2012 Toyota Yaris
Base price: $14,115 – $16,400
As tested: $17,290
MPG: 30 city/35 highway
- Much improved over previous model
- More standard interior technology and safety features
- Attractive, sportier styling
- Doesn't match competitors
- Needs more power and better fuel economy
- Noisy with harsh, bumpy ride
By Jim Prueter
In an attempt to attract more buyers in what has now become the super-competitive subcompact entry-level market, Toyota has given its least expensive product, the Yaris, a significantly refreshed new look for the 2012 model year.
The new Yaris gets a few filigrees that make it more attractive both inside and out. For instance, the “baby fat” from the previous model has been trimmed, offering a bit more athletic look. But ultimately, we think it still falls far short of competitive models, such as the newly updated Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, and Kia Soul, for example.
While the sedan model has been discontinued, the 2012 Yaris is available in base three-door L ($14,115), five-door L ($15,140), mid-grade three-door LE ($15,625), five-door LE ($16,100), and sportier five-door SE ($16,400).
The interior is now a bit roomier, with decent space for two up front and relatively comfortable rear seating for two. Though, three is a tight fit, typical for the class.
The most noticeable change is the move of the awful center-mounted instrument panel of the last-generation model. The dash itself is now a soft-touch rubbery material that continues along the top of both door panels, except in the base L model, which is trimmed in a grained plastic material instead. Overall, the interior murmurs “cheap” but is still an improvement over last year.
Navigation is not available in any trim level, but other standard tech features include USB and auxiliary audio ports, and a standard AM/FM/CD player with MP3 playback capabilities. Both the SE and our LE test model included high-definition radio, auxiliary port with iPod connection, music streaming, and Bluetooth with voice command. The three-spoke steering wheel tilts and is equipped with audio controls.
And while the Yaris looks new, under the hood it’s pretty much a carryover from last year with the same 1.5-liter, 106-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and same five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions. The chassis platform is also the same, however, to improve passenger and cargo room, Toyota stretched it by 2 inches, allowing it to hold 15.2 cubic feet of stuff (up from 9.6 cubic feet).
At best, the engine (around the Toyota family for more than 10 years, powering Yaris’ diminutive predecessor, the Echo) is crude, underpowered, and noisy under acceleration. We didn’t much care for it in the last generation Yaris, and our opinion hasn’t changed. Engineers were able to squeeze out an additional 1 mpg fuel economy, but new engines with direct-injection technology and six-speed transmissions have set 40 mpg as the new standard for the subcompact class.
The Yaris is easy to drive, shifting smoothly most of the time, but we were disappointed with its lack of power and throttle response along with its harsh, bumpy, and unsettling ride. There isn’t enough power to hit the accelerator and quickly jump into a hole in traffic without inducing panic. We recommend opting for the manual transmission, where the driver can select the necessary gear for passing or climbing an incline.
Among its best features are the standard safety items that now include a total of nine airbags, including a knee airbag for the driver, roll-sensing airbags for the front and rear seats, and driver and front passenger seat cushion airbags. Antilock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and Toyota’s Star Safety System (includes vehicle stability, traction control, and whiplash injury lessening in front seats) are all standard.
In a response to the sticking accelerator pedal problems that plagued several models, including the Prius, a few years ago, Toyota now includes SmartStop Technology, which reduces engine power when the brakes and accelerator are pressed at the same time.
While no crash testing has been done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as of yet, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tested the 2012 Yaris for rollover susceptibility and gave it four out of five stars.
Overall, the restyled 2012 Toyota isn’t a bad car, it’s just not on par with major competitors in the entry-level subcompact class. When you have to give up the comforts of a larger car as you do in a subcompact, the tradeoff should be a fun to drive car with edgy styling, adequate power, and exceptional gas mileage. Unfortunately those attributes aren’t quite there with Yaris.
If you are determined to buy a Toyota, we suggest moving up to either the Corolla, which offers three four-door sedan trim levels — L ($16,130), LE ($17,910), and S ($17,990) — that come with a more powerful 1.8-liter 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine and fuel economy rated at 27 city and 34 highway mpg. Even the mid-sized Camry starts at $21,955 and is powered by a 2.5-liter 173-horsepower four-cylinder engine rated at 25 city/35 highway mpg. In this case, we think it might be wise to spend a bit more than you planned, than less than you should.