The all-new 2012 Toyota Yaris at last yanks this subcompact model into the current decade, with sportier styling, a more conventional interior (no more central instruments!), and improved features. Its problem may be that it sits in the showroom next to the new Prius C hybrid hatchback, which is about the same size, has good room inside for people and cargo, and gets 50 mpg combined--versus the not-very-impressive 32 mpg figure for the automatic Yaris.
What does the Yaris have going for it against the Prius C? A more conventional gasoline powertrain--for those who still aren't convinced that hybrids will last--and a low price. The 2012 Yaris starts at just $14,115, or about $4,800 less than the newest and smallest Toyota hybrid. And we suspect that discounts will be readily available on the Yaris, whereas the smallest Prius is in high demand right now. It's also worth noting that Toyota's sister brand, Scion, offers the xD hatchback as well, which is about the same size but positioned as far cooler and hipper than the pedestrian Yaris.
The new Toyota Yaris is appealing to look at, but hardly distinctive. The sporty Yaris SE trim level adds special wheels, beefy air dams, and other updates that give Toyota's small car a bit of muscle appearance. But once the newness of the design wears off--if it hasn't already--the Yaris will be easy to lose in a parking lot.
Thankfully, the inside is much improved against its predecessor, with better materials, some soft-touch surfaces, and a blissfully conventional instrument cluster in front of the driver--where it should have been all along during a decade of earlier Yaris and Echo models. Front seats are comfortable, with longer cushions than in prior models, and a more comfortable rear bench seat. But unlike the Honda Fit--still the acknowledged packaging champion--the rear seat doesn't fold flat, making for an awkward cargo bay and only average load volume.
The 2012 Yaris has only one powertrain, which you can view as either tried-and-true or outright dated. Drivers may not feel any difference, but the 106-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is almost unchanged from previous models, and that's not a lot of power these days. Hyundai and Kia have direct-injected engines for more power, and the new Chevrolet Sonic offers a turbocharged 1.4-liter that's a blast to drive, but Toyota eschews such tactics. The five-speed manual gearbox is standard for the class (though some are now fitting six-speeds) but it's the automatic that disappoints most: It's a four-speed unit, perhaps the only one remaining among major makers who fit five speeds at a minimum and increasingly are turning to six-speed automatics.
The result is fuel economy figures that put the Yaris in peril of falling toward the bottom of its class. The five-speed manual does best, at 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 33 mpg. Unusually, the automatic version is worse: its ratings of 30 mpg city, 35 mpg highway really highlight the missing gears, bumping its combined rating down to 32 mpg.
Handling of the Yaris is good without being notable. By Toyota standards, its electric power steering is responsive, which means that it's not as numb as most models from the company. The sportier SE models have stiffer suspension tuning, which makes them agile on the road but still provide a comfortable ride in most circumstances. Under light loads, the Yaris is quiet, but engine noise begins to intrude around 70 mph--again, due to the higher engine speeds required in top gear by the ancient four-speed automatic.
Safety has traditionally been a Toyota strength, and the 2012 Toyota Yaris has already been deemed a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It has nine airbags--a pair each in the dashboard, the sides of the front seats, roll-sensing side bags front and rear, plus a knee bag for the driver--along with the customary suite of electronic safety systems.
Toyota positions the Yaris as an entry-level car, and the features list shows it. No Yaris offers a touch-screen navigation system, or leather upholstery, or heated seats--it's an economy car through and through. On the other hand, audio systems have all been refreshed, and the Bluetooth pairing, audio streaming, and hands-free operation are good. A USB jack is standard as well as an auxiliary jack, and HD Radio is available on the higher-level LE and SE models.
The base model is the L, in three- and five-door body styles, with the mid-level LE available in both bodies as well. The highest trim level is the SE, only offered as a five-door, and it starts at $16,400--leaving a healthy margin between it and the Prius C, which is $3,500 higher in its simplest form.
The three- and five-door hatchbacks are the sole Yaris models available for 2012, but a four-door sedan will be added next year.
For more details, see the full review of the 2012 Toyota Yaris range on our sister site, TheCarConnection.
|Style||MSRP||Invoice||MPG City||MPG Hwy|
|3-Door Liftback (1)|
|Manual L Specs||$14,115||$13,551||30||38|
|3-Door Liftback Automatic (2)|
|5-Door Liftback (1)|
|Manual SE Specs||$16,400||$15,743||30||38|
|5-Door Liftback Automatic (3)|