In 2007, the Yaris replaced the Echo in Toyota's lineup as its least expensive new vehicle. Three Yaris body styles are available for 2009: a three-door Liftback, a five-door Liftback, and a four-door sedan.
The 2009 Toyota Yaris Liftback model rides on a very short, 96.9-inch wheelbase and is one of the shortest new vehicles, at about 150 inches long. It's ideal as a commuter that can fit into the tightest parking spots, yet handle longer trips when the need arises. The sedan is nearly two feet longer and has three more inches of wheelbase length, translating to more backseat space and better stability on the highway. For both versions, while the Yaris maneuvers well, its suspension is somewhat soft.
Standard under the hood of both vehicles is a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 106 horsepower--adequate for a small, light (less than 2,300 pounds) car of this type. Buyers can choose either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic on the 2009 Toyota Yaris; the engine works quite well with both, though it's a bit louder with the automatic. Fuel economy is very good, at 29 mpg city, 36 mpg highway with the manual. All models come standard with 14-inch wheels and air conditioning.
The interior is a contrast of elements good and bad, desirable and tacky, as Toyota obviously is trying to make a fashionable cabin while watching its price very carefully. The instrument panel itself in the 2009 Toyota Yaris has an attractive, almost gimmicky design, with the speedometer in the middle of the dash and a tall center stack of controls down the middle, but on closer inspection, it's made of hard, easily scratched plastics. Hatchback models don't get a standard tachometer either. Front seats are rather small and skimpy, while the backseat on the Liftback is tough to get into but decent for space; kids should be just fine back there. Base Liftback models are very spare, with manual winding windows.
Ride quality in the Yaris sedan is a bright spot. Although the Yaris Liftback's ride can be somewhat choppy, the added length of the sedan gives it more of a stable, planted feel on the road. Combined with rather soft suspension tuning, it rides smoothly and quietly, with less road noise than many other small cars.
The 2009 Yaris Liftback Sport model is a new addition to the lineup. The Yaris Liftback Sport gets body-color bumpers and side rocker panels; in addition, it picks up sport seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter knob, 15-inch wheels, a rear defroster, a rear wiper, and an audio system with MP3 capability and an auxiliary jack.
The Yaris is one of the lowest-priced new cars for sale in the U.S. market. Toyota prices the five-speed manual Liftback from less than $13,000 including destination.
The Yaris is one of the worst-performing cars in the federal government's safety tests, with only three stars for side-impact safety, and the IIHS rates the Yaris as "marginal" for rear impact. Major safety features such as anti-lock brakes and side impact airbags are now standard, but electronic stability control is not offered on the 2009 Toyota Yaris.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Toyota Yaris is a recession darling, with cheap running costs, a low price, and a reputation for dependability.