So, I’ve spent almost all of the content on my new car posts talking about the financial aspect of the improved gas mileage.

Now that I’ve driven my new Yaris over a hundred miles, I feel qualified to report on how it drives.

Frankly, I was surprised by how much I enjoy driving it. I had test-driven it up a fairly representative mountain road called “Deer Creek Canyon” before purchasing it, so I had already formed an opinion of its handling and responsiveness, but it’s different to drive one that you own instead of driving one you are thinking about owning.

The Yaris only has a 105hp engine. A standard 2008 Chevrolet Impala, for comparison, has 211, or almost exactly twice as much. On the other hand, a Chevy Impala weighs about 3,600 pounds and a Toyota Yaris weighs about 2,300 pounds. So the weight/hp ratio of the Yaris is about 22 pounds/hp and the Impala is about 17 pounds/hp, a difference of 30%. Which should translate into a difference of 30% in things like acceleration or top speed.

And that may in fact be the case. All I know is that the Yaris feels peppier and handles the hills between work and home much more easily than my Pathfinder did. At two places on the trip up into the mountains on my way home, my Pathfinder was incapable of speeding. In fact I could not keep it at 55 mph without red-lining the tachometer in third gear. The Yaris has no problem in those two stretches, although you do have to give it some gas, but that’s also true of our Audi and Subaru.

The Yaris is definitely a small car. A “sub-compact” I think is the term reserved for such vehicles. It looks like a toy in our garage (our garage can hold a medium sized RV). But the front seats are surprisingly roomy. The back seats are definitely cramped though. But the front seats do not feel like a small car. Also the driver sits fairly high compared to other subcompacts. I have about the same driving position and perspective in the Yaris as I did in the Pathfinder. In some sub-compacts you are so close to the ground that it can get quite intimidating in regular traffic. I have not noticed anything of the sort in the Yaris.

The bulging thorax look of the car may make people giggle, but it provides ample headroom. I don’t get any feeling of claustraphobia while in the car. It “feels” like a bigger car. the steering wheel is well placed, if slightly smaller than I would like, and the seat controls are easy to reach and work well. There is also ample elbow room. The dashboard and controls are well designed. Frankly they are much better thought out than our Audi A4, whose design seems to have been more concerned with “looking sleek” while the Yaris seems more concerned with “practical functionality.”

Case in point, the cup holders. The Audi A4 has a single cup holder in the middle of the dashboard, that apparently was designed to hold nothing but demitasse cups. Anything larger will tip over, spilling content everywhere. Even a standard sized soda can is barely held in place. The other cup holders for the Audi are set one behind the other in the center console between the front seats. This arrangement makes it virtually impossible for you to drive and drink anything. If you are not grabbing at a teetering bottle in the dashboard, you are reaching around your right hip to try and wrangle a cup out of the console.

The Yaris has two pull-out cup holders on the extreme edge of the dash, one for the driver and one for the passenger. It also has a cup holder built into the bottom of each door. Both are designed to hold tall drinking cups or bottles without spillage, and they are robust (especially compared with the Audi, whose cupholder was designed for dainty society types I guess).

All of the control knobs on the dash are large and well labeled. The environment and radio controls are set in the middle of the dash where both the driver and the passenger have easy access to them. The speedometer and other dials are set on the extreme top of the middle of the dashboard instead of tucked under the steering wheel. This is a little odd and takes some getting used to, but the benefit of not having to look down towards your feet while driving is fairly obvious. A quick glance does not even require taking your eyes off the road in front of you.

Basically it’s a well thought out design for the driver and one passenger. The back seats are no doubt cramped and uncomfortable for medium to large sized folks. As a two-door, it is a bit difficult to get into the back seats. It’s not really designed for long periods of travel with four or five (it technically seats five) people.

On the road it is surprisingly fun to drive. It “sits” down on the road well, even on the mountain curves I took it through. It does not feel like a “small car” while you are driving it. It accelerates smoothly and responds quickly when you punch the gas. It’s not going to win any races, but it doesn’t get left behind at a traffic light either. It drives well. Driving on the winding mountain roads, it is actually a pleasure to drive. I thoroughly enjoy it so far.