- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

In September, Toyota presented the second-generation Yaris at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Now the small Toyota is ready to enter the market.

That does not mean only the European market, because the small car will also arrive at the American dealerships in the spring. In Europe, the new version is bound to equal the success of its predecessor with lots of improvements and new engines.

After its market introduction in 1999, the Yaris was elected 2000 European Car of the Year and Japan Car of the Year.

The Yaris has been very successful and with more than 1.2 million sold it has become Toyota’s best-selling model on the European market.

After a face lift in 2003 Toyota’s Benjamin model even scored a sales record in 2004 with 227,616 cars. Now, Toyota is determined to improve on that figure by not less than 10 percent, even while the European market is stabilizing and perhaps even decreasing.

It is ambitious goal, so before the first test drive with the new Yaris at the beginning of December in the south of France I wondered if the car would be able to achieve that sales goal.

In any case, Toyota has upgraded the Yaris in a lot of aspects. The exterior, designed by Toyota’s European design studio ED2 in Nice, France, now matches the new Vibrant Clarity-design philosophy of the other new Toyotas. With sharp vertical lines and large headlamps, the Yaris is really contemporary. The hood is a lot shorter than the outgoing model, but that has to do with the European rules for pedestrian safety. Because there is more space between the engine and the hood, the latter can distort better in case of a collision.

It is not only pedestrians that Toyota is taking into account by applying the well-proven Minimal Intrusion Cabin System that also helped the Avensis and Corolla Verso models achieve high test results. The Yaris gained the highest five-star rating for occupant protection in European crash testing.

Nine air bags are available, including the driver’s knee air bag — a first in the segment. Standard equipment on the Yaris are the front dual-stage driver and passenger air bags. In Europe ABS is obligatory on all cars; for the U.S. ABS will be an option on all versions.

For the U.S. the Yaris will replace the Echo in the subcompact passenger-car segment. The Yaris will be available in three- and five-door body styles. The liftback will be offered as CE and LE, while the sedan will be offered in three grades, adding the sporty Yaris S. The latter has side rocker panels, front and rear bumper spoilers, 15-inch wheels and available aluminum wheels.

Thanks to the clever design, interior dimensions have been increased and make it more comfortable for three rear passengers, especially now that the rerouting of the exhaust provides a flat floor. Luggage space in the liftback is 12.8 cubic feet and that model also has an adjustable backrest, but Toyota is not offering this on the American market.For the U.S. market the sedan has only a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat.

The interior of the new Yaris is nice and the materials look and feel good. A nice design feature is the belt line that has a V-shape at the front of the front doors and slopes upward toward the rear. It is accented inside by the armrests along the full length of the front doors. I thought the seats are a little bit short, but the backrests of the front seats are long enough for people who are not taller than, say, 6 feet. In the rear, people who are not over 5 feet, 8 inches have enough legroom.

In Europe, Toyota offers the Yaris with three new engines, two gasoline and one diesel. The smallest is the 1.0 VVT-I with 69 horsepower, a 61-cubic-inch three-cylinder that performs very well in the light Yaris. The other petrol engine is the 87-horsepower four-cylinder, while the 1.4D-4D l is the modern common-rail turbo-diesel version that has 90 horsepower. In the U.S. Toyota will offer the Yaris with its 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with 103 foot-pounds of torque and meets the ULEV-2 emission standard.

The engines in the front-wheel-drive Yaris are teamed to a five-speed manual or a four-speed ECT transmission. Preliminary fuel economy rating is 34/40 miles per gallon for the manual transmission and 34/39 mpg for the automatic. I have driven all three European-engine versions of the new Yaris and they were all performing really well.

With the availability of more horsepower, as in the 1.5-liter engine that will be available in the U.S., it will even be better.

At least it will be more than enough to match bigger and faster cars on the highways, as its top speed will be well over the 106 mph of the 1.3, which accelerates in 11.2 seconds to 60 mph.

That the suspension is suited to handle more power seems to be obvious during the first test we did in the hilly area of the south of France. With excellent handling and nice standard equipment, the Yaris is aiming to win the heart of the American buyers in this segment.

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