2012 Toyota Yaris SE Four-Door Hatchback Review:
After years of wandering through thickets of gas-guzzlers, practical-minded motorists now are treated to an abundance of economical small cars—and not a clunker in the bunch.
It’s a promised land of subcompacts that offer just about everything anybody could want in an automobile, especially fuel economy numbers that have service station operators so worried about profits that some are thinking seriously about selling their businesses.
Take a look. They’re all over the place: Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Chevrolet Sonic (and upcoming Spark), Hyundai Accent and Veloster, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Fiat 500, Scion iQ and xB, Mini Cooper, Suzuki SX4 and the subject here, the 2012 Toyota Yaris.
All of these cars offer outstanding EPA fuel consumption ratings, most have hatchbacks and four doors to accommodate four to five people and luggage, and they don’t cost very much. In fact, you could nearly buy two of them for about the average selling cost of a new car, which now exceeds $30,000.
The cars deliver highway fuel economy of up to 40 miles to the gallon on regular gasoline, with no need to resort to hybrid powertrains or expensive diesel engines. They also deliver full safety equipment, including antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and side-curtain and side airbags.
Moreover, most of them offer enough performance and handling to make them way more entertaining to drive than many bigger cars. They’re nimble in urban traffic and park in places the other guys have to pass up.
It’s an extraordinary turn of events. Not many years ago, you couldn’t give away a subcompact hatchback, and some manufacturers simply dropped them. But a new generation of American motorists is discovering the virtues of these little gems, which no longer are characterized by automotive sackcloth and ashes.
Sure, you can still buy base models. But today even those offer such standard amenities as air conditioning, decent audio systems, power locking and automatic transmissions. And for a few extra bucks you can get Bluetooth connectivity, satellite and HD radio, and even navigation systems and backup cameras.
The 2012 Toyota Yaris SE four-door hatchback (Toyota calls it a liftback) is a case in point. It is the sport version, with a handling-oriented suspension system, 16-inch alloy wheels and tighter electric power steering.
Starting at $17,160, the test car arrived with sticker of $17,389 and a gorgeous “lagoon blue mica” paint job with matching cloth upholstery. Like other Yaris models, it has a 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual gearbox. If you are of a shiftless mindset, a four-speed automatic transmission costs $800 more.
The EPA city/highway fuel consumption is rated at 30/38 miles to the gallon. In that, the Yaris gives up a bit to some of the newer Korean competition. For example, the slightly more expensive Kia Rio, with 138 horsepower and a six-speed automatic transmission, is rated at 30/40.
But it’s a distinction without much of a difference. Though it could use six-speed transmissions, the Yaris has its own charming traits, to the point where the choice between the two—and, indeed, among many of the other subcompacts—will come down to personal preferences.
The all-new 2012 Yaris is three inches longer and slightly lower than its predecessor, which gives it an aggressive stance and, from the driver’s seat, feels like a bigger car. But it is an inch shy of 13 feet long, which enables it to squirt through holes in traffic and poke into tight parking spaces.
With a curb weight of just 2,295 pounds, the Yaris feels as if it harbors more than its paltry106 horsepower. It accelerates smartly and has plenty of oomph for freeway merging.
Of course, you must stir the shift lever to change gears down and up. But that’s part of the entertainment because the linkage is slick and the clutch action easy.
With precise steering and the snubbed suspension system, the tested Yaris SE displayed admirable handling qualities. Straight-line tracking down the highway was rock steady, good insulation kept out most road and mechanical noise, and the cruise control maintained the set speed. You wouldn’t hesitate taking this charmer on a long trip.
The front bucket seats are comfortable, with good thigh support and effective seatback bolsters. In back, the outboard seats are not quite as comfy, but can accommodate six-footers with adequate knee and headroom. The cargo area is slightly less than 16 cubic feet, which is as much or more than the trunk space in a mid-size car. Split rear seatbacks fold to more than double the space.
Nice touches included a giant single windshield wiper with built-in washer, a high-definition radio with redundant steering-wheel controls, inside grab handles over all four doors, and instruments with aircraft-red nighttime lighting located where they belong behind the new flat-bottom steering wheel. Previous Yaris models had the instruments distractingly located in the center of the dash.
On the downside, there’s no center console for storage, the steering wheel tilts but does not telescope, most inside surfaces are hard plastic, though nicely textured, and the doors have a tinny sound when opened, though they close with a solid “thunk.”
Model: 2012 Toyota Yaris SE four-door hatchback.
Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, 106 horsepower.
Transmission: Five-speed manual.
Overall length: 12 feet 11 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 85/16 cubic feet.
Weight: 2,295 pounds.
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 30/38 miles to the gallon.
Base price, including destination charge: $17,160.
Price as tested: $17,389.