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Can Toyota Still Manage to Build an Awful Car?


Well according to Dan Neil at the L.A. Times the answer is yes. He wrote an article today that discusses his opinion about Toyota’s smallest car (in the U.S.), the Toyota Yaris.

In the past few years, Toyota has enjoyed large success. The company is on their way to becoming the world’s largest automaker and continues to be the benchmark for all the other car companies to emulate. Sales in 2006 increased by 12.5% and their luxury brand, Lexus is the best selling luxury brand in the U.S. It would seem that the company can do no wrong, considering the fact that they also produce the best selling car in the U.S.

Well according to Neil, the Yaris is the car that has been severely overlooked. The Yaris subcompact was released in early 2006 as a 07′ model. It was introduced as a replacement for the slow selling Echo, even though it still uses many of the same mechanicals from that car. Toyota offers two versions of the car, a 3-door liftback (hatchback) and a 4-door sedan. The car features a 1.5L 4-cylinder with 106 horsepower and 103 lb ft of torque, which is not very much. The Yaris definitely has to be flogged in order to get up to normal speeds. But at least it gets good gas mpg 34 city and 40 on the highway.

Toyota introduced the Yaris as a competitor to the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Chevy Aveo. The Yaris liftback starts at just over $11k and a well equipped version goes for about $13k. This is definitely cheaper than the Fit and Versa, which is great for starving college students that need basic transportation. (The Fit and Versa start at about 13k)

According to Neil that is where the good news ends. He feels that the car is far too small for most people and it is severely underpowered. Neil: "It has been stretched and widened a bit for the U.S. market, though you might find it hard to believe in the backseat, which is about as roomy as a piece of Hartmann luggage." Compared to the Fit and Versa the Yaris is definitely smaller, although you have to remember that he is comparing a 3-door Yaris to a 5-door Fit or Versa. Regarding the power issue, the Fit only has 109 horsepower and the Versa 122hp. That isn’t that much better considering they weigh more than the Yaris.

Ignoring the smaller dimensions and power deficiencies, Neil’s main negative about the car is it’s cheap feel. "The Yaris sounds so hollow and reverberant you wonder if it shouldn’t have just kept the Echo name." Because Toyota made the car very light it is very susceptible to high winds and does not feel very solid at highway speeds. It also has a lot of body roll and lean. Compared to the Fit the handling is sub-par.

I do agree with many of his arguments about the Yaris’s deficiencies. I have driven the Echo and have looked at the Yaris. The car is very cute, but it is not as good as the Fit or Versa. Although Toyota seemed to miss the mark on this car, I doubt this misfortune is a sign of future troubles at the company, as Neil points out. I also doubt that most of the people that do buy this car care more about handling and horsepower than price and fuel economy. Also the simple fact that it is a Toyota is good enough reason for most people to sign the check. Most of the people that I have seen driving this car have been women in their mid to early twenties.