Toyota Yaris Liftback versus Honda Fit

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 Update: We retested the Yaris hatchback and our opinions remain the same. The Yaris chassis isn’t as stiff as the Honda’s and the center-mounted gauge cluster has revealed some concerns. For example, being out of the driver’s line of vision the door open light and the turn-signal light are difficult to see. The Yaris does have room for larger individuals in front and a lot of headroom.  Neither car is very quiet, but both offer excellent visibility and the ability to cut through traffic with ease when equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.

Call it the battle of the featherweights, but don’t call it unimportant as Toyota and Honda debut two new products priced well below $14,000 and averaging about 34 mpg in an effort to gain new converts for the economically and environmentally caring public.

With the tremendous rise in fuel prices the arrival of these two could not have been better timed. Both offer exactly what buyers are searching for in this price segment in the form of inexpensive transport, handiness, a fun to drive spirit, and cargo room. Unfortunately, there is a huge discrepancy in price between the base Yaris at $11,000 (US) and the better-equipped base Fit at nearly $14,000. But if you add ABS, side airbags, and the needed Convenience Pack to the Yaris the prices are quite comparable.

Both vehicles are nearly identical mechanically. And, if you live where you can get the four-door hatchback Yaris, they are similar in interior space, too. Toyota has decided not to offer this four-door hatchback in the United States to eliminate a possible conflict with the nearly identically priced Scion A and B. Toyota is selling a four-door Yaris sedan in the States. Personally, having tested all of these Toyota products, we prefer the Scion A with its handy interior space, spunky performance, and balanced look.

If you are into driving the Fit is easily the best fit. It is very responsive to the point of being a little too eager, and with the terrific manual transmission is downright fun. Indeed, outside of a Mazda Miata, this is the best shifting transmission we have tested in recent memory. The Fit’s engine is perky with a 109 horsepower at 5800 rpm rating, but it feels at least 15 horsepower stronger than that. You can even lug the Fit’s engine a bit, something that the Yaris refuses to tolerate. The Toyota’s transmission has a less accurate shift mechanism and the engine needs 6000 rpm to get serious about performing for you. One item that frustrated us about the Yaris was the fact that the floor area for the dead pedal extends very close to the clutch pedal. The result is that unless you have small feet your foot sometimes hits the dead pedal area as you depress the clutch. Very disconcerting, although with practice this could be avoided.

Other interesting comparisons are that despite the many small niches for storage in the Yaris there simply are not enough large areas. The Fit is less unique in its interior storage approach with fewer but larger areas spaces. The Yaris has its speedometer and fuel meter placed in the center of the dash. It takes a while to get used to this, but it isn’t difficult to learn. We would have liked a more comprehensive gauge packages and recommend you check out the Yaris Sport Edition. In fact, if you want to do anything in a Yaris besides daily commuting, pay the extra and get the upgraded model. The Fit has very large, thick windshield wipers that do an exceptional job of clearing a huge amount of the windshield. We don’t know how well they would do when winter comes, but they certainly are excellent for clearing raindrops from the windscreen.

Overall, the difference between the Fit and Yaris is typical of the difference between the two parent companies. The Honda is the handler and the Toyota is softer.

Mom’s view: Putting the back seats down in both cars was easy, once the headrests were removed. The seats were comfortable, but the Yaris’s interior cloth interior grabbed onto all matter of hair and debris and held it as strongly as Velcro. I also thought that the Yaris seats could use additional padding. If you get the base model Yaris you don’t get central locking or remote mirror adjustments and so you have to walk around the car and check on each door to see if they are secured. You also have to manually roll down the windows. Outside mirrors also lack a remote feature. Yes, there is a reason that the base price for the Yaris is $11,000. Clearly, central locking would be worth the extra if you have a family. If just one person uses the Yaris it isn’t a problem. The Fit has power everything, but costs about $3000 more.

What struck me was how similar these two products were to each other. The Fit only has three extra horsepower than the 106 horsepower Yaris, although the Toyota has a double overhead cam valve train versus a single overhead cam for the Fit. The tires are the same size at 175/65 RS 14. Both cars can averaged around 34 mpg in mixed driving and have nearly identical fuel tank capacities making 400-mile trips conceivable. Both cars have five speed manual transmissions and most have smooth clutches with high take up points. The Fit, which is bigger than the two door Yaris we tested, weights nearly the same at 2350 pounds. The interior room for both are within an inch of one another with the four door hatchback Fit obviously having a larger cargo bay with its 21 cubic feet outdoing the Yaris’ 12.8.

When driving the Fit I didn’t feel like I was in a small car and it was fairly quiet. The Yaris was nosier, but parked easily with a 32.6 turning radius versus 35.6 for the Fit. Both cars had rear hatches that were simple to raise and offered a low lift over for heavy packages. The Fit’s rear seats have a 40-60 split as does the Yaris and both fold down to add needed cargo room. If anyone does get into the backseats it is tight. Moving the front seat forward on the Yaris requires you to reposition both the rake and the aft setting. The four doors of the Fit make this unnecessary. Again, Toyota has a nice Scion A if you want four doors and in Canada and elsewhere there is a four door Yaris.

I would pay the extra and get a Corolla, which Toyota is redoing for next year and so some great deals are available. In fact, I have seen base Corollas offered for almost the same as the Yaris and the fuel mileage is nearly identical or better. I should note that we really like the Corolla and it was our favorite small car until the new Civic arrived. Between the Fit and Yaris I like the look of the Yaris better, but the utility of the Fit wins my vote.

Dad’s view: The Honda Fit has to be driven with some dexterity because it oversteers initially. If you turn the wheel off center just a touch the Fit reacts quickly. The Yaris is the opposite with a duller feel to the steering wheel and a relaxed fit ride. It is the standard gearbox shifters where the real difference is most obvious between these two terrific commuter cars. The Fit is so superior it invites downshifts and has a tactile feel to its linkage. It is also slightly faster, getting you to 60 mph in just over 10 seconds. The Yaris is vague, to the point where I would recommend the automatic, and there isn’t any significant loss in fuel mileage. You are probable going to recoup the extra cost of the automatic unit at resale.

We asked for an extra day to test the Yaris and it was good that we did. Our initial reaction was negative. In order to keep up with traffic we had to shift frequently to keep the engine revs up. It does not respond well to lazy drivers. The seats were too thin, the cupholders too shallow, and the optional radio had limited reception. The extra time in the vehicle enabled us to get a handle on its positive side. It buzzed around town in fourth gear, was child’s play to park in the tightest places, and was willing to be pushed. We got used to the center mounted speedometer and fuel gauge and were excited about not seeing the latter move even after 50 miles thanks to an 11 gallon tank and good highway mileage of about 37 mpg. Essentially, the Yaris is a proven vehicle, but one that needs to be driven for a while to be fully appreciated. And, someone please tell Toyota to change the fabric on the interior. It is nearly impossible to remove hair from it.

Young working woman’s view: Too small, too difficult to get respect in, and not able to provide sensational fuel mileage to share with others who care about this issue were my opinions about these two sub-compacts. No doubt the Yaris is cute, but it looks a little too familiar with the departed Echo that it replaced. The Yaris has been “youthed-up” with handy trays most everywhere and a get in and go look. I am too old for it, as difficult is for me to write that, and lean toward the more utilitarian Fit with its nondescript look, but eager to please bent.

College going male’s view: Nifty, practical, and perfect for on campus parking and busy highway travels are my takes on these two models. However, the Fit is the most useful thanks to its larger interior and spunkier engine. I would love a Fit. I think the Yaris was too soft for my taste, although its brakes and steering seemed to be superior to the Honda as well as its brakes, even with drums in back. Neither car should be ordered with a manual unless you really love to drive and shift because they both get tiring in traffic due to their high clutch take up point. Indeed I stalled the Yaris several times at lights. Speaking of which, the Yaris night interior lighting need upgrades and the speedometer readout should be digital as it is difficult to read at night.

The Fit was quite fun once I ignored the fact that the 10 gallon gas tank was mounted under the front seats. Even the rear seats are pretty good, and if you order the Sport model you get manual-shift paddle switches on the steering wheel. If you enjoy pushing your driving skills the Fit Sport is the best choice. Neither car would get my vote for ease of use for their HVAC controls and despite being new cars; they don’t introduce any innovative features. The stereo in the Fit was good, the radio reception average, and the cargo room exceptional. The Yaris heating and cooling system worked better than the Fit, but the Toyota had less interior space to deal with.

Family conference: Both models are very close in price to their bigger sisters in the form of the Civic and Corolla and don’t get nearly identical fuel mileage. If you stay with the base models you can save, but resale has not been established and so long term ownership costs may be problematic. Of the two the Fit is the most fun, but it has bland looks and is easily mistaken for the Suzuki Aerio. The Yaris is cute, but the low hood makes rock chips and broken windshields likely. We recommend the more expensive Yaris sedan or, where available, the four door hatchback for families. And, if you are not in a hurry, the Nissan Versa might be a better value when it comes out later this year. A final recommendation is to scrap together another $50 a month and move up to a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. For a complete list of vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com and click on business.

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