On the show Doctor Who there's an alien that has the ability to erase all memory of itself from your mind as soon as you're not looking at it. In real life we have an automobile that performs the same trick.
The Toyota Yaris, is, I think, the replacement for the universally shrugged off Echo. I kind of liked the Echo because it was supremely nerdy and I worked on its first online ad back in the days when we said, "a commercial just for the internet? That's dumb." We shot it at something called the Gravity Games in Providence, Rhode Island. I think they were the predecessor, or a short-lived rival, to the X-Games. Whatever it was, it was a waste of time that no one paid any attention to as far as I could tell based on all the people asking us what the fuck was going on.
When the Yaris first went on sale I was intrigued with the 2 door hatch. It was cute and round like a pea. I liked that. There weren't many cute little cars around at the time. I still see a shitload of them around, but I hadn't noticed anything like it at the Toyota dealer down the street from me in a long time. "What the hell happened to the Yaris?", I wondered. So, I popped in to ask. I couldn't tell the difference between anything on the lot, to be frank, except I know a Prius when I see one only they all kind of look Prius-y now. I mean, the sedans are sedans, but every model has the same gaping cane toad-esque maw up front, and the sides all have the same accent line thing.
"So, which one's the new Yaris?"
"The black one there." (They're all black except for one of those Priusses with that weird orange. I love orange cars and I don't understand how they made such a hideous hue. I think they literally mix orange paint with sewage to get it to look like that.)
"Oh, that's not a Corolla?"
"No, that's a Corolla."
"That's not a Camry?"
"No, that's a Camry."
"What's that then?"
The place isn't too busy so I ask if I could test drive whichever one is a Yaris.
"You have one with a manual transmission?"
"Yes, really." Yeesh.
And, eons later a car emerges from Middle Earth, or wherever they keep the cars that require one to actually drive them. I don't get how Google invented the self-driving car. Cars started driving themselves the moment they began putting torque converters and planetary gears in them. Anyway, I asked the sales guy if I could take a couple pictures for a dumb internet thing and he handed me a brochure so I quickly snapped some pictures of the brochure and handed it back. On the cover, interestingly, it shows the car under drone surveillance. Choosing a Yaris proves a clever bit of espionage as we see on the next page where the drone, a piece of technology without soul, heart, or brain, has fallen asleep, overcome by the infinite boringness as the cool kids laugh at it.
The Yaris has all the hallmarks of a cheap car trying not to look cheap. The exterior is a bland attempt at looking aggressive that looks like every other bland attempt at looking aggressive. Where's the fun? Where's the whimsy? Give me something that dares me to hate it, not roll my eyes.
The interior is clean and black with the requisite plastic chrome shit. There's a big screen that if you only glance at it fleetingly will have you thinking it has fancy gadgets but then look at it closer and you notice it's as clunky as an 8 year old Garmin.
The seats aren't terrible for a cheap car. A little on the hard side, but they don't want you too comfy in the economy model. Good seats are important to me since the old back ain't what it used to be and long drives can leave me hunched over like I'm 117 years old. I actually prefer seats in older cars that are flat and not trying to contour to my back since it always seems like I don't line up right. I'm 6 feet, so not really much above average and I don't get how the seats on a lot of new cars seem to be made for someone either a foot taller or shorter than me. (Don't get me started on the new Ford Fusion. The previous generation seat was marvelous and I wish I had one in my house, but the new one seems to be designed for a Yeti.) Anyway, after some futzing, I found a satisfactory sitting position in the Yaris.
So, like one does, when I was ready to go, I pressed down on the clutch. And nothing seemed to happen. Did I miss the pedal? I lifted my foot, looked down this time, and tried again. Oh, look at that, I am pressing a pedal. Now, I don't like an exhausting clutch, either, but this was ridiculous. I should be able to tell the difference between working the clutch and not working the clutch. I need to know something is happening or I feel like I'm just moving my leg up and down for no reason like an idiot.
"Is it supposed to be this light?"
"I guess so. Nice, huh?"
"Not really. I can't tell anything's happening."
"Well, we're not on the road, yet. You'll like it once you're driving."
So, off we go and indeed the clutch works. I still feel like I'm lifting my leg into thin air, but the car shifts into gear fine and the clutch let's go somewhere in the middle of foot flailing.
"You're the first person I've test driven a manual car with who didn't stall it," I'm told.
Yep, I make manhandling a car with 106 horsepower look easy.
"Hey, that's not a lot of horsepower," you realize.
Nope, it sure isn't. Not these days, anyway. And the Yaris never lets you forget it. And that's saying something from a guy who loves driving a Renault Le Car. But, the Renault is tiny and weighs as much as a basket of laundry. I don't know how much the Yaris weighs, but it must be an awful lot based on all the complaining the engine did. "Nyaaaaaahhhhh caaaaan't dooooo iiiiiiit," it whines like a belligerent child when you give it gas. Downshifting causes it to make more noise, but doesn't seem to help with the pep. I normally enjoy something small and underpowered with a stick. It's a challenge to make the car seem like it has power and you can spend more time mashing the throttle, MPG's be damned. But, not with the Yaris. It doesn't give a shit about anything.
"Does it have a cold, or something?"
"Never mind. How much does this one cost, anyway?"
"It has the $900 navigation upgrade."
"WHAT?!? Nine hundred bucks for a map? I have one on my phone."
"Oh, it's much better than Apple Maps."
"900 dollars better?"
Seriously, an extra grand on a little crapcan car for something that I also keep in my pocket? That's like if the guy who originally bought my Le Car in 1978 had ordered a Panda skin wallet integrated into the dash.
This car is the "base model" two-door, by the way. The one that used to be cheap and cute. Now it's an ugly ripoff. It does start at $14,800, which seems fine. That's the same as a base Fiesta. But, no one buys those stripped down models so they don't really exist. And, the Fiesta is at the very least mildly engaging to drive. Especially with a stick. It's got enough responsiveness to keep you feeling like you're alive. The Yaris is the opposite of responsive. Which is what? Catatonic? But, maybe not completely because that would be interesting. It handles just well enough, and goes just fast enough to not be dangerous. It's not the worst thing in the world but, that would actually make it better. You see, it's completely mediocre as an economy car. It's practical enough with the hatchback. Gets good enough gas mileage. Toyota knows what it's doing in the ergonomics department, so there's not much thinking while operating it. And that's what most people want.
"Just give me a car that I don't have to think about."
Toyota delivered on that. But, they shouldn't have, dammit. I've always thought of cars as rolling sculptures. With classic or exotic cars, that can be obvious, but it's true with everyday cars as well. No matter how utilitarian a vehicle is, it was still designed by someone. And, no matter how inept they may be, that person or persons was an artist. The enemy of all artists is mediocrity. Because the worst kind of reaction you can have to a piece of art is a neutral one. "Yeah, it's fine," means you failed. Hate is a real response. It's as good as loving it to the artist because you've had an experience that moved you. Good needs Bad, and Bad needs Good, but who needs Middling? No one, that's who.
But, in today's ultra-competitive corporate world should car designers aspire to create bad cars that people hate? I say yes! That'll make them appreciate the really good ones. We lose a potential car enthusiast with every person that settles for a Yaris. I know the financial, focus group reasons for why it's so bland. But, take one for the fucking team, Toyota. Make it truly horrible if you're not going to make it great. Give it a two-stroke and a bench seat. Make it look like a surprised newt. Shit cars make people care about what they're driving. Mitsubishi is on to something. The Mirage has 3 cylinders, reminds me of a goldfish, comes in hideous colors, and isn't shy about being cheap. And it actually is cheap. It's downright Jalop and I'll probably love it and write an Oppo post about it in 25 years. You're never bored in a Mirage and you didn't pay 900 bucks for a piece of technology that became obsolete in 2006. You'll hate driving it and your next car will actually be something exciting. After you're done with the Yaris, you'll maybe go for a Corollzzzzzzzzzz. And a tiny part of every gearhead dies.