Thursday, September 20, 2012


Continuing my excursion into the world of everything entry level, my friends at Enterprise put the keys of a sparkly blue Toyota Yaris in my hand. 2 keys, to be precise. An all-metal one, and a black-tipped one. No keyfob remote. Oldskool key-in-hole door locks. Felt like 1990.

From a design standpoint, I can honeszz... zzzz.... honestly say thazzz... zzzzz... zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

The all-grey interior is an homage to thzzz... zzzzzzzzzzzzzz... plastic with zzzzz... The fish wears a bow tie? I should fly to the tree house when my teeth are done falling out.

On the road is where you really ge... zz.. zzzzzzzzz... (No recollection of ensuing Ambien-fueled pancake feast.)

Sorry. I've never been able to get excited about anything Toyota has ever done. That includes Lexus. A way-too-broad array of mild appliances with awesome resale value. Designs that wash over the senses like Paxil over neuroreceptors. The Yaris is an entry level shot of novocaine into the medulla. Never engaging, yet never offensive.

The running joke at Motor Trend is that the most they can say about Yaris is, "It's a car!"

Open the door and you transition from a featureless exterior to a cabin reminiscent of a security buggy at the mall. A sea of grey plastic awaits, including a large expanse of it in front of the Cub Cadet injection-molded steering wheel. The gauge cluster, you see, is in the center of the dash. This is not an element of style. It's just a cheap way to produce left- and right-hand-drive vehicles without having to change much. It takes some getting used to. Imagine looking 14" to the right to see if your turn signal is still on.

Driving the Yaris at night was amusing. That gaping black void in front of the steering wheel is disconcerting. Absolute darkness from the defrost vents to your feet. I kept expecting a raccoon to leap out of that abyss and into my face. The center stack is a tragic result of a cost-cutting stroll down Toyota's spare parts aisle. The gauge cluster is backlit white. The radio is backlit orange. HVAC controls are backlit green. Tribute to Ireland? I don't think so.

I do feel I owe an apology to both Mazda and FIAT for calling their base models "basic transportation". This Yaris truly lowers that bar, in comparison. Mine did have A/C and a stereo with iPod interface, but the overall feeling is that you're in a do-it-yourself stripper. And the lack of fashion is oppressive.

I'll retract my claws now and admit that the Yaris did its simple job extraordinarily well. It comfortably toted my developers and me around town and on the highway. It had reasonable power, surprisingly good handling with minimal body roll, and everything worked flawlessly. And this is what you buy a Toyota for: Absolute utility without a hint of style.

I don't own a single pair of sweatpants - for the same reason I wouldn't own a Yaris. But for those who don't care about aesthetics and want a basic car that they don't have to think about, Yaris just might be the one... furry... icicle barge... zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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