Review: 2012 Toyota Yaris

I’ve often considered the subcompact Toyota Yaris the Rodney Dangerfield of subcompacts-it just does not get any respect. In the sales juggernaut that is Toyota, the Yaris was second to last behind the Avalon in car sales in 2011. And with competition and new models flooding the subcompact market, Toyota had to stop treating the Yaris like a despised stepchild. For 2012, Toyota has redesigned the Yaris, but has this wallflower finally caught up to the competition, or is it still relegated to ‘also ran’ status? Read on to find out.

No one has raved about the styling of the Yaris in the past, and with the new 2012 model, I see no change in that. That said, the Yaris is certainly sharper and fresher looking than the car it replaces.  Our three door Yaris wasn’t bad looking from any angle, but it’s a forgettable shape. The Yaris is meant to appeal to a wide range of buyers, and Toyota is known for conservative styling for mass appeal. In other words, the Yaris is a nice looking appliance.

What is the best thing about the new Yaris interior? The centrally mounted instrument panel is gone, replaced with a traditional gauge cluster behind the steering wheel. Inside, the Yaris was reasonably comfortable for me (but my wife complained about the seat height), and for a two door hatchback, I felt the rear seat offered a generous amount of room. Quality of materials and workmanship were first-rate. The Yaris never felt cheap inside, the two-tone seats and dash added character to the thoughtfully designed dashboard. My only disappointment was the lack of a tachometer. Nothing screams econo-car more than staring at a blank oval on the gauge cluster.

As for the Yaris’ drivetrain, it is carryover from last year’s car. The Yaris features a 1.5L four cylinder rated at 106hp, with a choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Our test car was equipped with the automatic, and in 2012, four speeds is utterly archaic. Fuel economy figures 30/35MPG city/highway, about average for this class of car. But the Yaris went about its work quietly and smoothly. It was an easy car to live with driving in town. Not so much on the highway. With only four gears, cruising at 80mph was a loud and annoying experience. Ride quality was ok, steering and braking were adequate. But on a 100 mile round trip in the Yaris, I could not wait to park the car and be done with it.

The Yaris is available as a two or four door hatchback. The sedan has been dropped. Trim levels come in L, LE, or SE. Our test car was the mid-level LE. Standard equipment is nine airbags, remote keyless entry, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, six speaker audio with HD radio and iPod connectivity, and full power accessories. With optional cruise control, floor mats, cargo mat and cargo net, our Yaris had an MSRP of $$16,864USD including delivery.

The redesigned Yaris is far more handsome than the car it replaces, and its interior is a massive improvement. If the bulk of your driving is around town or in the city, the Yaris will serve you well. But if you need a subcompact that has to be pleasant on the highway, I’d recommend the Ford Fiesta in a heartbeat. The Yaris is an appliance to get you from point A to point B that is unfortunately let down by an antiquated drivetrain that fails to match up to its competition.

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