The exchange at Toyota Canada began like any other — sign the paperwork, grab the keys, go out and find my test vehicle.
But when I went to press the key fob to flash the lights and identify the correct Yaris, I realized there was no fob and no buttons — just a plain old key.
It was then I sensed trouble.
Parked in front of me was the 2010 Yaris three-door CE Hatchback, in all but its most basic trim.
No keyless entry, no power locks, no power windows and when I sat down to adjust the mirrors, found no power adjustments here either.
In fact, the only options were a four-speed automatic transmission that added $1,000 to the base price of $13,620, and air conditioning for another $1,155.
Despite the challenges of running around locking and unlocking doors, rolling up windows (thankfully I didn’t have the five-door) and fiddling with the side mirrors, I was impressed that Toyota included such a stripped-down model in its press fleet.
Sure, you can order the Yaris Hatchback as a fully-loaded, five-door RS with the necessary power doodads, in-dash six-CD changer, aluminum alloys and more, but that brings the price to $20,555 — more than many would expect to pay for an entry-level subcompact.
Driving the base car, on the other hand, focuses one’s mind more squarely on the driving experience, not the gadgets.
My first impression was that the Yaris Hatch is a sharp little car.
More handsome than its sibling four-door sedan, more chic than the Echo, which it replaced, and light years more stylish than the Tercel, which preceded all of these as Toyota’s subcompact offering.
It’s stubby nose, short front and rear overhangs, and protruding wheel arches give the Yaris Hatch a sporty, firmly-planted, four-square stance.
Inside, the base unit is fairly spartan, with a simple hooded instrument panel in the centre of the dash and a two-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system (with plug-in for MP3 players) and three large knobs for climate control and fan speed directly below.
Still, the wide expanse of textured plastic on either side of the instruments is well outfitted with storage. There’s a pull-out cupholder to the left of the steering wheel, a glovebox behind the wheel, an upper and lower glovebox on the passenger side, and another cupholder on the far right.
The front bucket seats offer few adjustments (forward/back, recline), but provide high bolsters in the thighs and back and a comfortable grippy fabric that really holds you in place during hard cornering.
On the passenger side, a single lever folds the front seat and moves it forward enough for access to the rear. It’s surprisingly roomy in back, with plenty of kneeroom, shoulder room and headroom for two large adults. Three of lesser size will fit in a pinch, but for short trips only.