EXPERT REVIEW

Mother Proof's view


Remember those clown cars at the circus? The teeny-tiny ones that would drive into the center ring and 15 clowns would climb out? That was hilarious, right? Well, it’s not that funny when you’re playing the part of the clown, which I did recently while test-driving the 2008 Toyota Yaris.

You see, it was my son’s birthday and I showed up for his party at the park with two kids and a dozen balloons packed into the Yaris. Watching me try to unwedge everyone from the car without losing the balloons was the entertainment highlight of our party. Stuffing a family into this subcompact isn’t nearly as fun as watching that same family climb out of it.

If I said that the three-door Yaris is a small car that might be misleading. This Yaris is smaller than small. It’s not as small as a Mini Cooper, but it makes a Prius look HUGE. It’s actually pretty cute, too; it’s like a baby car – aww. Getting into the Yaris is definitely a downward motion, and once inside, I felt like Alice of “Alice in Wonderland” after eating the cake (she became really, really big). Thankfully, Toyota didn’t clutter up the Yaris’ interior with a lot of stuff, so it feels clean and modern. The textures of the dash, seats and trim work well together and seem easy to care for. And the instrument panel is located in the center of the dash, instead of directly in front of the driver. It took some getting used to – not looking through the steering wheel to check my speed or gas gauge – and I’m not sure I ever did get used to it.

There’s a storage bin that’s in the dash behind the steering wheel, and I can only hope that you’re not supposed to access it while driving. I mean, what if you need to turn while your arm is stuck through the wheel? It’s just not a good idea. So, don’t put anything there that you’re going to want while driving, which will be difficult since there aren’t many other storage options in the Yaris. There’s no center storage console, only a slot for a phone or iPod behind the gearshift. This brings up another point: My test car was a manual transmission. Automatic is available, and I would highly recommend that option. Trying to manage kids while shifting isn’t my idea of a good time – especially in traffic.

Driving the Yaris isn’t exactly as much fun as a three-ring circus, but it’s not embarrassing, either. The engine pretty much gets the job done. Its handling isn’t great, especially on twisty mountain roads where the teeny-tiny 14-inch tires seemed to just barely hang on to the road. The Yaris isn’t a car for going fast; it’s for going from here to there and that’s it. Apparently it’s not for going backward, either, since rear visibility is pretty abysmal.

The S version I drove had some nice features that made the drive much more pleasant. The ride is pretty smooth and there isn’t too much noise from the road or engine. Both the steering wheel and gearshift knob are leather-covered, which means that the places my hands spent the most time are nice to the touch, not plasticky feeling. Power doors, windows and mirrors help avoid the econobox feeling. Also, a pretty decent audio system with a CD player and auxiliary input jack helps distract from the teeny-ness of the Yaris. The seats are sporty and easily adjustable. In back, the Latch connectors aren’t too hard to access. However, since my kids are out of child-safety seats, the seats weren’t exactly fab-o. My 8-year-old had a hard time getting the seat belt to fit correctly, and the retractable headrests forced his head forward unless he pushed it up to its highest position. My little guy, in his booster seat, did much better, as I would imagine the smaller clowns do in their car. It’s always the tall clown with the stilts that gets the most laughs as he struggles out of the backseat, right?

Cargo space is also a struggle in the Yaris. While the hatchback is easy to lift, it’s a bit low when open – tall folks had better watch their heads. In the cargo area, a built-in cover keeps items out of view and out of the sun, but you have to remove the cover to fold the seats down. I folded the seats down a lot since the cargo space isn’t exactly cavernous. Actually, I had to go grocery shopping without the kids (which I prefer, anyway, whenever possible) so that I could fold the seats down and fit all the bags in. There’s no way a large stroller would fit in the back; really, there’s not room for much more than the case of water and gym bag I usually keep in the back. Did I mention that the Yaris is little?

I must admit that the 2008 Toyota Yaris isn’t intended to be a family car; that’s just not this car’s primary purpose. It works much better as an off-to-college car or an I’m-buying-my-very-first-new-car car. Making it work for a family with kids and dogs and groceries is just no fun at all.

*For more information on the 2008 Toyota Yaris and its safety features, visit Cars.com. With questions or comments regarding this review, write to editor@motherproof.com.

LET’S TALK NUMBERS

Latch Connectors: 2

Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Not Really

Fun Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove On): Some

Specs

Toyota Yaris S two-door hatchback

Base price:

$11,550 Price as tested:

$16,923

Engine: 106-hp, 1.5-liter 4-cylinder

Fuel: 29/36 mpg

Length: 150.6″

Width: 66.7″

Ground Clearance: 5.5″

Turning Radius: 15.4′

Cargo space: 9.32/25.7 cu. ft. (seats up/folded down)

NHTSA Crash-Test Ratings

Frontal Impact

Driver’s side: 5 stars

Passenger’s side: 4 stars

Side Impact

Front occupant: 3 stars

Rear occupant: 3 stars

Rollover resistance: 4 stars

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