Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback. Click image to enlarge
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    2008 Toyota Yaris hatchback

    North Vancouver, British Columbia – Last time I checked, the Toyota Yaris was the fourth best-selling car in Canada, behind the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. That’s pretty impressive for a car that’s about to enter its fourth model year without a major redesign.

    The Yaris two- and four-door hatchbacks, which replaced the Echo, were first introduced in the Fall of 2005, followed by the Yaris four-door sedan in the Spring of 2006.

    This review focuses on the base two-door 2008 Yaris hatchback CE model which starts at $13,165. 2009 models, which are already on sale as you read this, start at $13,210. My test car included an optional four-speed automatic transmission ($1,000) and optional air conditioning ($1,150). Including Freight charge ($1,090) and A/C tax ($100), the as-tested price of this little Japanese runabout came to $16,505.

    Standard equipment

    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback. Click image to enlarge

    As Toyota’s smallest, least expensive and most fuel-efficient (non-hybrid) automobile, it’s not really surprising that the Yaris hatchback is so popular in Canada – but until now, the Yaris hatchback lacked some important features that were available on its competitors -notably, side and curtain airbags and split folding seatbacks (on base models). For the 2009 model year, those things are now optional or standard. As well, cruise control is now available on CE and LE models when equipped with the automatic transmission, and keyless entry, power door locks and power windows are now available on all trim levels.

    One thing that’s still missing though, is electronic stability control.

    Standard equipment on my 2008 Yaris CE two-door hatchback test car included a 106-hp 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, electric power rack and pinion steering, seating for five passengers, single folding rear seatback, AM/FM radio with single-disc CD player and two speakers, tilt steering wheel, manual windows, and rear privacy cover. 175/65R14 inch all-season radials are standard but my test car had the optional 185/60R15-inch all-season tires. One complaint: on 2008 models, a rear wiper and washer is standard on the four-door Yaris hatchback but is not offered on the two-door hatchback.

    2009 models have the same standard equipment, but newly available options: the CE two-door is available with an LE Package ($845) which includes 60/40 split fold-down rear seatbacks, heated power mirrors, two extra speakers, and rear wiper/washer; an LE Convenience Package ($2,700 man; $3,050 auto) adds ABS, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, and cruise control (with automatic transmission); an LE Enhanced Convenience Package ($3,215 man, $3,565 auto) adds all of the above plus side and curtain airbags. Unfortunately, that means if you want side and curtain airbags, you have to take all the other stuff with them. Theoretically, you could dress up a two-door Yaris CE hatchback to the tune of almost $18,000 plus Freight and taxes.

    And unfortunately, the federal government’s Eco-Rebate of $1,000 is no longer valid for 2009 models.

    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback. Click image to enlarge
    Interior impressions

    For such a short and stubby car, the Yaris hatchback has a surprising amount of headroom and legroom for four passengers, but the rear seat is narrow for three. The right front passenger seat has a lever on the backrest which folds it forwards while the seat moves forwards allowing rear passengers to crawl through.

    The base Yaris hatchback is nicely finished inside. I particularly liked the look and feel of the soft black cloth seats and door panels which are imprinted with hundreds of light blue dots. The dark grey dash contrasts with silver coloured trim around the radio and climate controls, and a lighter shade of grey runs along the upper doors down into the armrests. This was more than I expected in a base economy car.

    The dominating interior feature is the centrally positioned speedometer, tachometer and digital fuel gauge, gear selection indicator, and odometer on top of the centre dash. All the instruments are large, except for the fuel gauge, and backlit for easy viewing day or night.

    The small, grippy steering wheel tilts up and down but doesn’t telescopic in and out. However, since there is no need to see the gauges behind the steering wheel, it can be positioned lower down for less arm strain.

    The Yaris’ vertically stacked heater dials are large and easy to use – and look great too. I didn’t mind the manual winding windows which are easy to wind up and down, but the rear windows don’t wind down. The basic two-speaker radio/CD player offers decent sound but I didn’t see an auxiliary jack for music players.

    Nobody does cubbies like the Toyota Yaris hatchback – there’s one behind the steering wheel, two on the passenger side dash, a flip- down coin holder left of the steering wheel, two open bins on either side of the centre console, two flip out cupholders on the outer dash, an open bin ahead of the shift lever with a 12-volt outlet, a slot beside the handbrake, a rear cupholder in the centre console and two cupholders in the rear side panels, and bottle holders in the front doors.

    The standard single rear folding seatback folds down for big loads but isn’t quite flat, and lacks the versatility of split folding seatbacks. The right front passenger seat does not fold flat.

    The trunk is rather small, but has a low liftover height and a hard privacy cover which has a flexible partition that attaches with Velcro to the back of the rear seat. Under the trunk floor are a couple of hidden storage bins and a temporary spare tire.

    Driving impressions

    In a crowded parking lot, care needs to be taken when getting in and out because the two-door Yaris has long doors. The driving position provides very good visibility and I liked the low steering wheel, handy floor shift lever and easy to read instruments. It takes a while to get used to looking over to the centre to read the tachometer and speedometer, but because they’re further away, it’s easier to focus on them, and you don’t have to lower your head as much.

    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback. Click image to enlarge

    I was quite impressed with the quality and support of the front seats in the base Yaris. They have large side and thigh bolsters which hug your body, and the soft cloth material is warm and comfortable, as well as good looking. I liked the wide front footwells and the durable rubber floor mats too.

    The 106-hp four-cylinder engine is adequate for city and highway driving needs, but you’ll find it straining when passing other cars at highway speeds. With the automatic transmission, at 100 km/h it does 2,600 rpm in top gear, and is not too noisy. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts very smoothly no matter how hard you punch the accelerator. The shift gate in the Yaris allows the driver to slap the gear lever from D to 3 by tapping sideways, and I found myself doing this quite often to prepare for hill climbs or when I needed extra power when accelerating.

    When the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada tested the then-new 2006 Yaris hatchback in the fall of 2005 with the standard five-speed manual transmission, they recorded a 0 to 100 km/h time of 9.4 seconds, about the same as last generation Honda Fit, and better than a Hyundai Accent or Kia Rio5. You can add about a second to that time for the Yaris with the four-speed automatic transmission model.

    Fuel economy is rated at a thrifty 7.0/5.6 city/hwy (L/100 km) with the automatic transmission and 7.0/5.5 city/hwy with the manual transmission. I averaged 8.1 L/100 km over a week’s worth of mostly city driving where my constant downshifts and acceleration runs probably increased my fuel consumption.

    In AJAC’s braking tests, the Yaris hatchback’s braking distance from 100 km/h to 0 was 43.4 metres (142 ft.), about average for the subcompact class. All Yaris hatchback models have front disc/rear drum brakes and ABS is optional on base models.

    The Yaris’ tight 10.4 metre (34.1 ft.) turning diameter makes it fairly nimble in the city, but I found that when accelerating out of a corner, the steering wheel would gently tug in the opposite direction – not exactly torque-steer, but not a comfortable feeling either.

    My car was equipped with optional Goodyear Eagle LS 185/60R-15-inch radials which normally come as part of the Convenience Option package and cannot be ordered separately. Since my car didn’t have the Convenience Package, I’m not sure how this car ended up with these tires. Regardless, I would recommend them over the skinnier base 175/65R14-inch tires.

    Test Drive: 2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback toyota car test drives
    2008 Toyota Yaris CE hatchback. Click image to enlarge

    It’s very easy to find a suitable parking space in the Yaris hatchback, and since there’s no trunk, you can back right up to another car’s bumper. As is typical these days, the front of the car is hard to see from the driver’s seat, so judging parking distances is difficult. But my main concern with visibility was the lack of a rear wiper and washer in the base model. Come winter, this would be a big problem. As I mentioned, this has been addressed for 2009.

    My only other complaint was the lack of keyless remote door locking/unlocking on the base model. Each time I got out, I had to make sure the passenger door and hatch were locked. When you’re in a hurry, this is inconvenient. (Once you’ve had keyless remote locking, you really can’t go back.)

    The Yaris hatchback’s biggest competitor is the new-for-2009 Honda Fit which is available only as a four-door hatch, and comes with standard side and curtain airbags. Because of differing equipment levels, it’s best not to compare base price to base price. “Build” the exact car you want on the company’s web site and then compare the total price.

    Verdict

    A nimble, fuel-efficient, practical hatchback with a reasonable price-tag, the 2008 Yaris nevertheless lacks some comfort and safety features which fortunately have been made available in the 2009 model.

    Pricing: 2008 Toyota Yaris two-door hatchback CE

    Base price: $13,165
    Options: $2,150 (4-speed automatic transmission, $1,000; A/C, $1,150)

    A/C tax: $100
    Freight: $1,090
    Price as tested: $16,505
    Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

    Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Toyota Yaris

    Related articles on Autos

    First Drives

  • 2007 Toyota Yaris sedan, by Greg Wilson
    Test Drives

  • 2007 Toyota Yaris sedan, by Chris Chase
    Day-by-Day Reviews

  • 2007 Toyota Yaris sedan, by James Bergeron

    Competitors
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chevrolet Aveo5
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Kia Rio5
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2000 Honda Fit
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Hyundai Accent hatchback
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Versa
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Pontiac Wave
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Suzuki +

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Toyota Canada



  • About Greg Wilson

    Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).