2012 Toyota Yaris

2012 Toyota Yaris Expert Review:Autoblog

Satisfactory Subway Substitution

2012 Toyota Yaris

Our enthusiast's Spidey Sense started tingling when we heard about the newest bit of technology employed on the enhanced 2012 Toyota Yaris. It was not a more advanced variable valve timing system; the Yaris' 1.5-liter engine is carried over and already has an intake cam with adjustable phasing. It was not more cogs gracing a more advanced transmission; the Yaris makes do with a four-speed automatic and a five-speed manual. The suspension is also traditional with struts up front and torsion beam in the rear.

So what was the next great thing?

A mono-arm windshield wiper with washer jets aimed to either side of the big blade. Ah, our Spidie Sense was trying to warn us of an exceptionally dull car. In this world where small, inexpensive cars are becoming more fun – Mazda2 and Fiat 500 anyone – the new Yaris is a yawner.

For normal consumers, however, the 2012 Yaris – available as the L, LE and SE – is a much improved, affordable and economical transportation appliance. It's the kind of car you'd feel comfortable recommending to a friend's sister or anyone who thinks of cars as nothing more than subway substitutes.

2012 Toyota Yaris side view2012 Toyota Yaris front view2012 Toyota Yaris rear view

With this buyer in mind, the $14,115 Yaris is spot on. (See the complete story on pricing here.) Compared to the 2011 Yaris, the 2012 model is a heavy refresh that includes a wheelbase stretch, new exterior sheetmetal and a totally new interior.

The extra length is what required the exterior redesign. This gave Toyota designers the opportunity to toughen up the Yaris's styling. More sculpted fenders help give the subcompact a bolder stance, as does the heavily angled rearmost pillar (C on the three-door, D on the five). The Yaris still won't attract longing glances from Ferrari enthusiasts, but at least it's not a totally milquetoast design like the outgoing three-door and five-door editions.

Available only as a hatchback, the Yaris is now large enough to be considered a trunkless alternative to the Corolla (available only with a traditional boot). Riding on a 98.8-inch wheelbase that's 2.9-inches longer than 2011, nearly all of the stretch was added to make the trunk more useful. Cargo volume now stands at 15.3 cubic feet for the three-door and 15.5 cu-ft for the five-door. These numbers conveniently expand by folding the split rear seatbacks, adding useful versatility.

2012 Toyota Yaris headlight2012 Toyota Yaris taillights2012 Toyota Yaris logo2012 Toyota Yaris badge

Room for passengers felt generous enough for four. Filling all five seatbelts causes hip-to-hip seating across the rear bench for all but the skinniest passengers. Regarding rear legroom, someone five-foot, ten-inch easily fits behind themselves. As the height of front-seat occupants crests six feet, rear legroom drops to child-like proportions. Such is the physical reality of sub-100-inch wheelbase vehicles.

Those who shopped the previous generation Yaris could have been easily put off by that car's central-mounted gauge cluster, but it helped facilitate cost-effective production for right- and left-hand-drive markets. That ergonomically horrific paradigm has been mercifully replaced with a conventional instrument cluster and dash configuration. Drivers now find an easy-to-read gauge cluster where it should be, directly behind the steering wheel.

The instrument binnacle blends into a horizontally stretched dash that breaks away from the trendy design convention of vertically stacking all controls and vents at the dash's center point. The latter motif tends to compartmentalize the front seats, while the former seems to visually expand the interior's spaciousness.

2012 Toyota Yaris interior2012 Toyota Yaris front seats2012 Toyota Yaris rear seats2012 Toyota Yaris rear cargo area

A double-DIN-sized radio rides high on the dash in easy reach of the driver and front passenger. Unique to the North American market, these radios – there are two – have knobs! Big ones! These ingeniously useful Human Machine Interface devices work so much better than the tiny, fitful and frustrating volume and tuning buttons found on so many of today's automotive audio systems.

The base Yaris L's radio is a step above conventional low-end units because it includes wired iPod connectivity plus Aux and USB inputs. The uplevel LE and SE's unit includes Bluetooth connectivity for phones and music streaming. Highlighting the North American roots of the radio, telephone operation buttons are on the radio, not on the steering wheel (where they'd likely be if this system were offered in all markets).

For those with a penchant for getting lost, there's no optional navigation system from the factory. Paper maps fit easily in the glovebox for those without smart phones and robust data packages. Meanwhile, the climate control system uses a trio of knob-like dials that keeps heating and cooling tasks blissfully simple and straightforward.

2012 Toyota Yaris gauges2012 Toyota Yaris shifter2012 Toyota Yaris audio controls2012 Toyota Yaris climate controls

This straightforward attitude carries through to the Yaris' powertrain. North America gets the 106-horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) 1.5-liter four-cylinder. Torque is a modest 103 pound-feet at a moderately high 4,200 rpm. The engine can be considered so 2006 with its traditional port fuel injection (as opposed to direct injection) and variable valve timing on just the intake cam (as opposed to both intake and exhaust).

The transmissions are just as 2006, or perhaps even 2000. The automatic has just four gears and the manual is a five-speed. Toyota explained the reasons for its choices as cost and performance. Adding technology adds cost to a car they want to keep affordable. The incremental performance, Toyota believes, wouldn't be worth the bump in MSRP. EPA figures are currently 30 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg combined for the five-speed manual, and 30/35/32 mpg for the automatic.

More fuel-efficient versions of the Yaris are sold in other markets, but Toyota's U.S. operation felt that the lack of torque from its smaller 1.3-liter four-cylinder (available with a CVT and 6-speed manual elsewhere) wouldn't have played well here, despite its potential to be another member of the 40-mpg club.

2012 Toyota Yaris engine

Given how leisurely the 1.5-liter accelerates, Toyota's gut was probably right. We didn't put a clock to any of the Yaris models we drove because of the crowded driving environs of Los Angeles where we were offered our initial wheel time. If asked to guess about 0-60 mph, longer than ten seconds wouldn't surprise us. Weighing around 2,300 pounds, the little Toyota isn't quick. It's not frightfully slow either, as it possesses enough oomph to keep up with traffic if peddled vigorously.

Sometimes cars are slow but dynamically interesting and or intrinsically engaging. The Yaris isn't.

Given its target buyer, the lack of driving character shouldn't be considered worthy of countless demerits. Toyota isn't Mazda. The expectations are different and in keeping with Toyota's brand character.

2012 Toyota Yaris driving

We spent most of our drive time behind the wheel of a $15,625 Yaris LE, the mid-line model that's expected to be the most popular. Base L equipment levels fit basic needs for safety and comfort: seven airbags, electronic stability control, air conditioning, power door locks, rear-window defroster and P175/65HR15 tires. The LE adds features such as a height adjuster for the driver's seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs, steering wheel audio controls, remote keyless entry and tasteful two-tone interior accents.

To the Yaris' credit, LE's handling and steering feel are predictable and relatively direct. Communicative they're not. Understeer is modest and it actually takes some work to make the front tires beg for mercy.

The engine willingly revs to its redline, but there isn't much point. Spinning the mill creates an unwelcome and uninspiring soundtrack. Thankfully, the engine at least remains smooth even at higher rpms. Regardless of speed, the motor doesn't feel cheap or fragile.

Both gearboxes do their respective jobs as they should. The manual offers pleasant throws and positive engagement; we've rowed many shifters with worse action. The automatic operates with a predictable shift schedule that often relies on the engine's modest torque rather than a quick downshift (this helps prevent gear hunting Toyota says). The result is generally a smooth drive, but when the downshift does happen, it creates an immediate sense of urgency with its sudden jump in engine revs, noise and forward push. Such are the characteristics of a car intended to serve the transportation needs of those who value Bluetooth connectivity over maximum lateral acceleration.

2012 Toyota Yaris rear 3/4 view

We also took a spin in the $16,400 SE, the be-spoiled aluminum-wheeled Yaris. The electric power steering has a faster ratio and spins lock-to-lock in just 2.3 turns (compared to the L and LE's three turns), the suspension is approximately 20-percent stiffer and the tires are larger (P195/50VR16). The car's ride is markedly more firm, but it's not as if the lesser models weren't responsive. Given the SE's lack of additional power, we're not sure why somebody would choose the SE and lose the better everyday ride.

"Yaris. It's a Car," is the line being used by Toyota in promotions for this car. The audience values new phones and tablets over this form of conveyance, so they need to be told what the Yaris is like defining a smart phone to an octogenarian: "Droid. It's a phone." The line encapsulates the inherent dullness of this subcompact. Simultaneously, it pitch-perfectly positions the Yaris for its intended prospects.

Sadly, many who hold licenses no longer view "the drive" as one of life's everyday adventures. A car is simply a substitute for a subway ride – or a shuttle from a parent – and an interminable duration when they lose the ability to text. The 2012 Toyota Yaris won't change this.

Redesigned, with more cargo space, better cornering.


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 2012 Toyota Yaris comes in 3-Door and 5-Door versions, all of them using the 1.5-liter engine with a choice of 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual, all with front-wheel drive. 

Yaris L ($14,115) comes as a 3-door Liftback with a standard 5-speed manual transmission, or with the 4-speed automatic ($14,480). Yaris L 5-door Liftback comes only with the automatic ($15,140). 

All Yaris models come well equipped, with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power door locks, six cup and bottle holders, AM/FM/CD player with MP3 and WMA playback, USB and auxiliary ports, cargo storage cover, electric power steering, ventilated front disc brakes, cold weather package, halogen headlights, intermittent wipers, and 15-inch steel wheels. Power windows and cruise control are not standard. 

Yaris LE 3-door ($15,480) and Yaris LE 5-door ($15,960) come standard with the automatic transmission, adding power windows, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, steering wheel audio controls, and audio system with HD radio, six speakers and Bluetooth music streaming technology. Cruise control is optional. 

Yaris SE 5-door comes with the 5-speed gearbox ($16,300) or 4-speed automatic ($17,100). Yaris SE features a sport-tuned suspension, quicker steering ratio, bigger front disc brakes, rear disc brakes, and P195/50R16 tires and alloy wheels. It adds smoke-trim multi-reflector halogen headlamps, integrated fog lamps, color-keyed grille with sport mesh insert, front and rear underbody spoilers, rear spoiler and diffuser, and chrome-tipped exhaust. Inside, there are sport seats and sporty instrumentation, with analog speedometer and tachometer, and digital display. A leather-trimmed three-spoke tilting steering wheel includes audio controls and standard cruise control. The driver's seat adjusts six ways and passenger seat four ways. 


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. 

Driving Impression

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. 

Model Lineup

Toyota Yaris 3-Door Liftback L ($14,115); Yaris 5-Door Liftback L ($15,140); Yaris 3-Door Liftback LE ($15,480); Yaris 5-Door Liftback LE ($15,960); Yaris 5-Door Liftback SE ($16,300). 

Assembled In


Options As Tested

carpeted floor mats, cargo mats ($180). 

Model Tested

Toyota Yaris 5-Door Liftback SE ($16,300). 

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