Toyota's Yaris: Pug-cute, and a joy to drive

Just for a moment, think like a European. Your ideal auto is an unfussy appliance, and happiness is a reliable subcompact with actual mixed-use fuel economy in the mid-30s. Toyota's pug-cute Yaris, new for 2007 (replacing the Echo, which was less handsomely proportioned) would feel at home skimming along the hedgerows in County Cork.

This little four-cylinder runabout, with a wider stance than its predecessor, also works well for American highway drives. Yaris even holds its own in a crosswind, though it's ideal as a tight-turning, park-it-anywhere city car. The 1.5-liter, 106-h.p. powerplant seems not to strain; highway merging is no more of an adventure than it is with most small four-bangers (we tested a Liftback automatic and pined for a stick). Toyota's new platform provides real stability and joyful handling. (Tiny 14-in. wheels mean you'll want to dodge potholes.)

Inside, a center-console gauge cluster frees up the dash area in front of the steering wheel, creating a go-cart effect. The MP3 input is a nice touch. Driving position is excellent. Rear headroom is ample; more surprisingly, rear legroom is workable. Packing a weekend's worth of groceries into the space beneath the hatch can be a jigsaw puzzle with the seats up, but a 60/40 rear seat split works wonders. Antilock brakes are not standard; they should be. Overall, our base-level model – crank windows, no remote locks – was a charmer at $13,510.

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