For 2009, Toyota introduces a third body style to the Yaris lineup – a five-door hatchback. This will give a greater range of choices to those who need a sub-compact car, without giving up too much interior room.
Also added in 2009 are standard anti-lock brakes, front seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear curtain side airbags for all Yaris models. Cruise Control is also now available for the liftback models (why it wasn’t available before is beyond me.) A few new color choices are also available for 2009.
Options and Trims
The 2009 Toyota Yaris comes in any of three body styles: a 3-door liftback, 4-door sedan, or 5-door liftback, and two trim levels – base, and S. Base models offer the very basic – A/C, 14″ steel wheels, tilt steering wheel, and 4-way adjustable front seats.
Stepping up into the S trim gets you a variety of extras, depending on if you go with the hatchback or sedan model, but both give you 15″ steel wheels, a CD/MP3 player, and a sport body kit. Other options for all trim levels include alloy wheels, cruise control, upgraded interior, keyless entry, foglights, power accessories, and a rear spoiler.
Engines and Drivetrain
Every Yaris comes with a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 106 horsepower and 103 lb/ft of torque. That’s not a lot, but keep in mind the Yaris only weighs in slightly over a ton, and is concerned with one thing: economy. The power gets to the front wheels via a standard 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4-speed automatic (except for the 5-door Liftback, which only gets an automatic.)
Either you love it for the cute-factor, or think it’s hideous. The 3-door hatchback design is controversial, but it certainly gets the job done. The Sedan is more conventional in design; you could almost mistake it for a 2009 Toyota Corolla at first glance. The new 5-door hatchback, on the other hand looks more like a stretched version of the 3-door. It’s longer, so it doesn’t look like a bug, but ends up looking like a mini-mini-van in the process. None of the styles are ugly in my opinion, and are certainly unmistakable as a Toyota Yaris.
Inside, all of the Yaris models scream economy. A very basic and symmetrical layout reminds you that you’re in a sub-$15K car, but not necessarily in a bad way. All of the extra space left over from the lack of gadgets leaves tons of little storage compartments at your disposal. The vertical layout of the climate control knobs look as if they’ve been designed to take up space that would otherwise be unused. The whole instrument panel is in the middle, making you look to the right to check your speed and other info. This was done to cut the costs of converting from right-hand-drive layouts (for countries like Japan,) to left-hand-drive layouts (for most of the rest of the world.) The seats are basically flat sofa cushions attached to each other – very little ergonomics are involved here.
When Toyota dropped off the 3-door hatchback version of the Yaris for us to review, I became concerned for my life. In fact, I didn’t even drive it until the next day, due mostly to my fear of either being so cramped inside the tiny car that I’d develop a blood clot, or become so bored driving it that I’d fall asleep at the wheel and crash into something larger than the Yaris…like a squirrel. Boy was I wrong.
What we Liked
Despite its incredibly small size, you’d be surprised how much interior room Toyota was able to preserve. While you may not have boatloads of room for cargo, front passengers will have plenty of room (although tall drivers might be slightly cramped,) and you can fit 2 adults and a small child in the back seats of the 4- and 5-door models with reasonable comfort.
One of my main concerns was that the Yaris would be about as fun as watching paint dry. I was wrong. To my surprise, it was actually a fun little car with plenty of personality. It handled nimbly around turns, and responded quickly to your inputs. Both of our test models had the automatic transmission, but I’m sure the 5-speed manual would be better.
We also liked that you can fold the rear seats down (60/40) for much more cargo room in the liftback models if needed. Lastly, we loved the exceptional fuel economy that’s possible with the Yaris. Rated at 29 mpg city, 35 highway for the automatic transmission (29/36 for the manual,) it’s one of the best in its segment. Drive conservatively, and you’ll squeeze out closer to 40 mpg.
What we didn’t like
The 1.5-liter engine could use a little bit more pep, but I have a feeling that the automatic transmission had something to do with that. Although I haven’t driven it, I think the 5-speed manual would be the better choice for this car if you don’t mind driving a stick.
We really didn’t like the center-mounted instrument panel, which we didn’t get used to even after a week of driving. That alone would make me think about buying a competing model.
Pricing and Warranty
Prices for the Yaris three-door Liftback models range from $12,205 for the Base grade with four cylinder engine and manual five-speed transmission to $14,825 for the S grade with four cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission.
The all-new five-door Liftback model prices range from $13,305 for the Base grade with four cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission to $15,125 for the S grade with four cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission.
Yaris Sedan model pricing ranges from $12,965 for the Base grade with four cylinder engine and manual five-speed transmission to $15,880 for the S grade with four cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission.
Drive both the automatic and manual transmission versions of the car before you make a decision. Unless you commute in heavy traffic frequently or are otherwise against manual transmissions for some reason, go with the stick.
The Honda Fit and Nissan Versa are the Yaris’ most likely competitors. They both offer something unique to the segment, offer different handling characteristics, and can be had at different price points.