New Car Reviews: You Say Tomato, I Say…

I’ve  now owned my 2010 Yaris for exactly a week, which makes me qualified to say almost nothing of substance about it.  That scarcity of substance, I think, makes me eminently qualified for a new career as a reviewer for Car and Driver. 

However, I’ve been doing two things (besides actually driving it) to become more familiar with it.  One, I’ve started reading the Owner’s Manual.  So far, the most important thing I’ve learned from it is that if I’m involved in an accident,  it could result in death or serious injury.  Thank God they warned me about this.  I always thought if you had a really bad accident, you sprouted wings and flew effortlessly and painlessly through the roof (or the floorboard, depending on the position of the vehicle after the accident).

Second, I’ve been belatedly doing some comparative car shopping, by reading reviews.  This isn’t to say that I gave no thought to buying the Yaris.  I’ve been thinking about it for four months.  I wanted it because of the price, the gas mileage, and because it’s a Toyota. 

But yesterday, Comcast posted a story on its Homepage about the 10 cheapest cars available in the U.S., and I couldn’t resist reading it.  It turned out to be a review by Car and Driver of the 2008 models.  I then tried to find more current comparisons, but there isn’t a lot out there yet about the 2010’s.  Besides Car and Driver, I also looked at reviews by Motortrend, Edmunds, and a few other fly-by-night sites.  Some reviews, like the Car and Driver review, compare the cars by price range; others, by size and style.  In the latter category, the Yaris is compared to the Honda Fit, the Nissan Versa, and the Kia Rio.

Pretty universally, the Yaris is deemed “middle of the pack” and is damned by faint praise:  despite the fact that it has the best gas mileage and the most safety features.  And…it’s a Toyota.  Six of those ten cheapest cars were either Kias or Hyundais. 

Here are a few of the things the reviewers don’t like about it: 

It’s small.  Duh.  I really got that part when test-driving it on the Toyota dealer’s lot.  My salesman, D.J., was in the passenger seat, and while shifting gears–especially when shifting into reverse–I became intimately acquainted with D.J.’s knee. 

Cruise control isn’t standard.  How will I ever be able to bear it?  The Camaro had cruise control, which isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  I can count on less than 10 fingers the times I used it.  Be honest.  If you have it, how often do you use it?  Not in a city, and not even on an expressway in a city.  It assumes long stretches of open road.  How rare is that these days? 

The dashboard displays (tachometer, speedometer, odometer, clock, etc.) are all together in the middle of the dashboard.  As one reviewer said, “It just doesn’t feel right”.  Please.  It’s new, it’s different?  Go review a 1979 Buick Park Avenue already. 

Power windows and doors are not standard.  Fakename could not be happier about that, as she has a previously mentioned aversion to those features. 

Design.  The appearance of the Yaris I’ve seen described as “eccentric”, “quirky”, and my favorite, “Euro-cute”.  I think it is the sleekest of its comparable cars–that is, the hatchback is, which is what I bought.  As coincidence would have it, I saw a Honda Fit in the parking lot of PetsMart yesterday and thought it was hideous.  I wanted to give it a little paper hat and whistle and teach it to sing “Auld Lang Syne”. 

Am I totally happy?  Well….no.  My biggest complaint is that I’m having trouble adjusting to the clutch.   It’s fine when switching gears after first, it’s just starting off in first.  I am a very (VERY) long-term manual transmission driver, and many people who have been my passengers have said I’m the best driver they’ve ever seen with a manual transmission.  If you didn’t see me shifting gears, you would never know it was happening.  I can switch gears seamlessly so the passenger never knows it’s happening.  Hills are no obstacle.  Until now.  I have killed this car countless times in only a week.  So I don’t think it’s me…I think I will take it up with Toyota. 

Or…I could keep reading the Owner’s Manual, which has a section called “Driving the Car”.  This begins with “Start the engine”.  (Instructions are on page 129).  And here are the instructions for starting on a steep hill:

Step 1.  With the parking brake firmly set, and the clutch pedal fully depressed, shift the shift lever to 1.  <They must be kidding me.  The parking brake?>

Step 2.  Lightly depress the accelerator pedal at the same time as gradually releasing the clutch pedal.  <Dang!  Why did I waste all that time taking Driver’s Ed?  I could have just read this manual.>

Step 3.  Release the parking brake. 

By using this method, I can guarantee you that your Yaris will shoot forward like it’s been propelled from a slingshot, because it’s very zippy.  Per the reviews, it will go from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, and I believe it, though I haven’t officially tested it myself.  Now I know I shouldn’t, since the Owner’s Manual tells me that for the first 1000 miles I should avoid sudden acceleration and driving at extremely high speeds. 

Apparently there is some saying that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.  I learned this from the reviews.  And I could not disagree more strongly.  I want a fast car, which I will then drive (relatively) slowly.  With a slow car, you can’t get out of the way fast enough.  If you see my point. 

Zip is good.   To illustrate, I leave this post with a comment by the Car and Driver reviewer who noted this about the Chevy Aveo (one of the cheap cars presumably comparable to the Yaris):  Make sure you get the manual transmission instead of the automatic, if you want to make it up an onramp to the expressway before both polar ice caps melt.

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6 responses to “New Car Reviews: You Say Tomato, I Say…

  1. That Aveo reviewer must live somewhere with different terrain than I. Most of the on-ramps around here are downhill. I remember a few uphill ones in NJ though.

    My lovely yellow Pontiac Fiero had a particular aversion to the one nearest my apartment. Only because, right at the top in the minuscule merge section was a thin scattering of gravel. I’d hit the top of the ramp doing at least 60, flick a glance back for openings in the traffic, and those big wide tires would hit the gravel and skate over into the lane, very much like ice. Tried to do the same into the river on a surface street once also, also because of just the right size of gravel.

    My one experience with actual ice in that car led to a gentle pirouette that stopped facing back home and I took the hint.

    Otherwise it had grip and power to spare but you had to plan where you were stowing the groceries on the way home.

  2. See…we are related after all. As I noted on Facebook, I’m accustomed to hitting the onramps in third gear in the Camaro without ever slowing down. I was afraid I would have to become adjusted to rollover potential in a more “upright” vehicle, but so far…not. I guess that “stability and traction control” stuff is for real.
    But that thing about where to put the groceries is also for real. I put a bottle of wine in the alleged cargo department a couple of days ago and it rolled around until I actually was forced to stop the car and put it in the front seat to stop being annoyed.
    And not being able to access the back seat except on the passenger side is seriously cramping my style.

  3. The Fiero’s trunk was designed to hold a pair of golf bags … Plus it could be warm back there with the engine.

    I usually packed the groceries into the passenger seat, starting with the foot well and heavy items, and working my way back into the seat with produce.

    And that car didn’t have a back seat.

    I admit that the middle-row floor in the Durango is piled with rain suits, ice scraper, umbrella. Both that row and the 3rd row seats are usually folded down, the better to fit hay bales and plywood.

  4. Fakename: Your story about the handbrake and clutch reminds me of a memorable experience from college.

    A friend lent me his little Datsun (yeah it was a Datsun) which was parked in the indoor garage. (Yalies will note that it was the Pierson-Sage Garage.) When I got in it, I noticed it had three pedals. Oops I had never driven a manual transmission before (except for the simulator in high school driver’s ed)!!

    I actually did a decent job getting the car to the exit of the garage …EXCEPT that there was a steep uphill ramp and gate at the end of the ramp. I would creep up the ramp in first gear — and stop in front of the gate, and the gate would rise. Then, I would let up the brake (with my foot still on the clutch) and roll backwards. And the gate would close.

    I then would go up the ramp…and the gate would open. And then roll backwards and the gate would close. Over and over.

    After about 10 times of this, i finally popped the clutch up … screeching and burning rubber … and shot out of the garage like a bullet.

    I feel sorry for people who live in San Francisco and drive manual transmissions!

  5. Very funny story! I have an employee who went to a funeral somewhere out of state with her mother and a couple of brothers, in her mother’s (manual transmission) car. While there, her mother tore the rotator cuff in her right shoulder, so she couldn’t shift gears. And no one else knew how to drive the car. They took an extra day hoping her mother would improve some, but she did not. At last the mother drove them home–with one of the brothers shifting the gears and the mother operating the pedals. They were all apparently complete nervous wrecks by the time the trip was over.
    As for San Fran, no kidding! Or as Fakesister said upon learning that I had purchased yet another manual transmission car, Don’t ever move anywhere with *real* traffic.

  6. I’m trying to figure out how someone can tear their rotator cuff while at a funeral…….

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