Test Drive: 2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback toyota car test drives
2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2010 Toyota Yaris

If you aim to spend as little as possible, you’ll get the car you deserve: one that’s small, slow and uncomfortable, right? Well, thankfully, inexpensive cars are much more civilized now than they used to be, so that cheap no longer means, you know, “cheap.”

The Toyota Yaris is a good example of this: yes, it’s still as small as ever, and hardly fast, but like the other runabouts in its class, it’s got real-people space and comfort inside.

For 2010, the Yaris line has been shuffled a bit: the two-door RS hatch is gone, the four-door LE hatch gets a standard split-folding rear seat, and the four-door RS hatch gains standard stability control and brake assist but no longer gets cruise control. Meanwhile, the sedan gets standard anti-lock brakes, and the Enhanced Convenience Package adds stability control and brake assist but no longer includes alloy wheels or fog lights. For 2010, all Yaris hatchback models get six airbags; last year, the RS hatch was the only model to have these as standard.

Test Drive: 2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback toyota car test drives
2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback. Click image to enlarge

2010 Yaris hatchback pricing starts at $13,620 for a two-door CE model; my four-door RS tester is worth $19,555, for which you get air conditioning, keyless entry, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, fog lights, a four-speaker stereo with auxiliary input and six-CD changer and a rear wiper. Add $1,000 for the automatic transmission and $1,280 for freight, and the as-tested price is $21,835.

Typically, I don’t find that fully-loaded subcompacts are worth the money; it’s often more cost effective to buy a lesser version of the same car or move up to a compact for the extra space, power and standard features. The only problem is that the RS is the only Yaris hatch to come with stability control, though you can get it as part of the Yaris sedan’s Enhanced Convenience Package for $18,500 with automatic transmission.

Option a two-door Yaris hatch with automatic and the LE Convenience Package, and you get most of the RS’s niceties for $18,185, while a four-door LE with Convenience Package comes out to $18,485 (plus freight).

Test Drive: 2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback toyota car test drives
2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback. Click image to enlarge

This is no sports car, but the Yaris’ small size and light weight help make it a nimble handler, and even a fair bit of fun in the run-of-the-rush-hour-mill. Steering feel is only okay, but the wheel is light; that and the car’s tiny size make it a cinch to park and scoot into gaps in traffic. The suspension (which is the same across the line; the RS only looks sportier) is firm, but not punishing – in fact, it provides a near-perfect balance between comfort and handling.

Little cars like this tend to make me drive like a hooligan, or at least make me feel like I am. In reality, delving deep enough into the throttle to get the engine spinning more than 4,000 rpm before the transmission calls for an upshift is basically a defence mechanism against being inhaled by the SUV behind you whose driver is in a really big hurry to get to work. Good thing the engine is a willing revver, though a body light on sound insulation allows lots of the engine noise into the cabin.

In this class, only the Honda Fit offers a five-speed auto as the optional gearbox, while four-speeds and CVTs are the alternatives here and elsewhere in the class. The key to sprightly acceleration in cars with motors this small is still the tried-and-true manual transmission; for what it’s worth, the Yaris’s automatic is a good one, shifting smoothly and responding to pedal pressure at speed with prompt downshifts.

The Yaris’s Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption ratings are 7.0/5.6 L/100 km (city/highway) with the automatic transmission; my tester averaged 8.4 in a week of almost exclusively city driving.

Test Drive: 2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback toyota car test drives
2010 Toyota Yaris RS hatchback. Click image to enlarge

Many cars get people talking about their looks, or performance; with the Yaris, the conversation starter is the instrument cluster plunked top-and-centre on the dashboard. If the gauges have to be in the centre instead of behind the wheel rim, I actually prefer them to be farther away from me, closer to the base of the windshield, as in the Prius. To my eyes, that car’s arrangement has real ergonomic benefits; here, it just gets on my nerves.