2008 Toyota Yaris

David Yochum
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The Toyota Yaris has suddenly become a hot seller thanks to its excellent fuel economy and solid Toyota build quality. Through the first half of 2008, Yaris sales are up 39 percent compared to 2007 (sales of the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Suzuki SX4 are up even more), yet Yaris pricing remains competitively low. The liftback version starts at only $11,550 (our liftback tester with a four-speed automatic transmission sells for $14,125), and buyers can order their new Yaris econo-hatch with everything or seemingly nothing.

A 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission are standard on the car, as are air conditioning and color-keyed mirrors and door handles. Creature comforts such as power windows and locks, a rear defroster and rear wiper, fifteen-inch alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel, and an MP3 compatible stereo system are available through option packages. Buyers can also give their Yaris a more performance-oriented look by ordering the S package (which adds front and rear lip spoilers) and fog lights. For those worried about accident protection, the Yaris features available ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, available side airbags, and side-curtain airbags for both front and rear passengers.

But what makes this featherweight (2326-pound) commuter car attractive isn't its looks or safety credentials. Consumers shopping for a Yaris are simply looking for one thing - the best small car value.

Does this Toyota deliver?

Exterior
Is that a bug on the road?

Eyeing our blue Yaris from the street, we noticed a few obvious things. Styling on the liftback is quirkier than that of the Yaris sedan (squint hard and it sort of looks like a smashed bug), but body panel fit is tight, unlike that of the old Echo. Seeing that Toyota didn't skimp on assembly makes us believe this car should hold up for many years to come.

We like the roof antennae, side marker lights, and the optional front and rear bumper lips on our Yaris S model. However, we're not sure that we would pay extra for the cosmetic body enhancements. Ditto for the available alloy wheels - this car is for basic transportation, not a Sunday car show. The Yaris's bubbly, obtuse front nose is different from anything else on the road, and it also helped earn the Toyota a "good" frontal crash test rating from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

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