At the instant noodle end of the Toyota showroom, cars come in three flavors: Good, Better, and Mildly Spicy (L, LE, SE). Within these trims, few options are offered, unlike domestic truck manufacturers who very nearly allow their customers to order their rigs a la carte. Of course, there’s a lot more profit in trucks, so they’re worth the trouble.
The littlest Toyota, which definitely wins an award for Most Entertaining Windshield Wiper, is now packed to the gunwales compared to the cheap seats hawked by the manufacturer in past years.
In the ‘90s, many people stepping into a base Toyota expecting a junior Lexus were rudely awakened by crank windows, the lack of a passenger side mirror, and trunk caulking apparently applied with a shoe. All that has changed, because these days the Yaris (née Echo, née Tercel) is equipped with features once reserved for the snazziest machinery.
For their $15,635, base Yaris shoppers will find air conditioning, a tilt wheel with audio controls, and a backup camera. A natty touchscreen infotainment centre is on board, in which one finds a USB port, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth capability, and Geordi LaForge’s duty manuals for the starship Enterprise. You know what drivers of base Toyotas had as infotainment years ago? In most cases, absolutely nothing.
In fact, I remember helping a buddy install a new deck in his mid-90’s Corolla that had suffered some unusual body damage. “A mere matter of a moment’s inattention,” he explained. Anyway, when we were trying to find the car’s wires to hook up the rear speakers, we found the car in fact had no such units, causing my friend so much angst he did not attend his recreational hockey league that evening.
I grew up in a world where drivers of base Toyotas had to make do with only one sideview mirror, adjusted by rolling down a window and placing a greasy thumbprint on the reflective facing. Now, a rear wiper and defroster are standard equipment, as are power windows and an array of handy interior lights. Such decadence.
The 1.5-liter inline-four making 106 horsepower is standard across the board, so extra shekels do not bring you extra ponies if upgrading to a more expensive Yaris. That figure might not sound like much, but it is only charged with motivating a shade over 2300 pounds.
In this author’s first-hand experience, the four (yes, dear reader, your eyes do not deceive you – four) speed automatic is not worth the cash, as it simply hoovers what power the engine has to give and sounds like nails in a Cuisinart while doing so. Stick with the stick for maximum driving and financial satisfaction.
In 1992, a base Tercel made 82 horsepower and cost $8,488, which equals roughly $14,800 when converted to inflation-adjusted bucks. That’s less a stack of bills than today’s Ace of Base contender, which has added power accessories, more horses, better infotainment options than ‘90s kids could ever have dreamed of, and a cubic acre of safety equipment.
Packed to the gunwales, indeed.