2012 Toyota Yaris Review

If reliability is sexy, the new Yaris has at least one thing going for it

2012 Toyota Yaris Review
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If you dig down through all the marketing bumph, past the sharper styling, beyond the claims that Toyota is getting back to its reliable small-car basics, the biggest shift happens on the dashboard. Rarely has a car been so underwhelming that its replacement can improve matters simply by moving the speedometer by 10-inches. But that’s the biggest news for potential Yaris buyers interested in the latest version.

FAST FACTS

1. The Yaris continues to use a 106 hp 1.5L 4-cylinder with a 30/38 mpg rating for the 5-speed manual or 30/35 mpg for the 4-speed automatic.

2. Yaris 3-door models start from $14,115 for the L and $15,480 for the LE. 5-door versions start at $15,140 for the L, $15,960 for the LE and $16,300 for the SE.

3. With a 5.7-inch longer and 2.1-inch wider cargo area, luggage space is up over 60 percent to 15.3 cu-ft on the 3-door and 15.6 cu-ft on the 5-door.

Previously, the Yaris was generally bought by people who had no love for driving and wanted to spend as little money doing it as possible. With an underpowered engine, cheap materials and admitted Toyota reliability, the sub-compact did have some of the lowest running costs around but delivered no thrills or joy in the process.

UNDERWHELMING FUEL ECONONMY AND POWER

The latest one doesn’t improve matters much. It still uses the old 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque, and although it does have variable valve timing, it lacks the modern direct-injection systems of its competitors. The class-leading Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio put out another 30 horses and 20 lb-ft without any loss of fuel efficiency, and best the Toyota’s estimated 30 mpg in the city and 38. And that’s with the 5-speed manual. Opt for the 4-speed automatic and the numbers drop to 30/35 mpg. With either of the carry-over transmissions, the Yaris is just as outmatched in the acceleration department, being one of the slowest-accelerating vehicles around.

2012 Toyota Yaris LE Blue Left Side

DRIVING DYNAMICS? NEVER HEARD OF THEM

At just over 2,300 lbs, our five-door Yaris LE tester did little to impress us on the road. Whether because of its more upright styling, its over-sharp steering response, the choice of winter tires fitted or any other reason, the Yaris was a difficult car to drive. It was so willing to follow ruts and grooves in the road that you’d think it was some low-slung sports coupe and not a city-focused hatchback. Not a promising start. But it also leans and wobbles and wiggles too.

2012 Toyota Yaris LE Driving

Being so far off the mark dynamically makes us wonder if there was an issue with the vehicle Toyota provided…

INTERIOR A HIGH-POINT

2012 Toyota Yaris LE Dash

Setting aside those questions for now, the new Yaris does improve substantially inside. Gone is the center-mounted instrument pod that blighted the first two generations, replaced by a dash that’s perfectly ordinary by comparison. That change alone makes the car instantly more usable. The dash uses the same highly-textured hard black plastic found in other recent Toyotas, but there are softer bits in contrasting shades sprinkled on throughout.

The seats aren’t bad and reasonably comfortable, and there’s enough room for tall drivers not to scrape their hair on the roof-liner. But the steering wheel only tilts – no telescoping – and even then only what feels like a half-inch leaving long-legged owners in a lurch.

2012 Toyota Yaris LE Rear Seats

Rear-seat space is adequate, although the three-person bench isn’t overly luxurious and the only cup-holders are molded into the rear of the center console. Cargo space is reasonable at 13 cu-ft and in LE models, can be expanded with 60/40 split-folding seats.

The best part of the car is its new set of clothes. It’s taughter and more chiseled, and gives the impression that it’s more expensive than it really is. The narrow and tall 175/65-series tires wrap around 15-inch steelies with plastic wheel covers.

ATTRACTIVELY PRICED

The $16,100 LE really is the top-dog in the range. There is a sportier SE with alloy wheels and more aggressive styling, but there’s only one option to be had and that’s cruise control. Otherwise, our Yaris tester came with standard air conditioning, a decent six-speaker stereo with Bluetooth hands-free and iPod interface, power windows, locks and mirrors and remote keyless entry.

2012 Toyota Yaris LE Front

Not only does the Yaris find itself under threat by the vastly improved and ever-growing batch of rivals from Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Mazda, but it also is having its lunch eaten by another Toyota product, the Prius c. While the c starts at almost $4,000 more than our Yaris tester, it’s infinitely more comfortable, better equipped and gets nearly double the gas mileage in town.

THE VERDICT

2012 Toyota Yaris LE Logo

The Yaris won’t be a complete disaster, despite our general indifference to the car. It will sell to current Yaris owners who will appreciate the improvement in style and cabin refinement compared with their old ones.

Despite all the trouble Toyota has had in recent years regarding its quality issues, it was never the small cars that were called into question. Thus, the Yaris will appeal to those who have been burned by American and Korean car makers before and who simply want a vehicle that will be near-guaranteed to start every morning.

To some, reliability is sexy.

LOVE IT
  • Updated exterior styling
  • Re-positioned instrument cluster now ahead of driver
  • Toyota’s promise to refocus on reliability
LEAVE IT
  • Wobbly, wiggly, jiggly ride
  • Merely adequate fuel economy
  • Transmissions missing a gear or two

Related Reading
2012 Hyundai Accent Review
2012 Chevy Sonic Review
Honda Fit Review
2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Review
2011 Mazda2 Review
Toyota Prius c Review

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  • Mrquimmzicle

    My Yaris 2012 Automatic Engine emits a ringing noise at speeds over 90km/hr like hearing damage ringing in your ears sound (tinnitus). Toyota confirmed they could hear it too but could not tell me what it is and that as they consider it normal operational condition for the Yaris engine they would not be fixing it. Claimed refund without success :( will be selling with only 3000k’s on the clock and moving on from Toyota. Very sad after such a good experience with my 2006 Yaris.

  • gt

    how come i see consumers in KBB say the yaris is fun to drive?

  • daf62757

    I just purchased a 2012 Yaris. They are fun to drive and very, very roomy for such a small car. Depending on the driver, your can get over 40 mpg very easily. The chief complaint I have is that they did away with a lot of cup holders in the car. MY old 2009 Yaris had cup holders next to the air vents that was pure genius. The back seats had cup holders in the door. The 2012 Yaris has two cup holder in the center under the dash that are hard to get to and none for the back seats.

  • Ditto_Bird

    The reviewer is utterly clueless.

    There are many of us who liked the Yaris – we were not into the 22 year old or less male testosterone who wants a huge engine to make up for a small male part. Sorry for being nasty, but the reviewer has to grow up and understand that there are many different types of people in the world who like different things.

    The most ridiculous thing about the 2012 version is the removal of the ingenious cup holders as daf62757 has described below. Toyota was really stupid to remove those.