It was quite small and very, very red.

This weekend's test car, a 2012 Toyota Yaris LE three-door liftback, attracted far more attention than we expected. Pedestrians and other drivers turned their heads.

Even our New York City garage attendant mumbled, unprompted, "Muy bonita, muy, muy bonita!" as he took the keys.

So, OK, a bright red 2012 Yaris can attract attention. But is Toyota's all-new subcompact likely to attract buyers?

The simple answer is, probably, but it's up against more and better competition than ever.

Compared to the grim and slab-sided earlier generation, the new Yaris LE is stylish, with a pleasant two-tone interior and (finally) an instrument cluster in front of the driver rather than centrally mounted.

Its 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine performs well enough, though like many subcompact hatchbacks, it struggles to match the fuel economy of longer (and hence more aerodynamic) compact sedans. Our test car had an ancient four-speed automatic transmission, one of the few left in new cars these days.

Over our 305 miles of our weekend test, two-thirds of which is highway mileage, we averaged 31.5 miles per gallon.

2012 Toyota Yaris

2012 Toyota Yaris

That's close to the 2012 Yaris EPA-rated gas mileage of 32 mpg combined for the automatic model--but lower than we got in the larger Hyundai Elantra or Chevrolet Cruze Eco compact sedans.

It's also much lower than Toyota's hybrids like the 50-mpg Toyota Prius hatchback or the new 2012 Toyota Prius V wagon, at 42 mpg.

FULL REVIEW: 2012 Toyota Yaris (from The Car Connection)

Even tougher, there's the new 2012 Toyota Prius C compact hatchback, which has an EPA combined rating of 50 mpg and a base price below $19,000 (watch for full details of the Prius C later this week).

Overall, our impression of the 2012 Yaris was that it was competent but bland. Compared to, say, the 2012 Chevy Sonic (we tested in both sedan and hatchback models), it lacks a wow factor.

We liked:

  • The Yaris may be short, but it feels wide from the inside, meaning front-seat passengers don't experience it as small
  • Acceleration is adequate, though not as much fun as, say, the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine in the Chevy Sonic
  • The floor of the rear passenger compartment is flat, with no tunnel, making three passengers at least plausible
  • The instrument panel is well designed and easy to understand, with three large, clear knobs for the ventilation system
  • The many cubbies, bins, trays, slots, and bottle holders handled all our miscellaneous possessions (but all lacked rubber pads, meaning stuff slid around on the hard plastic)

We didn't like:

  • While the steering column tilts, it doesn't telescope, keeping it too close to the dash for drivers who push their seat back
  • The 2012 Yaris is noisy enough at speed that to hear the radio, it has to be turned up--and even still, background noise muffles some of the music
  • The four-speed automatic has wide enough ratios that downshifts can be abrupt and are often noisy
  • The driver's door window offers auto-down but no auto-up, an important safety feature when pulling away from toll booths
  • The rear-seat headrests block huge swathes of the view through the rear window, though they're (thankfully) removable
  • One end of the center rear seatbelt dangled and swayed loose from the roof, as if Toyota were too cheap to spring for a clip to hold it against the headliner

2012 Toyota Yaris LE three-door hatchback, road test, Hudson Valley, NY, Feb 2012

2012 Toyota Yaris LE three-door hatchback, road test, Hudson Valley, NY, Feb 2012

As tested, our 2012 Toyota Yaris LE 3-door Liftback had a sticker price of $16,884. That's a base price of $15,625, plus a mandatory $760 destination fee, and three options: cruise control ($250), carpeted mats for the floors and load bay ($180), and the useful cargo net for holding grocery bags ($49).

In the end, we didn't dislike the 2012 Yaris. We just didn't feel it offered much that the competition doesn't offer as well.

Part of it is the price. Toyota is being hammered by the yen-dollar rate, and so our mid-level Yaris cost almost $17K.

We'd have been a lot more impressed if it were, say, $14K.


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