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February 19, 2008

Review: 2008 Toyota Yaris 1.5G

I’m not getting any younger.  The moment I stare at the bathroom mirror, I notice the sagging gut and developing eye lines.  I’m feeling every bit of my 28 years on planet earth, and though most say that I still have long ways to go, I believe it’s about time to say bye-bye to youth and enter the world of being a potential family man.  With wedding bells ringing not more than three years ahead, I had to step up and make the two most important purchases in any man’s life: a house and a car.  The first was easy—my dad offered his old house provided he can bunk with me even after I’m married.  The second wasn’t; as a motoring writer, I have driven over 220 cars, so choosing the right one can fill up an entire Excel worksheet with pros and cons.  In the end, I settled on a car that I haven’t driven before; a car I purchased solely on gut feel: the Toyota Yaris.

Even before stepping into Toyota Shaw-Ortigas to meet my sales sagent, Liza Morgia-Jamias, I knew exactly what I wanted.  The Yaris was on top of my shopping list for three reasons: reputation, packaging and efficiency.  Our family has had the privilege to own all Japanese makes (with the exception of Subaru), and by far, Toyota has provided the best ownership experience we could hope for.  With dealerships all over the country, it’s easy to have a Toyota repaired or serviced.  Not that you’ll need to go there, mind you.  Our Echo, the Yaris’s predecessor, has served us for seven trouble-free years.

As a product, the Yaris is exceptionally packaged.  With an overall length of just 3,750 mm, it actually fits a 2,460 mm wheelbase (the same as the pre-Altis Corolla).  The surprisingly roomy cabin fits 5 adults with comfortable breathing space even for an out-of-town trip.  Everything in here was designed to maximize space.  Upfront, the swept up power window switches and the anorexic center console with vertically stacked air conditioning controls frees up knee room.  Meanwhile, at the back, the door mounted switches and flat floor enables the rear occupants to stretch a bit.  Despite the conscious effort to prioritize passengers, Toyota didn’t forget what set the Echo apart from the sub-compact hatch also-rans of years ago: tons of cubby holes.  In the Yaris, there are much more: 3 glove boxes including one right behind the steering wheel, 3 storage bins flanking the center console plus 2 storage racks at driver’s knee level.  Perhaps the biggest gripe is the lack of a split-fold rear bench.  Instead, Toyota did provide for a single folding unit with a locking storage bin (it’s also where the full-sized spare’s located).

After all the paperwork, Ms. Morgia-Jamias waved me off and set to do one thing I haven’t done before: drive the Yaris.  I was immediately impressed with the spritely performance of the 1.5-liter engine.  Though no more powerful than its contemporaries, the 4-speed Super ECT automatic makes the most out of it.  The Yaris never lacks punch, even when fully loaded.  Though the engine doesn’t give the sportiest exhaust note out there, the speedometer needle tells the story of a car that dispenses speed quite easily.  As I got used to driving a car with almost no overhangs, it shows the Yaris’s most fun aspect: carving through city traffic.  Visibility is excellent, and with a quick-ratio electric power steering, it can squeeze through two cars with an almost motorcycle-like manner (usually to the ire of motorists).  Plus, it can turn on a dime into the tightest of parking spaces.

Since then, the city driving aspect of the Yaris hasn’t worn out on me.  As I average around 350 kilometers a week, this car manages to be a dependable and eco-friendly companion—sipping fuel at the rate of just 11 to 13 km/L, depending on the type and brand of fuel (the Yaris seems to like Shell products).  As I brought the Yaris to its first out of town trip though, its city car design flaws started to emerge.  Not lacking in top speed, the Yaris can top out at an electronically-limited 130 km/h.  What’s so discontenting is in the way it can get swept by crosswinds because of its lithe 1,080-kilogram mass.  The overly sensitive steering is a big problem too; because keeping the Yaris pointed straight at high speed make take some concentration.

After doing almost 7,000 kilometers in just 4 months, I have little to complain about Toyota Yaris ownership.  Fit and finish are generally commendable, but there were some paint issues after I got delivery, that was solved after some waxing.  Then there was an annoying rattle in the rear hatch (because of the push-button type release), but was resolved by literally shoving a sock into the hatch.  And then there’s the lack of an auxiliary audio input—which I countered by installing a PIE (Precision Interface Electronics) Fujitsu Ten CD changer to aux input adapter.  As a companion in the next chapter of my life, the Yaris is something me and my future wife and completely depend and enjoy for the foreseeable future.  Though I haven’t driven the Yaris before this, now I simply can’t think of life without it.

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