Elaborating on my gushing about CarMax, the Toyota Yaris is really a great car and deserves its own review. Obviously, it's no Porsche 911 but it's a leader in its own bracket.
Here were my "absolute must-haves" when car shopping:
Costs under $12,000 as a hard figure.
Has good MPG - at least 30 MPG all the time.
Can hold four people that aren't contortionists - and is comfortable.
Has reasonable acceleration without deadspots.
And - yeah, ok - has 'mod cons' like electric windows, A/C and even cruise control would be nice.
This is a nightmare list of needs, and although some are clearly negotiable, I rapidly realized that Japanese brands are the only ones to go for. The requirements I also missed here are "wife likes car" and "friends won't ridicule me even more".
Pretty much as soon as I test-drove the car, I was a fan. The four-door sedan has the same fuel economy as the three-door hatchback, and is roomier than many small car equivalents I tried. The acceleration isn't strained by having 5 people in the car instead of just the driver, and the ride is very quiet whether on residential roads or the highway. All my passengers were comfortably happy all the way, and - for a small car - even the A/C holds up at 110 degree weather on from Cali to Vegas.
The light handling makes it very easy to maneuver, and the all-round visibility is excellent. The 4-gear automatic box sacrifices acceleration on the low end for easy adjustment in the 60-80 mph area. Aerodynamically, this is a cleverly designed vehicle, since the forty-degree slope at the front just cuts though the air - this also allows very roomy legspace for the front passengers, together with endless cabin storage space behind the unbelievably-tiny engine.
I'm stretching to find things I don't like - and by doing so, I'm magnifying very minor problems, such as:
The trunk spring is so weak that the lid shuts on your head if you park on a slight slope. Ouch.
The driver key doesn't have a trunk release button - which is just bizarre.
The back license plate doesn't have two lower screw-holes, so when you slam the trunk it makes a noise.
Yes, they should fire the guy who designed the trunk area basically. But at 35-40 mpg, it drives long distances easily and comfortably, and even has niceties such as an iPhone port. Given my very-restrictive list of things I wanted, I really couldn't be happier... I'm actually so proud that I use it all the time and have called it "Tatiana the Toyota", since it has the grace of a woman and the sophistication of a culture from another era. I honestly couldn't be happier.