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HEELS ON WHEELS: 2012 Toyota Yaris Review +VIDEO

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COMPARE: Toyota V Competitors - Toyota Buyers Guide

By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

I’ve always felt the subcompact Toyota Yaris is for those who hate cars – simply because this four-door economy hatchback is a beacon of light in a compact market that often thwarts the shopper’s bottom line with numerous must-have options and assorted extra costs. And with a redesigned 2012 model that includes more cargo space, a sharper appearance and a sportier suspension, the no-frills traveler should feel even more aligned to the Yaris.

I drove a 2012 Toyota Yaris with the 106-horspower 1.5-liter Dual Overhead Cam four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual transmission is standard). The lineup has dropped the sedan style and offers only the three- or five-door hatchback in three trims (L, LE and the new and sporty SE). My LE included the following standard equipment: remote key-less entry, an upgraded six-speaker audio system; USB and auxiliary input jacks; a six-way-adjustable driver seat; steering-wheel-mounted audio controls; and Bluetooth connectivity. Total price came to $16,100.

Despite the safe, reasonable and improved deal that is found in the Yaris; these gains are lost when parked next to the Fiat 500, Chevy Sonic, and VW GTI – in other words, more dazzling compact competitors able to avoid the cargo issue due to more exciting power-trains and snazzier skins.

Watch TACH's exclusive Yaris promo video


Stylish But Comfortable Results: You’ll appreciate the clear views from behind the driver’s seat. The rear seats give passengers ample leg and foot room. Toyota keeps the dashboard layout modern and intuitive. Sound quality from the speakers is better than most for the price. You won’t find the many technological upgrades, such as navigation or a more complex infotainment system. The Yaris is longer by 2.9 inches, which helps stretch cargo configurations to 15.6 cubic feet (that matches up to the Fiesta). It’s an improvement, but still less than the more acute competitors like the Nissan Versa (17.8) and Honda Fit (20.6).

Reliability & Safety Factor: Safety has improved, as the 2012 Toyota Yaris now offers nine standard airbags and front seats. Standard equipment includes Toyota’s Star Safety System which brings Vehicle Stability Control, an anti-lock braking system, traction control, EBD and Smart Stop Technology. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) puts the four-door model on the Top Safety Pick list. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Yaris four-door 4-Stars in rollover crash testing.

Cost Issues: The Yaris starts at an unbelievable $14,115. The new sporty Yaris SE starts at just $16,400. This year’s improvements show a rise in costs, as these prices exceed the previous models. But Toyota has incorporated more standard features.

Activity & Performance Ability: The Yaris delivers a dazzling four-cylinder compact ride, with sporty handling at the corners and quick accelerating results coming off a full stop. You’ll be able to tap into this nimble power on the freeway, too. For a four-speed automatic, Toyota keeps torque mastered with an excellent ratio output. All in all, you’ve got a confident daily driver. For added agility and grip, try the sporty SE trim.

The Green ConcernEPA-estimated fuel economy is 30 miles-per-gallon city and 38 highway equating to 33 combined. The new highway target number is 40 for this crowd, so the Yaris is staying competitive. With the automatic transmission, numbers dip to 30 city and 35 highway.

The 2012 Toyota Yaris improved its looks, cargo space and ride – and for a base price of $14,115, that’s quite enough for the no-frills crowd. But compared to the flashier subcompacts, the Yaris needs a new edge to single it out more.

Watch the new Toyota Yaris introduction video

2012 Katrina Ramser