- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ever hear of a car named Yaris? You will when this Toyota makes its debut on the domestic market this spring.

The Yaris has been selling in Europe since 1999 and it didn’t take long for it to capture the title European Car of the Year, and it also has been named Japan Car of the Year. It will replace the Toyota Echo in the subcompact passenger-car segment.

I was immediately attracted to it when I put my foot on the accelerator.

The response from its 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is amazing. It only produces 106 horsepower, but has more pickup than cars with much stronger engines. Not only that, the Yaris I drove had an estimated fuel economy of 34 city and 39 highway.

The test car was priced at $14,050 for the four-door sedan model with an automatic transmission. However, the liftback model with a manual transmission weighs in at $10,950. Either car has a youthful appearance and will probably attract a lot of attention when it hits the road.

This car is slightly different than its European counterpart in that the U.S. platform is a bit longer and wider. Toyota says the platform will be used on a variety of future vehicles. The platform is made of a high-tensile steel to help in driving control and responsive steering.

It also helps to reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

I was quite impressed with the quality of the ride and the way it handled. The Yaris is agile because of its small size. It’s also very easy to maneuver both on the open road and in a crowded parking lot. It only requires 33 feet to make a curb-to-curb turn, about 10 feet less than most four-door sedans.

The cabin has a stretched design with a beltline that seems to push out toward each corner. It’s easy to enter, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of power equipment. The driver’s seat is adjusted mechanically, and it even has a tilt steering column. Once set, I was good for a week of enjoyable driving.

The test car had power windows and the key fob had remote locking. Access to the trunk requires a key. The trunk isn’t too big, but it does have a 60/40-split fold rear seat to allow for extralarge cargo. In the upright position, the fold-down center arm holder contains a cup holder.

Considering the size of this subcompact, the interior is surprisingly roomy. The center console has built-in storage and a cup holder on each side of the dash panel. The instrumentation is located high in the center on the panel and is easy to view while watching the road.

The automatic transmission has a gated shift lever. It is equipped with uphill/downhill shift logic to reduce the frequency of gear shifting during winding hill travel.

The windshield wiper does not contain the usual variety of functions and the vanity mirrors do not have illumination. But the ride is very pleasant and this is partially due to a newly developed suspension that includes a rigid L-arm MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam. I’m told the Yaris has anti-roll stabilization, eliminating the need for a separate anti-roll bar. This combination made me feel very secure and comfortable regardless of the type of road I was driving.

Another concern is safety, and the Toyota people told me they have reinforced the cabin using front and rear crumble zones and energy-absorbing materials on the roof and doors, plus front seat-mounted air bags with first- and second-row side curtain air bags.

Now that this car has replaced the Toyota Echo, Yaris will definitely be the name you’ll be hearing again and again.

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