week with this four-door version was a lot of fun. Fun to drive to SF without worrying about how to park. Fun to accelerate with this peppy thing and merge into lanes without a problem with oomph.  Fun to maneuver because I was able to easily judge distance front and back.  The fuel efficiency is decent, and although the cargo room is tight, the space is fine for a two-person weekend getaway.  The car is quiet and handles bumps and turns splendidly.   Need a car for commuting and shuttling the kids back and forth? This will save you on gas costs and give you plenty of zip and power to make you feel young again!

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Details:

Toyota Yaris
Retail: $15,670
www.toyota.com/yaris/features.html




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