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In the Driver's Seat: Getting some bang for the buck

Toyota Yaris offers fuel economy, performance for a decent price
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Gold Country Motoring Editor
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With the economy where it’s at and high fuel prices, money’s tight, there’s no doubt. Needless to say, if you’re car shopping the high priorities these days are price and fuel economy. For those in this lot, the Toyota Yaris might be a vehicle to put on the radar. A subcompact that first found life in Europe and Asia when it was introduced in 1999, the Yaris made its way stateside in 2007 when it took over for the ECHO in the Japanese automaker’s American lineup. The big selling points of this vehicle are the price — the base Yaris liftback starts at $11,550 and the base sedan starts at $12,425 — and the fuel economy as both versions get an estimated 29 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. “It’s a car for today. It gives you great gas mileage without the need to go to the hybrid,” said Magnussen’s Auburn Toyota’s Glenn Tuccinardi. Yaris’ design is unique, especially on the liftback, which had one co-worker proclaim, “It’s the Toyota Egg.” It does have a rather round shape with a slanted front end, large front headlights and a bit of a bubble in the rear, but the overall look is appealing. Toyota equips the Yaris liftback and sedan with a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder Variable Valve Timing with intelligence engine that kicks out 106 horsepower and 103 pounds-feet of torque. The Yaris liftback also comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. My version of the liftback came with an optional four-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration for the vehicle is pretty good. You can take off from a dead stop pretty quickly, and the motor doesn’t labor terribly when putting it through its paces. The automatic transmission did a good job of smoothly changing gears and giving you the appropriate power. I did have to put my foot on it when getting on the freeway and trying to pass an 18-wheeler at the same time. The little Yaris didn’t falter as I was able to get on and get going. “They have a great weight-to-horsepower ratio, which makes them fun to drive,” Tuccinardi said. “And they’re easy to park and they sip gasoline.” The handling of the Yaris is relatively responsive; it corners well enough and tracks the road decently, making for a pleasurable drive. Body roll wasn’t easily detected and the overall steering of the vehicle was nimble. “The handling is wonderful, people come back and exclaim how much fun it is to drive,” Tuccinardi said. Inside, room is good for people of average height, and even for taller folks. I found there to be enough headroom in the front of the cabin, and legroom was adequate enough to provide a comfortable driving posture. The back seats are going to be a squeeze for most anyone, especially passengers of height. When it comes to crash test performances the Yaris liftback garnered one five-star rating for how it handled the front crash test on the driver side. It earned four stars for the same test on the passenger side and two three-star ratings for how it handled the side impact crash tests. It was awarded a four-star rating for its performance in the rollover test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Yaris an overall “Good” rating for how it performed in the frontal offset crash test. The IIHS gives the subcompact an overall “Good” rating in the side impact test when the vehicle is equipped with side air bags, but a “Poor” rating without. It only got a “Marginal” score for rear crash protection. Toyota equips the Yaris with a frontal driver and front passenger air bags and front-side and side-curtain air bags are available. An anti-lock braking system is also available. Yaris comes in two trims, the regular and the S, and it is available as a sedan and a liftback. The starting sticker price ranges from $11,550 to $13,925. My Yaris liftback, with the power package and other options and fees, was valued at $14,610. For more information about the Yaris or to schedule a test drive, visit Magnussen’s Auburn Toyota at 800 Nevada St., Auburn, or call (530) 885-8484.