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2012 Toyota Yaris Review

This 2012 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2014.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 6.8

Bottom Line:

The baby Toyota enters a new generation for 2012, but changes are fairly insignificant. This subtle revamp may not be enough to catch the eyes of buyers, especially in light of rapidly advancing competition, such as Hyundai’s Accent.
Pros:
  • Decently aggressive subcompact looks
  • Affordably priced
  • Simplified equipment structure
Cons:
  • Underwhelming update for an all-new car
  • Steering is very light and over-powered
  • Rehashed engine still buzzy, fails to excite

You'd be forgiven for not realizing that the 2012 Toyota Yaris is an all-new car. Much like Honda's recent "don't fix what ain't broke" refresh of its Civic, Toyota hasn't exactly rewritten the book with its latest Yaris.

While that's not necessarily a bad thing, the competition continues to race ahead with delightfully fun, well-built little cars. Does the latest Yaris bring enough pizzazz to run with this pack? Yes, but only by the skin of its teeth.

Model Lineup
Toyota greatly simplifies the Yaris lineup for 2012, bringing the total possible configurations from 24 down to just nine. As part of this simplification, the sedan body style is getting the axe entirely, although Toyota says it will still produce some previous-generation sedans for fleet use (no, you can't buy one). For 2012, consumers can choose between 3-door and 5-door liftback models; likely a smart move on Toyota's part, considering that the previous liftback accounted for 70 percent of Yaris sales, anyway.

The second-generation Yaris features an all-new, subtly updated exterior geared toward presenting a more strongly chiseled, aggressive and lively appearance. This new design achieves a low 0.29 coefficient of drag, making it a fairly sleek, aerodynamic vehicle, especially given the inevitable boxiness inherent in the category.

Both the 3-door and 5-door liftback models will be available in a base L trim and a midrange LE trim. The L version packs all the standard features that have come to be expected in a modern car (minus power mirrors, or for that matter, mirrors that are adjustable from inside the car), including a basic stereo and air conditioning inside, while the LE is treated to an upgraded stereo, disc brakes, and various other convenience features.

The 5-door gets its own top SE trim, complete with disc brakes at all four corners, sport-oriented suspension (including 20 percent stiffer springs), sport seats and a quicker 2.3-turn (lock to lock) steering rack, versus the standard three turns of the L and LE trims. Also unique to the 5-door SE are larger wheels, smoked multireflector headlamps and integrated fog lights, along with various sport-oriented body bits, such as a spoiler, grille, diffuser, etc.

Under the Hood
Not much has changed under the Yaris' hood for 2012. It's the same drivetrain as the previous generation, meaning a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 106 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm. Although it features Toyota's VVT-i valve-timing technology, it still lacks direct fuel injection — a technology that is quickly becoming standard. This unit can be mated to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. Likewise, either transmission is short a gear compared to that of most competition.

With the manual, the Yaris sips fuel at a rate of 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined. Opting for the automatic knocks 3 mpg off the highway number, although it's still good enough for a combined rating of 32 mpg.

Inner Space
The new Yaris has added some interior style and quality over the previous generation, although it still sits squarely within "rental car" specs. The new design language features a larger, driver-centered instrument panel and a prominent, rounded dash piece extending to the passenger door.

The redesigned seats and steering wheel are improved over the previous generation, and even manage to leave a somewhat sporty impression. With enlarged, legible gauges, a fully redesigned dash and instrument panel, along with rethought placement for the climate and audio controls, the new Yaris offers significant improvement from a cockpit point of view.

For a car this size, Toyota has also done an admirable job avoiding claustrophobia, and with an available 60/40 split for the folding rear seat, there's plenty of room for cargo as well. With the 5-door, you're looking at 15.6 cubic feet of storage space (15.3 cubic feet for the 3-door).

In terms of options and features, the Yaris is just about par for the course these days, meaning it still packs a roster of goodies large enough to embarrass many luxury cars of just a few years ago. Except for the base L trim, all 2012 Yaris models feature standard Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. In fact, the only stand-alone option available on the new Yaris is cruise control for the midlevel LE; it's unavailable on the L and standard on the SE.

On the Road
Toyota recently set us up with a couple of Yaris models, which we used to explore the urban jungle known as Los Angeles. While there was nothing particularly enjoyable about driving the area and its broken streets, it was probably an apt choice for this car, considering its target demographic and intended use.

The 1.5-liter engine largely felt exactly as it did in the previous Yaris — acceptable, but far from zippy. The automatic transmission is most definitely not doing the Yaris any favors in this regard. We highly recommend the 5-speed manual if you expect to experience any pep in your drive, although Toyota predicts that only 10 percent of Yaris buyers will do so.

We did appreciate the SE trim's tightened steering ratio, but it did little to improve the car's lackluster "fun feel" behind the wheel. With its overboosted electric steering system, the Yaris doesn't exactly communicate the road telepathically to its driver. Even with the SE's stiffened suspension, there is still a fair amount of body roll and looseness. Don't get us wrong, however. For urban commuter use, it's certainly acceptable enough; it's just a long way from inspiring spirited drives out to a curvy back road for kicks. But then, so is the LE.

Much like the engine and steering, the brakes on the new Yaris didn't feel particularly solid or confidence-inspiring under our feet, but they still did a decent job slowing the car, especially the SE's 4-wheel disc-brake setup (10.8-inch front rotors, 10-inch rear).

Frankly, the biggest improvements we noticed during our drive came simply in the form of noise, vibration and harshness. Compared to its predecessor, the new Yaris is a much smoother, quieter car with a noticeably more solid feel, although its buzzy engine and sloppy steering still kept us well aware that we were in a subcompact econobox. The Hyundai Accent is considerably quieter inside the cockpit.

Right for You?
This second-generation Yaris is the latest in a three-decade history of Toyota subcompact cars, and it is likely to do just fine in today's marketplace. Toyota is expecting to move 2,000 units each month. Thanks to a starting price just north of $14,000, the 2012 Yaris does indeed fit within the budget of just about everyone. This pricing is arguably going to be the new car's strongest selling point (along with its economical gas mileage), and Toyota will rely heavily on customer loyalty to meet its sales goals.

Still, while it's not bringing offended masses to riot over some questionable design, it's not going to be making much of splash either. Since nearly every car on the market now offers the same spread of convenience and safety features, the Yaris is in need of that special something to make people notice, and unfortunately, we didn't find this during our brief stint behind the wheel. The new Yaris may certainly look more playful than its predecessor, but these looks are deceiving. In this regard, the competition is downright fierce, and includes many higher-fun players, such as the Mazda Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and the all-new Hyundai Accent.

With its underwhelming update and a near-total absence of the "fun factor," we fear the 2012 Yaris will likely be experienced by most drivers courtesy of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, rather than inspiring a lust-driven mad dash to the dealer showroom.

(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Toyota provided MSN with travel and accommodationstofacilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB03 - 4/18/2014 6:59:39 AM