What's New for 2012
The 2012 Toyota Yaris is fully redesigned.
For an example of Darwinian evolution, just take a look at the 2012 Toyota Yaris. As the economy-car segment grew more competitive, the previous-generation Yaris found itself at the back of the pack in terms of overall appeal. Shoppers flocked to newer models that offered greater utility, better handling and more refinement. Though reasonably popular when it debuted back in 2007, the Yaris eventually became one of the poorest-selling models in the segment.
To ensure its survival, the Yaris needed to adapt, and with this in mind, Toyota has given it a top-to-bottom overhaul for 2012. The new model is longer by 2.9 inches, and that's been utilized to free up considerably more luggage space. Suspension tuning has been adjusted for improved driving feel, and both the sheet metal and cabin benefit from face-lifts -- the previous generation's much-derided center-mounted gauges are a thing of the past.
Other changes include larger wheels and the addition of a trick new mono-arm windshield wiper said to deliver better cleaning and wiping action. The lineup has been streamlined -- the sedan is gone, with only the two- and four-door hatchbacks remaining -- and safety has risen thanks to nine standard airbags and front seats designed to lessen whiplash injury. The 2012 Yaris is more expensive than last year, but Toyota has added more features as standard. There's also a new sportier SE trim for those seeking additional performance.
One thing that hasn't changed is the car's engine -- the previous generation's 1.5-liter, 106-horsepower four-cylinder soldiers on, and it's outclassed by choices like the Hyundai Accent's spiffy, direct-injection 138-hp mill. And while this Yaris offers much more cargo room than its predecessor, it continues to come up a little short relative to rivals like the Accent, Chevrolet Sonic and Nissan Versa.
This year's redesign clearly makes the 2012 Yaris a more appealing proposition at just the right time. While it may be shy of benchmark status for the subcompact segment, its added refinement and improved dynamics make it a competitive pick, along with the Accent, Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit. Still, with Toyota reliability, impressive safety features and handsome sheet metal on its side, this capable little hatch should have no problem building its audience.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Toyota Yaris is a subcompact economy car available as either a two- or four-door hatchback. The L and LE trims are offered in both these configurations, while the sporty SE trim is offered only as a four-door.
Standard features on the L include 15-inch steel wheels, an intermittent front mono-arm windshield wiper, a rear windshield wiper, power door locks, air-conditioning, four-way-adjustable front seats, a tilt steering wheel, a trip computer, a fold-down rear bench seat, a cargo cover and a four-speaker CD player with an auxiliary audio jack, a USB audio interface and satellite radio.
With the LE, you also get power windows, remote keyless entry, a six-way-adjustable driver seat, auxiliary steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, upgraded interior trim, a 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, and an upgraded six-speaker sound system with HD radio. Those who opt for the SE trim get a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, performance tires, four-wheel disc brakes, a unique grille, foglamps, cruise control, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and upgraded cloth upholstery.
Cruise control is the only option offered on the Yaris, and it's available solely on the LE trim.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2012 Toyota Yaris is powered by a 1.5-liter inline-4 engine with an output of 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with a four-speed automatic available as an option. In an Edmunds test, a Yaris SE with the manual transmission took 9.3 seconds to reach 60 mph, a slightly quicker time than average for this class. An automatic-equipped car will likely be decidedly slower.
EPA estimates for the manual-equipped Yaris are 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined; with the automatic, these numbers dip to 30/35/32 mpg. As such, while not quite as frugal as the class-leading Accent (30/40/33), the Yaris sips less gas than most of the competition.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes (rear drums for all models except the SE, which gets four-wheel discs), traction and stability control, active front head restraints front seat side airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. In Edmunds brake testing, the Yaris stopped from 60 mph in 121 feet: an average distance for this segment.
Interior Design and Special Features
Front seats in the 2012 Toyota Yaris are well-padded and supportive, and perched high to afford clear views of the road ahead. Backseat accommodations are generous, with ample leg- and toe room. Though materials quality isn't particularly ambitious, there are some nicely grained plastics in evidence. And while the cabin design is simple and its control layout is familiar, it's all executed with a modern flair that catches the eye.
A four-speaker stereo is now standard equipment, and its crisp, sharp sound quality is better than average for this segment. A factory-installed navigation system isn't available; however, given that there are many portable and handheld models on the market that do the job for thousands less, we imagine that this omission won't be an issue for many shoppers.
Luggage capacity behind the rear seats in the four-door Yaris is 15.6 cubic feet, or about the same as a Fiesta. While this is a huge improvement over the previous generation, it's still less room than you'll find in the Fit (20.6 cubic feet), Accent (21.2 cubic feet) and Versa (17.8 cubic feet).
Given that there are many six-speeds in this segment, the 2012 Yaris' four-speed automatic may seem archaic; still, the setup deserves credit for going about its business without the excessive, fuel-conscious race to top gear by 45 mph we've seen in other models. The Yaris has enough power to inspire confidence as it takes you through city traffic and comfortably up to freeway speeds. Its pleasant handling is certainly a plus; the Yaris has a sprightly, can-do demeanor and maintains its composure in corners. The SE is noticeably and measurably sportier, with quicker steering and a buttoned-down suspension. At our test facility, the SE's agility and grip were at or near the top of its class. However, its ride quality isn't as soft as either the L or LE, and its turning circle is noticeably wider as well.