Full 2009 Toyota Yaris Review
What's New for 2009
For 2009, the Toyota Yaris becomes safer via standard side curtain airbags and antilock brakes. This year also brings a new addition to the lineup: a four-door hatchback.
The subcompact economy car class has historically been populated by vehicles that had all the materials and build quality of a plastic toy found in a box of Cocoa Puffs. To call some of these cheap would be an insult to cheap things. But in the past few years a more competitive market has forced these bottom feeders to up their game in terms of overall quality and the adoption of modern convenience and safety technologies. The 2009 Toyota Yaris is a prime example of this. This is Toyota's least expensive car, yet it offers a stylish-looking interior, a surprising amount of interior room and a respectable collection of standard and optional features.
The 2009 model, in particular, has a handful of changes that should expand the Yaris' appeal. Among the improvements are newly standard safety features (antilock brakes and side curtain airbags) and a new four-door hatchback. The latter makes for a well-rounded lineup in terms of body styles, which also include a cute-looking two-door hatchback and a more traditional four-door sedan. The sedan is distinctive in that it is practically a different model, as its headlights, body panels and even instrument panel are different from those of the hatchbacks.
All of these body styles boast superior fuel economy as well as Toyota's solid reputation for reliability and overall quality. Yet other carmakers have shown big improvements in those areas as well. Apart from the four-door version, the Yaris doesn't hold any significant advantages over other highly regarded small cars such as the Honda Fit, the Kia Rio and the Yaris' hip cousin, the Scion xD. The high-quality Honda offers a more enjoyable drive as well as more versatile cargo-carrying options, while the xD's odd, funky styling and variety of stereo options might appeal more to younger buyers. If you're not into hatchbacks, the Yaris sedan will likely hold considerable sway, though you could also consider the Nissan Versa sedan. Overall, Toyota's Yaris strikes us as a merely average choice in a continually improving segment.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Toyota Yaris subcompact is offered as a three-door hatchback, five-door hatchback and 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 hatchbacks 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 such as 15-inch alloy wheels, power accessories, cruise control, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat (sedan), a sliding and reclining rear seat (hatchback), a rear window defroster and upgraded interior trim. Keyless entry, foglamps and a rear spoiler are also offered as stand-alone factory options.
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 is sluggish with the automatic.
Fuel economy is a strong point for the Yaris. EPA estimates for a Yaris with the manual transmission check in at 29 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined. Automatics rate 1 less mpg.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes and side curtain airbags. In government crash testing, the 2009 Toyota Yaris sedan earned four stars out of five for front occupant protection during frontal impacts. The two-door hatchback 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.
Interior Design and Special Features
With 3 more inches of wheelbase and nearly 20 additional inches of overall length compared to the hatchbacks, 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 hatchbacks offer optional sliding and reclining rear seats that add versatility and help compensate for their more restrictive backseat space.
Though all versions feature centrally located instrumentation, the hatchbacks' 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 their 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 an anchor when its lever is released.
The 2009 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.