Buying Used: Toyota Yaris (2005-11)

With friendly looks and loads of standard equipment, the Toyota Yaris dominates the Light Car market and is a worthy choice for anyone on a budget

Buying Used: Toyota Yaris (2005-11)

Between fuel excise hikes, supermarket duopolies and oil future speculators, petrol gets inexorably more expensive and there isn't much the average Joe or Joanne can do except use less of the stuff. That generally means owning a small car and sometimes accepting a less-than-quality product.

Since the 1990s, Toyota has railed against the expectation that sub-mini models will be sub-standard as well. If you only need transport for one, or perhaps have a very young family, then the compact but well-equipped Yaris is well worth a look.

Having re-defined Light Car motoring with its economical Starlet, Toyota then dominated that market segment with its Echo and saw no reason to change much apart from the name when introducing an updated micro-car in 2005.

Of course, virtually everywhere else in the world already knew Toyota's chunky offering as the Yaris; our market being one of few to have preferred 'Echo' badging for the original version.

The Yaris range began at a Korean-beating $14,990 and comprised three and five-door models with five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Basic YR models came with 63 hard-working kilowatts from a 1.3-litre engine but still found enough power to run standard air-conditioning and power steering.

For their $15K, YR buyers also got to enjoy the convenience of power front windows, central locking and a CD player. ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution helped with stability – although Australia had to wait until 2009 for stability control – and if you couldn't avoid the crash there were dual air-bags.

The next step was to specify the YRS version which came with an 80kW, 1.5-litre engine and the choice of hatch or, from early 2006, four-door sedan bodywork. The sedan was priced $1000 above the three-door Hatch but a few hundred dollars below the five-door.

The Echo sedan had looked decidedly strange and the four-door Yaris wasn't going to suffer the same fate. With 90mm more in its wheelbase than the Hatch, the sedan offered family-friendly interior space and the styling did all it could to make the car look larger and more imposing than others in its category.

Presence of a  boot added 550mm to the overall length but Toyota managed to keep weight, and therefore performance, almost identical to the five-door, 1.5-litre Hatch.

Top of the Yaris tree was the YRX, with 1.5 litres and equipment expanded to include alloy wheels, a leather-rim steering wheel, body kit and six CD stacker. Pricing started at $19,490 and topped $22,000 if you chose an auto sedan.

Upgrades came in 2008 and 2010; the first revamp bringing minimal change and a matching price increase.  

The 2010 enhancement was more significant, standardising side and head air-bags in YRS and

YRX models and making slight styling changes. Extra bags had been available previously, but as a $700 add-on. The MY10 cars with or without extra safety gear were priced $600-1000 less than the versions they replaced.    

Latching onto one of the 'Limited Edition' Edge or Rush won't make you money but it might provide a talking point when you encounter one of the many other Yaris owners.   

'Compact and basic' are words that might fly to mind when poking one's head through the door of a Yaris, but give the little feller a go.

Drivers taller than 1.9 metres and dumping 110kg into the driver's seat report adequate head, leg and shoulder space and decent comfort as well. Accommodating someone of that height will demand compromises, though, and rear leg-room is reduced to near-zero when the front seat is pushed back to its stops.

Unless you grew up driving a 1950s Jaguar or early BMC Mini, Toyota's strange decision to plonk all of the gauges in the middle of the dash might cause some alarm. It might even send you back out the door and on the hunt for a more conventional Barina or Mazda 2.

On paper, the four-speed 1.5-litre isn't bad at all but the engine sounds as though it is making very hard work of overtaking a truck or when being asked to stay in third while bounding through some winding and undulating terrain.

In reality, 11.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash isn't too sluggish, but you really need to jump on the pedal to get it cracking and leave your foot buried until the tachometer passes 4000rpm.

These cars come with electrically-assisted steering which feels pretty good for 95 per cent of the time and only really gets edgy when asked to dodge a quick succession of obstacles or when trying to reverse park in a hurry.

Speaking of the Yaris' parking abilities, the thing is just brilliant to use in tight conditions. The turning circle is half a metre tighter than arch-rival Mazda 2's 9.8 metres and the Hatch is shorter overall while delivering more shoulder space. Glass area is amazing and if you back this car into anything that stands taller than the tail-lights you really need some optical help.

Despite its compact design, using a Yaris for family transport, as a load carrier or both is no challenge.  The seats, including the cushions, split fold so you can use the entire rear section as a load area, or just use half. The rear seat moves forward; gobbling legroom but adding a third to the available boot-space.

The 1.5-litre automatic cars are likely to produce the worst economy figures among the Yaris fleet, yet even the 'thirsty' version managed 7.5l/100km during an extended test. Manual 1.3-litre cars that aren't being flogged will manage mid-sixes.

Early cars scored four stars in ANCAP crash testing but later models with additional air-bags score an excellent five stars.   


>> Some owners say the auto transmission can feel harsh, sometimes clunky. However it should be reliable and not produce strange noises or more than intermittent vibration. After test-driving and with the tranny hot, select Low, move a few metres then stop, select Reverse and see how long it takes to engage. Forget any car that takes more than two seconds.
>> Kick-down response can range from not working at all at higher speeds and/or below 50km/h trying  to go right back to First.
>> Even if the car has been recently serviced, check engine oil for sludge. These engines work hard and 10,000km service intervals can be too long where the car commutes short distances at low speeds and doesn't do a lot of long trips. Oil needs checking every month as sump capacity is barely adequate and even a minor leak can cause damage.  
>> The rear of the Hatch is vulnerable to damage and poor repairs. Check the spare wheel well for kinked metal and look for broken bumper clips. Listen for rattles from a latch that isn't secure.
>>  High-kilometre cars or those that travel on unsealed roads can suffer wear and damage to constant-velocity joints in the drive-shafts. If a car has travelled more than 150,000 kilometres, budget to have these replaced as a routine service item.
>> Unlike other economy models, the Yaris uses a chain not a vulnerable rubber belt to operate its valve train. Chains do stretch and wear their tensioners, so listen at start-up for ticking or whirring from the front of the engine.

Design and function: 15/20
Safety: 14/20
Practicality: 16/20
Value for money: 15/20
Wow factor: 10/20
SCORE: 70/100

ALSO CONSIDER: Holden Barina, Ford Festiva, Mazda 2

RedBook Warranties are available for this car. Click here to find out more.