One of the newest additions to the growing compact hatchback segment is the 2009 Toyota Yaris four-door hatchback. It fills out the Yaris model lineup (which previously consisted of a two-door hatchback and a four-door sedan) to satisfy shoppers who want something bigger than the two-door but would like to retain the utility of a rear hatch.
We tested a fairly loaded Yaris S with an MSRP of $17,953 (which includes the $1,290 Power package and remote keyless entry among its options). (Note that for 2010, the S trim level has been eliminated in favor of an optional Sport package.) Like a lot of modern hatchbacks, this newest Yaris incarnation is easy to drive, looks good enough (in a blend-in-with-the-crowd sort of way) and stows a surprising amount of cargo. It's a competent, fuel-efficient and useful little car, and it's moderately priced. But when compared to other offerings in the budget four-door hatch category, its few charms aren't enough to beat out competitors like the Honda Fit and Toyota's own Scion xD.
Like every 2009 Toyota Yaris, our test car had a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. Even for a small and light car like the Yaris hatchback, that's not much to work with (most competitors have at least 10 hp more than this), and you really feel its limitations when an evasive maneuver requires aggressive acceleration. The engine can also get loud and buzzy when pushed hard, but it remains quiet if you're easy on the throttle.
Though it's fairly smooth, the automatic transmission has only four forward speeds (compared to the five in the Honda Fit's automatic), which further saps the car's already limited power. Thankfully, the Yaris' class-leading fuel economy makes up for some of its performance shortcomings: With EPA estimates of 29 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, it beats out most of the competition by a couple of miles per gallon.
Braking distances from 60 mph to zero were fairly consistent even after several braking runs, with a best stop of 128 feet. This is about average for the class and better than the Honda Fit. Pedal feel is adequately firm, with limited travel before the brakes start to engage. Antilock brakes are newly standard on the 2009 Yaris, which felt appropriately stable when the ABS was engaged.
Quick and light steering makes parking a snap. On-center feel is decent but tactile it is not. Although the Yaris S is hardly what we'd call fun, it provides more grins and confidence than the non-sport-tuned Yaris sedan. If you're looking for a capable, reliable commuter car, the Yaris will meet your needs, but shoppers hoping to wring a little fun from their sensible daily driver are better served by the Fit.
While not tops in terms of comfort, the 2009 Toyota Yaris is acceptably accommodating for an economy hatchback. The suspension on our Yaris S test car was not very forgiving over bumps of any size, but this is something that most are probably willing to overlook in a budget-conscious car. An acceptable amount of wind noise makes its way into the cabin at higher speeds, but road noise is a bit more universally prevalent, in the form of a general low-level rumble, especially on the highway. But it's still quieter than the Fit.
With slightly above-average headroom, plus decent shoulder and legroom, the front seat is fairly accommodating of variously sized passengers. However, the lack of a telescoping steering wheel made it hard for taller drivers to find a comfortable driving position. Tall and short drivers alike complained about the lack of seat height adjustment. Long-term seat comfort was also average for an economy car. Spongy and unsupportive seat cushions caused posterior discomfort after about an hour of driving, and the absence of lumbar support left some of us with achy backs.
Rear passengers can fine-tune their seating position thanks to the Yaris' optional reclining seatback and fore/aft seat adjustability (the latter allowing impressive legroom for a compact car when the seat is slid all the way back). Overall, rear headroom is good for most, but a slightly intrusive rear roof pillar can make things feel tight on the sides. Unfortunately, both the seat cushion and the seatback are quite flat and hard, so even if your seating position is ideal, you may not want to spend much time back there.
The Yaris' orange backlit gauges are straightforward and clear, though the center-mounted location is nonintuitive, not canted toward the driver and too far away from your line of sight. The three large climate control knobs are simple and easy to use, and their vertical placement in the center console makes good use of the limited space and allows plenty of knee room for both driver and front passenger.
Audio system controls are mostly uncomplicated, with a good mix of button sizes and shapes for easy differentiation and a squat volume knob. The tuning "knob" is the one complication in the mix: It's not a knob, but a multiuse four-way toggle switch that controls not just tuning, but sound level adjustments and the optional iPod interface, too. The latter isn't the easiest example of this technology to use, but its presence in a car at this price point is certainly welcome. Unfortunately, when plugged in, your iPod rests out in the open rather than in the glovebox away from prying eyes.
With three large gloveboxes and a wide, rubberized tray at the base of the center stack, the Yaris doesn't lack for interior storage compartments. Cupholders, however, leave a bit to be desired. Folks in the front seats each get one outboard dash-mounted drawer that pulls out to reveal a flimsy, non-adjustable but conveniently located cupholder. All three rear passengers must fight for the solitary cupholder at the rear of the center console.
Cargo space is another area where the 2009 Toyota Yaris falls short of its competitors. There's not quite 10 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. That's less than half what the Fit has and considerably less than in the Kia Rio or Nissan Versa. With the optional 60/40-split rear seat folded flat, that number jumps to 26 cubic feet, which sounds impressive until you compare it to the stats of the Fit and Versa (57 and 50 cubic feet, respectively). Making matters worse, folding the rear seat results in a large gap between the folded seats and the cargo area where small items can easily get lost.
The Yaris' fairly spacious rear seat made child safety seat installation and use a bit easier than in some compact hatchbacks, but you must slide the seat all the way back for rear-facing seats. Also, the latch points are located deep down at the base of the bench, so reaching them can be difficult.
Design/Fit and Finish
On the outside, our Absolutely Red Yaris S test car looked understatedly playful, with its moderately plump European city-car styling, snub nose, S trim level body kit and large, friendly headlights. The compact hatchback's interior design is clean and modern, with all gauges and controls nestled into a uniform stack in the center of the dark gray dash.
Materials quality is decent for this price point and about even with most competitors. The cloth upholstery on the Yaris S is soft to the touch, comfortable to sit on and appears long-wearing, but you wouldn't call it plush (in appearance, it reminded some of us of a black mesh football jersey stretched over a white T-shirt). The textured plastic on the dash has an attractive waffle-weave design, and most of the controls feel solid, especially for this price point.
Who should consider this vehicle
If you prize slightly higher fuel economy, a slightly lower price and mild styling in your reliable four-door econo-hatch, the 2009 Toyota Yaris S might be a good choice for you. But the Honda Fit is a better all-around compact hatchback.