All-New 2012 Toyota Yaris: Able, Agile Liftback

By Sue Mead, May 26th, 2012

Toyota's all-new 2012 Toyota Yaris liftback is designed for anyone seeking an agile, affordable, fuel-efficient city dweller with zip on the highway.

Manufacturer photo: Today, liftback body styles dominate the subcompact vehicle segment, preferred by 70 percent of new retail car buyers in this category
Manufacturer photo: Today, liftback body styles dominate the subcompact vehicle segment, preferred by 70 percent of new retail car buyers in this category

Available as a three- or five-door model starting at $14,115, Toyota's zip-around-town car cuts a cute profile. Its wide front grille and lower air dam grin out from beneath big, trapezoidal headlamps. Scooped-out sides and a downward-sloped roofline lend sportiness. The rear end is a bubble of big tail lamps and a wide rear window.

Under the hood is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder motor making 106 horsepower and 103 lb.-ft. of torque. It is matched to a five-speed manual transmission, or a four-speed automatic available as an option. EPA ratings are estimated at 30 miles per gallon city and 38 mpg highway.

As an automotive test driver, I've learned to adjust my schedule for whatever vehicle shows up in the driveway for a week, to compare apples to apples (subcompacts to subcompacts). When the 2012 Toyota Yaris arrived at my home I immediately put off picking up large and bulky items for my spring gardening tasks.

While the 5-door subcompact Yaris is crafted with more functional stowage in its back-end than I expected, it is not a sport utility and even a decklid cover that keeps items tucked out of view does not provide safe transport for tall and hefty goods.

Manufacturer photo: Today, liftback body styles dominate the subcompact vehicle segment, preferred by 70 percent of new retail car buyers in this category

That said, the $16,300 Yaris SE tester grew on me each time I hopped in it and, especially, as I parked in miniscule spaces on the town's busy main street. In fact, by the time I had motored more than 100 miles, I had a fondness for this runabout that I didn't expect; it's adorably cheeky. With attractive-but-understated styling, it's easy to imagine the Yaris performance is average-to-lackluster. Not the case!

Depress the throttle and you have ample power for everyday driving, plus zip for scooting around potholes and slower traffic; its steering is well-balanced and with Yaris' size you get a great turning circle (30.8 feet); the brakes stop you with the right amount of grip and grab; and the sport suspension keeps the Yaris flat on the straight-aways and somewhat supple on twisty and meandering byways.

Although Yaris has a low step-in, it's easy to climb aboard and, once situated, there's a feel of more interior room than expected, plus somewhat comfortable seats, although the seating material looked a bit bargain-basement in appearance. Toyota has also designed this small model with long cowl, a maximum volume of glass that provides good visibility, and an uncluttered look for the gauges and controls.

Thanks to the redesign, the interior has been upgraded with more supportive seats and smoother, more eye-pleasing surfaces. Rear seats accommodate three smallish people and there are headrests for all. Cargo capacity is 9.3 cubic feet -- more than previous versions -- but less than some competitors, such as the Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent.

Standard equipment is somewhat Spartan in this subcompact, although the four-speaker stereo fills the space with sound just fine. The instrument cluster is intuitive and mounted high in the center stack for easy reach. Air conditioning is standard.

Manufacturer photo: Today, liftback body styles dominate the subcompact vehicle segment, preferred by 70 percent of new retail car buyers in this category

Stability and traction control, along with ABS, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution and "Smart Stop" technology are all standard on the 2012 Yaris, in keeping with Toyota's promise to make this "suite of performance and safety features" standard across its entire lineup.

A bevy of safety equipment includes nine airbags: driver and front passenger airbags, front-seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbag, driver- and front-passenger seat-cushion airbags and first and second row side-curtain airbags. Sue Mead, Motor Matters

Specifications

Base price $16,300 (as tested: $17,060)
Curb weight 2,295 lbs.
Displacement 1.5-liter
Engine type 16-valve 4-cylinder w/SFI
Epa mileage rating 30 mpg city, 38 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 11.1 gal.
Horsepower (net) 106 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 153.5 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 103 at 4200 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD subcompact liftback
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