2011 Toyota Yaris sedan

Review and photos by
Haney Louka, Autos.ca

This may come as a surprise, but I was really looking forward to driving the 2011 Yaris. Now before you write in to AJAC challenging my qualifications as an automotive journalist, let me be more clear: I had the opportunity to drive the Yaris after a week behind the wheel of a Honda CR-Z hybrid, a car that, despite its sporting pretensions, I drove as if I was burning the last tank of fuel on the planet.

2011 Toyota Yaris sedan

2011 Toyota Yaris sedan

The CR-Z’s approach to encourage efficient driving is very in-your-face. For example, there’s green-to-blue-to-red dash lighting to show you exactly how environmentally-friendly your driving habits are at any given moment. There’s also an Eco mode that introduces lazy throttle response and reduced climate control effectiveness to the driving experience. After one week of short-shifting at 1,700 rpm and holding up traffic while pulling away from every intersection, I found that my city-only consumption in the CR-Z hovered around 8.2 L/100 km.

So I drove the Yaris, sans trip computer, just as I would any other car. I accelerated smartly from stops, enjoyed what felt like spirited throttle response after Eco mode in the CR-Z, and on the odd occasion even drove more than one passenger around. After filling the tank, I calculated a consumption of 9.0 L/100 km, or only about 10 per cent higher than that of the painstakingly-driven CR-Z. Now, you tell me what’s more fun.Enter the Yaris: a fairly basic compact car, the Yaris has none of the eco-frills of the CR-Z, and it will most certainly not be cross-shopped against the sporty two-seater. What it does provide, though, is an old-school approach to efficiency. The Yaris is a light car (at 1,060 kg, it undercuts the CR-Z by a full 150 kg) with its only propulsion coming from a gas-powered internal combustion engine. Fuel consumption is rated at 7.0 L/100 km in the city and 5.7 on the highway. Since we’re comparing, the CR-Z gets better ratings of 6.5 and 5.3, but I’m after real-world numbers.

The point here is not that the Yaris is a fun car to drive (because it’s not), but that light, efficient cars can achieve consumption figures within spitting distance of those achieved by hybrids, without the additional weight and complexity of on-board batteries.

The Yaris I drove was the four-door sedan with the “B” (a.k.a. Convenience) package. If that description doesn’t get your pulse racing, I don’t know what will. Base for the sedan is $14,990. Opting for the four-speed slushbox adds $1,000 to the price, while the “B” package adds a further $2,725 to the bottom line. It also adds a bevy of desirable features, like air conditioning, power windows and locks with keyless entry, heated exterior mirrors, and a few other goodies.

Our tester also included the dealer-installed Bongiovi-enhanced audio system for $334.50 (more later), bringing the as-tested price to $18,050 before destination and taxes. There’s also a “C”, or Enhanced Convenience package, that adds cruise control for another $530.

While the Yaris is low on frills, Toyota has introduced the “Star Safety System” on all of its models for 2011. That means even the $13,995 Yaris hatch gets a full suite of collision-avoidance features, including traction control, vehicle stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, and “smart stop” technology. The latter of those cuts fuel delivery and allows the brakes to take precedence in the event that both pedals are applied at the same time.Toyota doesn’t go out of its way to make the Yaris look like something it isn’t; a strategy that has its pros and cons. On the pro side, no customer will be duped into thinking they bought something that’s hip and sporty, but rather they’ll know they spent their money with economy and efficiency in mind and that’s exactly what they got. On the downside, though, Toyota is not making any effort to appeal to the younger car buyers out there. Not a problem, perhaps, since its youthful Scion division sells the xD for about the same money (this doesn’t help new car shoppers here in Winnipeg, though, but that’s another discussion).

While newer entries such as the Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta can compete against Toyota’s standard safety suite, the Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, and Chevrolet Aveo don’t measure up in this regard.

The Yaris’ 1.5-litre four-banger makes the most of its 106 hp and 103 lb.-ft. of torque thanks to variable valve timing; it’s a shame the slushbox can’t reciprocate because it only has four forward gears. Nonetheless, the engine is smooth and refined despite its diminutive size.

As expected, the Yaris is suspended on MacPherson front struts and a torsion-beam rear setup; the finished product managing rough roads with more grace than anticipated. The ride is still a bit busy, but very good for this class. And because the car’s front and rear drop off rather quickly, its bright greenhouse affords an excellent view of its surroundings.

Inside, a Yaris trademark continues with the centrally mounted instrument cluster. The overlapping speedometer and tach dominate the small panel; nestled in the corner is a small digital odometer and fuel level display. Coolant temperature is relegated to a dummy light.

I’m a fan of the dual dash-mounted cup holders and wish more car companies would find room for them there. Overall it’s a comfortable interior but it has about as much pizzazz as the outside; certainly a car for the just-get-me-from-A-to-B set.Beneath the centre dash vents is the head unit for the Bongiovi-enhanced audio system. I’ve been impressed by the Digital Power Station in a few Toyota vehicles (Toyota, having signed a deal with Bongiovi Acoustics, is the only car company in Canada to offer this factory-backed accessory) but became less so after listening to it in the Yaris. The system works with what it has (which, in the Yaris, is not much) to digitally optimize audio quality, but at the end of the day it’s a weak system with four tinny speakers, so the DPS doesn’t work wonders like it does in other vehicles.

The Yaris proves that you don’t need to pay a hybrid premium to drive green. It’s a compelling value for those who place efficiency and safety above style and panache in their daily drive.

Pricing: 2011 Toyota Yaris sedan

Base price: $14,990

Options: $3,060 (“B” Package of air conditioning, power windows and locks with keyless entry, heated exterior mirrors, $2,725; Automatic transmission, $1,000; Upgraded stereo, $334.50)

A/C tax: $135

Freight: $1,350

Price as tested: $19,535


Buyer’s Guide: 2011 Toyota Yaris

Crash test results

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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