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Toyota Yaris enters subcompact car fray

November 04, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

Could the Yaris be exactly the right car at the right time?

Toyota certainly thinks so and will introduce its newest subcompact fuel miser next spring to what it hopes will be an onslaught of customers eager to curb their gas-consumption habits in the face of steadily mounting energy bills.

A renaissance of sorts in the pint-size automobile segment is already in full swing as the world demand for fossil fuel extracts an ever larger bite out of our wallets. The coming year will see fresh entries from both Kia and Hyundai that will join the existing crop of mighty mites from Chevrolet, Suzuki and Toyota-offshoot Scion. Just around the corner, Honda is preparing its own junior edition, the Fit, and DaimlerChrysler's super-thrifty, Euro-based Smart fortwo could arrive here within the next couple of years.

The Toyota Yaris has already proven itself overseas where it has been one of Europe's best-selling brands for the past six years. Now both continents will receive the second-generation car that was styled at Toyota's design studio in France.


The Yaris will replace the Echo as the entry-level brand in the Toyota fleet. When the Echo arrived on our shores in 2000, it redefined small-car functionality with its spacious interior and zippy performance.

Unfortunately, the car's bolt-upright styling never really caught on and sales remained less than phenomenal.

With the Yaris, Toyota has significantly upped the "cute" factor, a necessary ingredient for any successful starting-point model. The more rounded shape is far less controversial than the squared-off Echo, but retains a unique silhouette that sets it apart from its small-car competition.

The Yaris will initially be available in a two-door hatchback configuration when it goes on sale next spring, with a four-door rumored to be in the works. The latter is already on sale in Canada.

The little Yaris might appear brand new, but it retains the Echo's tall greenhouse and chair-high seating as a way to comfortably accommodate passengers and making them believe that they're actually riding in a much larger vehicle. Also carried over is the idea of the Echo's center-mounted gauge pod that helps drivers keep their eyes focused on the road.

Keeping the Yaris on the move is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 106 horsepower and 103 lb.-ft. of torque. That doesn't sound like much, but it should be plenty to move the lightweight 2,000-pound Yaris in a sprightly fashion as well as meet or beat the outgoing Echo's fuel-economy numbers of 35 mpg in the city and 42 mpg on the highway.

The best way to stretch your fuel dollar is by choosing the standard five-speed manual transmission over the optional four-speed automatic that creates a 5-to-7 percent fuel-efficiency penalty.

Although the complete lineup has yet to be finalized, you can expect a price-leader Yaris starting at about $11,000 as well as a better-equipped model with air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, side-impact air bags and power-operated accessories. There should also be a sport model with alloy wheels and body cladding.

As sales of smaller and more efficient autos are currently on the uptick, the smoothly styled Yaris is poised to deliver an abundance of driving pleasure while giving its owners some respite from high pump prices.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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