New Zealand summers leave little reason for complaint, with the exception of the variety of insects that enter homes around the country. Flies terrorise potato salads, mosquitoes cause sleepless nights and the infamous weta solicits squeals from unlikely sources. Even though we take these insects out with jandals and rolled up magazines it’s still hard not to be a little impressed at how something so small can at times affect us so dramatically. Insects aren’t the only tiny things that can impress us; cars can too. The new Yaris is the smallest member of the Toyota family and fits firmly into the subcompact bracket. Many models in the subcompact class are criticized for being gutless, featureless and only suitable for use by those happy to trundle along at a snail’s pace. The 2009 Yaris RS is out to prove it’s a creature all its own, and one with a sting in its tail.
Walking around the test specimen quickly reveals a vehicle that has been force-fed large doses of character and it’s worked a treat. The Yaris’ stumpy front end is aggressively styled with massive bug-eye headlights pushing back nearly as far as the raked windscreen. An ascending belt-line runs along the sides stopping at a thick rear pillar, giving the Yaris a look of height at the back and subsequently a pouncing stance. The RS variant has received sports upgrades with a chiseled and chunky body kit, fog lights, tinted rear glass, colour coding on the mirrors and door handles, and a matching front grille. The look is polished off with stylish 17-inch rims wrapped in 205/45 Yokohama tyres. Overall, the Yaris’ styling is modern, overtly aggressive and fun, the RS additions work well together and offer enough over the standard model to create a unique buzz.
Open up the Yaris and some of the funky exterior styling is carried into the cabin. The dashboard looks like someone has grabbed either side of it and pushed its entire contents together into the centre. The climate controls, stereo and all instruments are neatly stacked above the gearstick. This makes for a tidy and symmetrical dash layout, and frees up space for some useful cubby holes, but it also creates vast areas of plain dark plastics that could benefit from being broken up with contrasting trim. The instruments are large and well illuminated but being mid-mounted aren’t my preference. I don’t mind a mid-mounted speedometer like in the new Minis, but I definitely prefer my tachometer straight in front.. Aesthetics aside, fit and finish is very good in the cabin, the plastics are firm to touch and it has the trademark Toyota level of cockroach toughness. The interior also benefits from some RS upgrades; a leather-surrounded steering wheel and gear knob, chrome door handles and sports-style seats. The equipment list includes a useful smart keyless entry system and a push button start fires the Yaris up.
Interior space is very good considering the Yaris’ dimensions, with impressive rear headroom and decent width between the two front seats. Understandably this comes at a price with limited luggage room in the hatch. The rear compartment is equipped with a handy false floor for separating valuables, but is very shallow even for a subcompact. With the rear seat pushed down luggage space grows dramatically, but if you have 4 passengers with gear, nesting it all in the hatch would be very challenging.
The Yaris’ oversized front fascia results in a tiny bonnet but shoe-horned beneath is Toyota’s 1.8 Litre, 16-Valve, Variable Valve Timing intelligent (VVT-i) motor. This is a tight-fit but a good-fit for the Yaris, putting out 98kW of power and 173Nm of torque. The power isn’t enough to attract boy-racers or terrify passengers, but it is definitely lively and useful. The Yaris gets up to speed with relative ease but the 4-cylinder snatched from the Corolla isn’t peaky in its power delivery instead opting for smooth acceleration through the range. To extract the best performance from the Yaris the revs need to be kept high and the gears worked thoroughly. Luckily the 6-speed manual transmission worms it’s way through the gears easily and matched up with a suitably manageable clutch makes for a rewarding drive.
When it’s time to hit the open road and escape the hive the RS comes into it’s own. When many small cars are found wanting the Yaris excels and cruises comfortably around the speed limit with genuine overtaking capabilities. Shift on to twisting B-roads and the Yaris is as light as a hornet and as sure-footed as a centipede. Sports tuned suspension helps the RS harness the extra power and the result is very impressive. The Yaris sits flat on turn-in and has an awesome level of grip. Torque-steer isn’t an issue with the front wheels staying glued to the tarmac in most situations. The electronic steering is accurate and well-weighted capping off a package that has the ability to embarrass more powerful vehicles on windy roads.
Ride quality is compromised by the firm suspension, not uncomfortably so but possibly enough to dissuade those looking only for a cheap city run-about. Despite the larger motor and wheels, wind, road and engine noise all remain acceptably mellow.
Keeping the RS contained are safety features far beyond a snail’s shell, including Traction Control (TRC), Stability Control (VSC), ABS braking and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD). The RS is the only Yaris that currently offers Stability Control. There is a swarm of airbags complete with side airbags, front/rear curtains and a driver’s knee airbag. The Yaris also has kid-friendly credentials with sash seat belts for all three backseat passengers and an on/off switch for the passenger airbag.
The Yaris RS was designed and built in Europe and has come to NZ spinning a web of good reasons to consider it in the subcompact segment. If you’re crawling along city streets or flying through open-road corners the Yaris RS is a spirited and fun drive. Its styling upgrades are tasteful but still strong enough to see it stand out from the rest of the Yaris colony. It’s reasonably priced has a long equipment list and class-leading safety features, combined with Toyota’s reputation for reliability and durability make it a very strong new car option.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications.
Price: from $26,490
What we like:
- Fun to drive¨Safety features
What we don’t like:
- Engine could use a touch more power
- Dash configuration an acquired taste
Toyota Yaris RS (2009) – Specifications
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
* In-line, 4 Cylinder, 16 Valve, DOHC with Dual Variable Valve Timing-intelligent (VVT-i)
* 1.8 Litre
* 98kW @ 6000 rpm
* 173Nm @ 4400 rpm
* Fuel consumption is 7.2 L/100km (based on EU durective 70/220/EEC (combined))
* 6 speed manual transmission
WHEELS & BRAKES
* 6.5JJ x 17″ Alloy Wheels
* 205/45 R17 Steel Belted Radial Ply Yokohama Tyres
* Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Brake Assist (BA)
* Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD)
* Traction Control (TRC)
* Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
* 3800 mm long
* 1695 mm wide
* 1530 mm high
* 42 litre fuel capacity
* Seating capacity for 5
* 272 litres of boot space
* Gross vehicle weight of 1545kg
* Body Coloured Electric Exterior Rear View Mirrors, door handles and front and rear bumpers
* Chrome Exhaust
* Front Fog Lights
* Rear Spoiler
* Side Skirts
* Sports Style Front Grille
* Driver and Passenger Front, Side, Drivers Knee and Front/Rear Curtain Shield Air Bags
* 3 Spoke Sports Style Leather Steering Wheel
* AM/FM Radio and Single Disc In-Dash CD/MP3 Player with Audio Input Jack, 6 Speakers and Security System
* Chrome Plated Inside Door Handles
* Engine Immobiliser
* Leather Gear Shift Lever
* Smart Entry and Start System
* Sports Style Front Seats with Slide and Recline Functions
Words and Photos, Adam Mamo