The oddest thing about driving the Toyota Yaris is that eye level inside the car is like that of a Jeep Cherokee. Let me remind you that this is being said about the smallest car in the Toyota product lineup. It is the Vitz in Japan and currently unavailable in the States. Bumper to bumper, it's shorter than the Echo, but before you start imagining a tollbooth on wheels, let me assure you that design is hardly compromised.
The cuteness factor runs deep and far in the Yaris. Everything seems inspired by a very good episode of Romper Room. Like the Echo's, the speedo faces the driver from the center of the dash. The seats are elevated to mimic a minivan sensation. And the rear seats fold down for storage space or slide all the way to the hatch for room enough for four Emp-sized creatures. Operational practicality is superb. It is the car that Toyota wishes it brought to the States instead of the Echo.
We got a chance to drive TRD's version of the Yaris. TRD upgraded the power output by swapping in the Echo's 1.5L VVT-i in place of the stock 1.0L VVT-i. That gives the car a 40hp jump all the way up to 108 hp at 6,000 rpm. Torque is now 105 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm. Considering the post-transplant power-to-weight ratio, the TRD Yaris is suddenly very close to hot-hatch territory. I wouldn't draw any sports car comparisons, not because of the lack of throttle response (believe me, the car moves) but because every time I pounded the gas and got that Schumacher sensation, I would reach a red light. Then I would be sitting eye-to-eye with someone in a RAV4, which totally crushed my delusions.
To reduce that tall-car-in-tall-waves float, TRD equipped the company Yaris with its Sportivo suspension set. That includes stiffer springs and shocks and the addition of a strut tower brace and a lower cross brace. The wheel-and-tire package was also upgraded with 17x7 Rays Engineering Versus Turismo alloy wheels and 205/40ZR17 Dunlop SP Sport 8000 tires. In the looks department, the car was meant to ride on 17s. But then again, what else would you expect an honorable wannabe-automotive journalist to say?
Tooling around Los Angeles, the TRD Yaris proved itself to be the perfect city car (of course, ruling out all Maranellos and Diablos which belong more in that all-encompassing perfect-car category or better yet, only in my dreams). In an attempt not to sound like a tag-line parody, driving the Yaris is a wonder. It made me think of what learning to walk must have felt like. That is the only way I can express its singularity.
It must have looked pretty strange from the outside, as well, because the car drew stares at every red light and stop sign, which is an odd occurrence in Beverly Hills, where driving a Porsche Boxster is considered slumming it. And it's not just because of the TRD body kit, which is modestly sporty at best. The plain and simple fact of it is that this is a fun car to watch, just as cuddly animals are at the zoo. And with the 1.5L VVT-i, it's a fun car to drive, as well.
There must be something seriously wrong with this world when the car that wins European Car of the Year for 2000 as the Yaris did isn't even available in the United States. And it's not a smoke-and-fumes problem like we have with Skylines and Evos. But before I start climbing onto my soapbox, let me just pass on some inside info. There is talk of bringing it into the U.S. And if that should happen, each and every one of them should make their next stop TRD.