Full 2008 Toyota Yaris Review
What's New for 2008
Introduced last year, the affordable 2008 Toyota Yaris adds a sporty three-door "S" hatchback to its lineup, which shares features like 15-inch wheels, front and rear spoilers, CD/MP3 player and other upgrades with its S sedan counterpart.
The subcompact economy class has traditionally been characterized by products that could be summed up in a single word: cheap. As in, cheap price, cheap design, cheap materials and cheap construction. And while that's still true in a relative sense, today's highly competitive marketplace has forced the low end of the automotive spectrum to evolve along with the rest of the industry in terms of quality standards, feature content and overall bang for the buck. For proof of this, look no further than the 2008 Toyota Yaris.
Introduced last year, the Yaris replaced the mediocre and oddly proportioned Echo as the least expensive offering in Toyota's showroom. For the budget-conscious shopper, it's a much better product all the way around -- one that combines attractive styling and outstanding fuel economy with competitive equipment levels, respectable performance and a general likability that was lacking in its predecessor.
The Yaris is available as a spunky three-door hatchback coupe (liftback in Toyota-speak) or a much longer and roomier four-door sedan with more conservative styling. These body styles are further differentiated inside by distinctive instrument panels and an available multifunction rear seat in the liftback that slides, reclines and folds to make up for its tighter rear quarters. For 2008, the littlest Toyota broadens its appeal further with a sporty new "S" hatchback to complement the existing uplevel S sedan. This model features larger 15-inch wheels, body-color front and rear spoilers, reworked rocker panels, amber-illuminated Optitron instrumentation, upgraded seats with sport fabric, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a CD player with MP3 capability and other extras.
Considering its entry-level nature, the Yaris has a lot going for it. In addition to excellent fuel economy, which counts for a lot in this segment, the Yaris reflects Toyota-style quality and is a competent performer that's stylish enough to avoid embarrassment when you leave it with the parking attendant (although don't expect it to be parked out front).
As decent as the 2008 Toyota Yaris is, however, there are several other subcompacts that deserve your attention. The Chevy Aveo and Kia Rio offer similar body style choices at slightly lower price tags, while the Nissan Versa and Honda Fit are desirable alternatives at a slightly higher price. Another choice to consider is the Yaris-based all-new Scion xD (replacing the xA), which should appeal to more youthful buyers seeking funky styling, vehicle customization and high-tech stereo options.
Although the Fit and xD are our top choices in the segment, they are available only as four-door hatchbacks, a body style Americans generally consider the absolute embodiment of undesirable transportation. That leaves the Yaris as a leading choice for those buyers who prioritize getting into a new sedan for the cheapest price possible. And while that price may be cheap, the Yaris goes to show that cheap doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Toyota Yaris subcompact is offered as a three-door hatchback coupe (dubbed liftback) or four-door sedan in two trim levels. Standard models are pretty basic, with 14-inch steel wheels, intermittent windshield wipers, air-conditioning, four-way adjustable front seats and a tilt steering wheel. S-trim equipment levels vary between coupes and sedans, but share 15-inch steel wheels, a ground-effects body kit and a CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. Many model-specific package upgrades are available and include items like 15-inch alloy wheels, powered accessories, cruise control (sedan only), 60/40-split-folding rear seat (sedan), a sliding and reclining rear seat (liftback), a rear window defroster and upgraded interior trim. Remote keyless entry, foglamps and a rear spoiler are also offered as stand-alone factory options on all models. A full range of Toyota accessories are available to further personalize the Yaris.
Powertrains and Performance
All Toyota Yaris models are equipped with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. Power is transmitted to the front wheels through a standard five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic transmission. The Yaris accelerates adequately with the manual gearbox, but off-the-line performance feels sluggish with the automatic. EPA-estimated fuel economy with the manual transmission checks in at 29 mpg city and 36 mpg highway (35 mpg highway with the automatic). These figures are among the best found in the economy car segment.
As you might expect given its entry-level price tag, popular safety features like antilock brakes, front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags are optional on the Yaris. In government crash testing, the 2008 Toyota Yaris sedan earned four stars out of five for front occupant protection during frontal impacts. In side impacts without the optional airbag package, it received a middle-of-the-road three-star rating for front and rear occupants. The liftback model outperformed the sedan in frontal impact testing by scoring a perfect five stars for driver protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Yaris earned the highest possible rating of "Good" for frontal-offset collisions. Side-impact testing also yielded a "Good" rating with the optional side airbags, but the lowest "Poor" score without.
Interior Design and Special Features
With 3 more inches of wheelbase and nearly 20 additional inches of overall length compared to the hatchback, the Yaris sedan is a space-efficient and reasonably roomy choice among subcompacts. As you might expect, the sedan is the more conservatively styled of the two, both inside and out. The hatchback offers optional sliding and reclining rear seats that add versatility and help compensate for its more restrictive backseat space.
Though both models feature centrally located instrumentation, the hatchback's dashboard is quite a bit different from the one found in the sedan and contains three gloveboxes -- including one uniquely positioned behind the steering wheel -- plus an unusually narrow center stack that coordinates well with its more playful exterior design.
The interior is not without its foibles. Those center-mounted instruments pull your eyes away from the road, while tall drivers will find the driving position akin to sitting atop a stool. Also, the tilt steering wheel cheaply drops like a 4-ton anchor when its lever is released.
The 2008 Toyota Yaris travels down the road with a reasonably solid feel. The electric power steering is mostly devoid of feel, but its super-light touch makes maneuvering easy. The Yaris' small four-cylinder engine is surprisingly peppy with the manual transmission, and reasonably smooth even when operating at higher speeds. Off-the-line acceleration suffers with the automatic transmission, but both combinations deliver enough midrange power for confident merging and passing on the highway.