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    Sometimes, You Just Have to Be Practical

    auto2Practical can mean many things. Maybe you’d downsize your drag wardrobe by ruling out anything that hasn’t seen the stage in a year. Or you’d skip the fries with the terrific chicken sandwiches that go so well with watching the game at Hi Tops.

    Or, if you were being practical when shopping for a car, then you’d probably consider a small Toyota.

    The Yaris is Toyota’s smallest car, and the recent redesign limits it to a hatchback with two or four doors, which is good news to those who thought the previous Yaris sedan looked like a half-baked loaf of bread. The Yaris is built in France and is a mainstay in Toyota’s European markets. It competes directly with the Honda Fit, and the Fit just about triples the Yaris’s sales here.

    The Corolla is the compact sedan that needs no introduction. Its sales figures have been tracking higher than the Honda Civic’s by 30 percent or so, though that might shift back to Honda’s favor when the overhauled 2016 Civic hits dealers this fall.

    Toyota is hoping to blunt the new Civic’s impact with a 2016 Corolla Special Edition, which purports to be serious and sporty like a Nasty Pig jockstrap. It is accessorized with bigger blacked-out wheels, an interior with red stitching and unique badges.

    Both the tested Toyotas were the sportier versions of each—the Yaris SE and the Corolla S. Both have stiffer suspensions to go with their sharp exterior accents, and larger wheels with machined finishes. If you’d like to balance your practicality with a bit of style, then these versions deliver.

    That is, until you put your foot in them. Despite the suspension tuning, neither car drove as sporty as it looked. For the Yaris, it was the thin grip of its tires, which slid wide of your line before much fun was had. The Corolla had better grip, but the steering’s on-center feel was vague, which zeroed out the zingy feeling of cars like the Mazda3, for example. The engines in both were noisy when pressed.

    car1 car2But hang on. We’re being practical, right? You don’t have to spend much for them: the Yaris L starts under $15K, and the Corolla L skirts $17K. The test cars pushed those prices to $20K for the Yaris SE and $24K for the Corolla S Premium.

    Both have well-designed interiors with quality plastics and soft surfaces in the right places. The Corolla’s bluff-faced dashboard is sometimes hard to see over as you crest San Francisco’s steepest hills, while the Yaris is fairly wide-open. Both have center touchscreens, though the Yaris’s is smaller with lower resolution.

    Both have blessedly tight turning radiuses for city driving. The Yaris kills it here, with just 31.5 feet needed to swing a U-turn.

    So while it’s fun to be sporty, we all eventually need to be practical. If that’s the prime directive in your car search, then the Yaris and Corolla are good places to start.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at Check out his automotive staging service at