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2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door Hatchback Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
June 28, 2012
7 min. Reading Time

The backbone of the subcompact segment of the new car market is providing people with basic transportation.  A vast number of the subcompact automobiles that are sold in the United States are destined to ply the roads as commuter cars, happy, simple little appliances that are easy on the budget both at the fuel pump and in terms of MSRP.

The 2012 Toyota Yaris is the perfect example of this class of car.  Redesigned for the current model year, there is nothing particularly flashy or exciting about the Yaris but that's part of its charm: you know that every morning when you put the key in the ignition and give it a twist, it's going to start up and get you to work without any fuss.  Everyone needs a friend like the Toyota Yaris, a fact that Toyota hopes will lift the new generation of the car past the sales roadblock faced by the 2011 edition.


2012 Toyota Yaris: Competition

While the 2012 Toyota Yaris might not offer a high level of visual thrills or luxury gear the rest of the subcompact market is increasingly tilted in that particular direction.  Options such as the Ford Fiesta and the Chevrolet Sonic are incorporating greater amounts of high tech gear in the form of options packages and even standard features, hot on the heels of similar efforts from strikingly-styled vehicles like the Hyundai Elantra.  Rounding out the field are old rivals like the Honda Fit, a vehicle shares the Yaris' conservative looks but throws in a hefty amount of practicality, and the Mazda MAZDA2, which attempts to spice up the driving experience through a more engaging suspension package.



2012 Toyota Yaris: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2012 Toyota Yaris is available as both a three and five-door subcompact hatchback.  The least expensive edition of the Yaris is the 3-Door L model, which features an MSRP of $14,115.  Topping out the hatchback range is the 5-Door SE model, which retails for an MSRP of $16,400, and in between buyers can find the 3-Door LE (MSRP $15,625), the 5-Door L (MSRP $15,140) and the 5-Door LE (MSRP $16,100).

The Yaris we drove during our week-long test was actually a Canada-only model that comes in below the 3-Door L's sticker price.  Dubbed the Toyota Yaris 3-Door CE, the vehicle cost $13,990 CAD and came with the fewest standard features of any member of the Yaris lineup.


2012 Toyota Yaris: Exterior

The 2012 Toyota Yaris offers an exterior design that could be branded as conservative - especially when compared against several of its more stylish rivals - but that doesn't necessarily mean that the hatchback is boring to look at.  In fact, the Yaris enjoys a simplicity of appearance that is endearing, avoiding swooping lines or garish body kits to present a clean and crisp package that allows one to cruise through city streets in classy anonymity. 

It's clear that the 2012 Toyota Yaris has been put together with practicality in mind, as the vehicle bears a large rear hatch opening and an ample greenhouse to ensure visibility.  15-inch steel wheels are now standard with the car, filling out the fender wells quite nicely, and in perhaps the car's only nod to the boy-racer cult that adulates subcompact hatchbacks, a sporty single-arm wiper sits at the bottom of the Yaris' expansive windshield.


2012 Toyota Yaris: Interior

While the outside of the 2012 Toyota Yaris might not scream 'basic transportation' thanks to the careful efforts of the brand's design department, the interior of our entry-level, barebones model was a different story.

We found ourselves of two minds when evaluating the Yaris' passenger compartment.  On the one hand, we enjoyed the simplicity of the hatchback's dash layout, with a nice two-tone color scheme adding a touch of elegance to an otherwise spartan arrangement.  The Yaris' dash floats over its cup holders, with a rectangular block carved out of its center for the stereo system that is set kiddy-corner to a small circular cutout housing the hazard light button and airbag indicator.  Just below the radio are three climate control dials that were easy to grip and use - except that we barely had the chance to interact with them during our seven day Yaris sojourn due to the fact that our test car did not come with air conditioning.

Yes, you read that right - the Toyota Yaris 3-Door CE does not offer standard air conditioning, and our zero-option car didn't have it either.  With Montreal in the midst of a heat wave that saw the mercury rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for several days straight, you can understand how that might have cramped our style as we tooled around town, sweating buckets into the Yaris' comfy, two-tone cloth seats.

Air conditioning was not the only thing absent from our test car's features list.  Our low-spec Yaris was also missing a tachometer or indeed any other form of engine monitoring gauge aside from a few dummy lights, which made shifting the manual transmission that the vehicle was equipped with an exercise in listening for the whine of the motor as it reach the redline.  Roll-up windows were, however, present and accounted for.

The one power accessory that we could count on was the vehicle's door locks, which worked well despite exhibiting a few quirks that puzzled more than a few of our drivers.  For example, unlocking the car with the key from either the passenger side or the tailgate also opened up the driver's door, but doing the same from the left side of the car did not open the hatch or the passenger lock.  Presumably, this is something that could be reprogrammed after a little bit of time spent with the Yaris' manual.  In keeping with it's 'unique' personality was the fact that to lock the car required turning the key in one direction on the driver's side, but in a different one from the hatch.

When you are focused on price, and willing to make a few sacrifices when it comes to comfort and convenience, then a low-spec car like the entry-level Yaris makes sense.  The lack of air conditioning, however, is an unusual move for Toyota, especially considering that our test car came with a fairly advanced, Bluetooth-enabled stereo system.  Typically, stripped-down cars are offered in order to facilitate the advertising of low pricing in promotional materials but these vehicles are rarely available at the dealership.  One would have to special order a vehicle as sparsely equipped as our tester, and given that all U.S. market Yaris models come with standard AC, we doubt that anyone ever would.

Moving on to the more practical considerations, from a passenger space perspective the 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door makes excellent use of what it has to work with.  Somewhat longer than past editions of the car, the Yaris offers a good amount of room for driver and front passenger, with acceptable legroom on offer for anyone who chooses to ride in the back seat.  Interior trim was also of good quality considering the price of the car.  Our only complaint regarding the Toyota's materials selection had to do with the arm rests afforded to rear passengers, which were unpadded extensions of the automobile's side paneling and not in keeping with the nicer arrangements for those seated in the first two positions.

From a cargo perspective, the Yaris comes with a functional, if not enormous 'trunk' space between the rear seatback and the hatch.  Like most manufacturers, Toyota has included a small cargo cover to protect items from prying eyes when they are stored in the rear, but this feature makes it more difficult to load bulkier items - especially with the rear seats folded forward to increase the vehicle's available storage space.  We were able to wrangle in over-sized items such as a longboard into the hatch's relatively wide opening, and of course there was ample room for groceries.  Compared to some competitors, however, the spare tire's under-trunk placement eats into load floor depth.



2012 Toyota Yaris: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2012 Toyota Yaris is sold exclusively with a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that has been rated at 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque.  Transmission choices for this engine include a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic, and fuel economy for the Yaris shows as 30-mpg in stop and go driving and 38-mpg on the highway when equipped with the shift-it-yourself gearbox.  The automatic penalizes fuel mileage to the tune of three miles per gallon during highway cruising.



2012 Toyota Yaris: Driving Impressions

Despite having a reputation for not being the most dynamically interesting econo-car in its class, the 2012 Toyota Yaris is actually quite enjoyable to drive.  Our test vehicle was outfitted with the five-speed manual transmission - an absolute must, given the mileage-sapping, acceleration-robbing characteristics of the optional four-speed auto - and running the 1.5-liter engine up to what we presume was the redline had us convinced that the tiny mill had been underrated at the factory.  Acceleration was confident provided the correct gear was selected, and we never found ourselves trapped in a driving situation that couldn't be rectified through a discrete downshift or two.  The Yaris is not quick by any objective yardstick, but it certainly felt fast, and that's an impressive accomplishment in an inexpensive vehicle.

The 2012 Toyota Yaris' chassis is another success story, as its predictable handling and planted feel inspired confidence at both around-town and highway speeds.  Throwing the Yaris into a corner on occasion engaged the vehicle's traction and stability control system but switching these features off proved that the subcompact was more than willing to offer up a bit of fun alongside its staid and comfortable performance during more relaxed driving.  The interior of the Yaris was quiet and composed as we traversed construction zones, gravel roads and potholes, proving that inexpensive cars don't have to feel like tin cans when the road turns rough.

Completing the our trifecta of praise for the hatchback's driving experience was the Yaris' fuel consumption, which effectively matched the lofty rating offered by the EPA and had us breezing by gas pumps for most of the week without a second glance.



2012 Toyota Yaris: Safety

The 2012 Toyota Yaris has seen a higher level of safety gear installed as part of its recent refresh.  The Yaris now comes with a knee airbag for the driver to go with seat-mounted side airbags, forward airbags, and side curtain airbags that protect occupants both front and rear.  Electronic stability control is standard - as is traction control - and anti-lock brakes and active front head restraints are also on-board.



2012 Toyota Yaris: Final Thoughts

The subcompact car class has been divided into two distinct halves: those vehicles that offer glamour in the form of turbocharged power and pricy tech features, and those that present traditional value in the form of a comfortable ride, reasonable utility, and excellent fuel efficiency.  The 2012 Toyota Yaris falls squarely into the latter category, and that's definitely not a bad thing.  Spending time behind the wheel of the Yaris reveals how much care has been taken refining the vehicle's chassis and engine combination until they perfectly complement each other, and its simple interior maximizes passenger room while minimizing the distractions of advanced in-car entertainment systems or trick ambient lighting. 

In short, the 2012 Toyota Yaris offers a new design that does a very good job of capturing the essence of what 95 percent of subcompact shoppers are looking for in a daily driver.  Score another victory for basic transportation.

What We Like About The 2012 Toyota Yaris:

  • Great power and fuel economy in a lightweight package
  • Spacious interior for forward passengers, reasonable rear seat room for a two-door hatchback
  • A chassis that is actually fun to drive
  • Good value for the entry-level price

We Aren't So Hot On:

  • Slowly baking under the hot summer sun due to a lack of AC (note: American-spec Yaris models feature standard air conditioning)
  • Shallow cargo area
  • Lack of tachometer in a manual-transmission automobile


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