The Toyota Yaris has been completely redesigned for 2012. Wheelbase has grown by 2 inches and overall length by 2.9 inches, with the roofline dropped by 0.6 inches and tire size increased.
Longer and lower, the all-new 2012 Yaris looks sportier and more aggressive; it brings a solid 0.29 coefficient of drag, helping slip Toyota's subcompact to an EPA-estimated 30/38 City/Highway miles per gallon when equipped with the 5-speed manual transmission.
Even better for some, cargo volume has been increased a whopping 68 percent in the 5-door, with more headroom and passenger space.
The Yaris has nine standard airbags, counting four for airbag curtains, as Toyota does. The front seats are as sporty and comfortable as any we've found in that class, and feature Toyota's Advanced Whiplash Injury-Lessening (WIL) design, supporting the upper body from head to lower back. Like all new cars nowadays, the new body uses an impact-absorbing structure with high-strength steel to better distribute collision forces.
The wheelbase is 98.8 inches, a fraction longer than the Ford Fiesta, Honda Civic and Mazda 2, but a fraction shorter than the Chevy Sonic; however its length is inches less than those cars. The Yaris is called a five-seater, but don't count on it.
The 2012 Toyota Yaris comes as a 3-door or 5-door Liftback. A sedan version is not available. After decades, it seems the eminently practical hatchback/liftback body style is starting to prevail over the smoother looking but less functional compact sedan.
Yaris comes in three trims: L, LE, and SE (5-door only). The Yaris L and sport-tuned Yaris SE come standard with a tight 5-speed gearbox, while a new 4-speed automatic transmission is optional; Yaris LE only comes with the new automatic, which is compact, lightweight, and lower friction.
Standard equipment in all models has been increased, and options are reduced to make buying simpler. Considering equipment, compared to last year's prices, there's no increase in the base L models and a small increase in the LE and SE models.
The Yaris uses a famously strong 1.5-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder DOHC engine with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i), producing 106 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 103 pound-feet of torque in a broad curve peaking at 4200 rpm.
It has electric power steering, resulting in good road feel without losing easy low-speed turning. Suspension changes in the 2012 Yaris include re-tuned front MacPherson struts and rear torsion beam, for a better ride and tighter corning; this is an improvement we could feel, and applaud. The front stabilizer bar has been increased to 24.2 mm (0.95 in.), and tire sizes increase to 15 inches on the Yaris L and LE models, 16 inches on the Yaris SE, our test model.
The Yaris SE is the hot rod, with quicker steering, more expressive styling and a sportier interior. Its front disc brakes are larger, and it's fitted with alloy wheels and wider profile P195/50/R16 tires.
Standard safety equipment includes frontal dual-stage airbags, front-seat mounted side airbags, driver's knee airbag, and roll-sensing airbag curtains front and rear. Yaris features Toyota's Star Safety System, including stability control, traction control, ABS with EBD, and Brake Assist. Standard equipment includes Smart Stop Technology, Toyota's system that defaults to the brakes when both brake and gas pedal are pushed. Also standard is Toyota Care, covering scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.
The new 2012 Yaris actually looks a little bit hot. It's longer, lower and wider, which might begin to change the Yaris image. Especially the SE, which has wider tires, alloy wheels, spoilers and diffusers, and body-colored touches.
Its new aggressive stance comes from a bold nose and head-on view, with wide headlamps having integrated turn signals. The side profile shows a steep beltline and curving shoulders that flow to the rear.
The Yaris now comes in eight colors, including Super White, Classic Silver Metallic, Magnetic Gray Metallic, Black Sand Pearl, Absolutely Red, Lagoon Blue Mica, Wave Line Pearl and Blazing Blue Pearl. The car's lines are now cool enough that in black or gray metallic, it actually looks powerful, in a subcompact sort of way.
We love the sport seats in the Yaris SE. The new high-quality fabric is rugged and the fit is all-around excellent. The bolstering is always there for you, without grabbing you. The seats are wider than before, but you don't slide around in them. They're designed to reduce fatigue, and although we didn't take any long trips in our Yaris, we can't imagine backaches being a problem. The Yaris chassis and ride feel solid, and we think the seats have a lot to do with this. But it would feel solid anyhow.
There's decent room in the rear for a subcompact, with 33.3 inches of legroom. The rear bench seat in the L model folds flat with one knob, while the LE and SE models have a 60/40 split folding rear seat. You can fit a relatively huge amount of stuff in the Yaris now, with cargo volume increased by 64 percent in the 3-door and 68 percent in the 5-door. The cargo space behind the seat has been lengthened by 5.7 inches and widened by 2.1 inches; capacity with the seat up is 15.3 cubic feet on the 3-door and 15.6 cubic feet on the 5-door.
The interior offers a high level of detail with upgraded materials and a more sporty design. The dashboard is pleasing, and Toyota has moved the speedometer to in front of the driver where it belongs; the previous Yaris located the speedo in the center of the dashboard, so the structure could be used in right-hand-drive cars, to reduce cost.
There's a nice, small tachometer to the left of the speedo, which has good clear numbers with a digital window showing time, temp, odo, twin trip meters, clock, fuel mileage, and average speed. The instrument lighting glows red and cool at night. The shift knob and thick steering wheel grip feel good in the dark. It's a new three-spoke, with a flat bottom to stay out of the way of a driver's knees when climbing in and out.
Cabin conveniences are especially important in a subcompact, and the Yaris has good ones. Climate control knobs are as simple and easy as they come. It's got a roomy glovebox, six cup and bottle holders, door pockets, and cubbies near the shift lever, although no center console between the seats, where the emergency brake lever is located. There's good legroom in front, 40.6 inches.
But we wonder what happened to Toyota's thinking, with the radio/sound system. For teenagers only. The buttons are too small to push, and some of the icons are too small to even see, and our eyes are fine. The interface is confusing, a dial with four arrows, no idea what they're for, just a big knob you push and turn that does something different each time. Music mode or talk mode appears, that's all it does. Spin and nothing happens. We found it frustrating. What's more, the reception was lousy. Twenty miles outside the city limits, and we couldn't get the biggest FM station in Portland.
Back to the upside. Great, safe, high beams with the standard Halogen headlamps. A terrific one-arm windshield wiper that sprays fluid directly onto the path of the blade.
Finally, one of the most important things: the Yaris is quiet inside. The engine isn't buzzy, and there's tons of new sound insulation. The doors close with a healthy thunk.
We got a chance to drive the Yaris in the snow, and it performed well. Better traction than we expected up a steep slippery street, and down that same street, the anti-lock brakes delivered security.
Actually, secure might be the best single word to describe the overall feeling. The Toyota Yaris feels way solid. It's not big on the outside, but its roominess on the inside contributes to the solid feeling. It's not as quick and sporty feeling as the lightweight Mazda2 or the Ford Fiesta, and it doesn't have the exciting jackrabbit throttle response of the Mazda; but the Yaris handling is lively enough, while feeling a bit more substantial.
The ride is solid, too: comfortably firm, not comfortably soft. Yaris is wonderfully smooth on the freeway at 75 miles per hour, but begins to feel its size when the bumps and patches come along. It might be a challenge on city streets with a lot of potholes, but what subcompact isn't; and besides, with the small nimble Yaris, you can more easily dodge them.
The 1.5-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder DOHC engine with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) produces 106 hp at 6000 rpm and 103 lb-ft of torque in a broad curve peaking at 4200 rpm. It gets an EPA-estimated 30/38 mpg.
As for power, no worries we say. The Toyota 1.5-liter engine has come a long way, baby. We found ourselves pushing 80 on an uphill freeway, foot on the floor and the engine loving it. Its 106 horsepower is enough, and the 103 pound-feet of torque is available over a broad range peaking at 4200 rpm.
Uphill at 80 it was hungry for more, not straining. Eighty miles per hour equals 3400 rpm, and at that speed you can't hear the motor. You hear the tires, but hardly even any wind noise. Toyota as done an excellent job with the Yaris's aerodynamics and sound insulation. The coefficient of drag is a superb 0.29.
We also loved the 5-speed gearbox. It shifted quick and tight. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to test the new 4-speed automatic, and we have to wonder if 4 speeds is enough.
If this is what small cars have become, we're in great shape.
Toyota hits a homer with the redesigned Yaris. Lively and secure cornering, smooth ride, great seats, terrific interior (except for the radio), tight manual transmission, and lively high-tech engine that delivers 30/38 mpg.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Yaris in the Columbia River Gorge.