Over the years we have noticed that Toyota doesn’t design new cars from scratch, but rather builds new models based on what was working well in previous ones. The freshly redesigned subcompact 2012 Yaris hatchback is in line with this concept. While it’s a much upgraded vehicle and doesn’t feel as much of a budget car as the previous model did, it still uses many of the same proven technologies.
Line-up: The 2012 Yaris hatchback is available in 3-door and 5-door body styles and comes in three grades: the base L (CE in Canada), value-packaged LE and sport-tuned SE. The SE is available only as a five-door and comes with larger 16-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension and disc brakes on all 4 wheels. The SE features a more aggressive exterior and sporty interior with sharper instrument panel and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Technical: The only engine choice is a 106-hp 1.5L DOHC with variable valve timing (VVT-i). This engine (model 1NZ-FE) has already been used for a few years in many small Toyota cars around the world. It’s a simple, proven engine: there is no direct injection, no turbo and no timing belt to worry about. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard; a 4-speed automatic is optional. The steering is electrically assisted. The 2012 Yaris uses a single front wiper that swipes the whole windshield in one smooth motion. You probably saw this type of wiper on large buses.
Safety: The US and Canadian 2012 Yaris hatchback has nine standard airbags: driver and front passenger airbags, front-seat mounted side airbags, a knee airbag for the driver, first and second row side-curtain airbags and two front seat cushion airbags. The Yaris also comes with standard Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock brakes and Smart Stop Technology (SST). The Smart Stop Technology automatically reduces engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed at the same time under certain conditions. In government crash tests, the 2012 Yaris 5-door hatchback earned an overall score of four stars, with four stars in frontal impacts and five stars in side impacts. The 2012 Yaris 5-door hatchback also received Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Interior: Compared to the 2011 model, the new Yaris hatchback has a more sporty look, and much better interior. The wheelbase grew by two inches and the overall length has been increased by 2.9 inches. It’s a subcompact, but once you get into the driver’s seat, The Yaris really doesn’t feels that small with its far-stretched dashboard and high roof line; even the rear seat space is generous for a subcompact. The front seats are supportive; the steering tilts, but doesn’t telescope. The Yaris SE features a leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The audio system has decent sound for this type of car and you can listen to your iPod through a USB audio input.
Handling and ride: For this review we tested the Yaris SE, which turned out to be a fun-to-drive little car. It is surprisingly quick from the start and feels very agile and maneuverable. Motortrends clocked the 2012 Yaris SE reaching 0 to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, which is quite an achievement for a small 1.5L engine. The ride is quiet and the road noise is well insulated. When driving in a city, the engine noise is minimal, but you will hear it under hard acceleration or when merging or passing on the highway. What the Yaris is missing, in our opinion, is one more high gear: driving at 60 mph (96 km/h) with the automatic transmission, the tachometer needle stays at 2,500 rpm.
Fuel Economy: The EPA rates the 2012 Yaris with a manual transmission at 30/38 US MPG or 7.8/6.2 liters per hundred kilometer city/highway. The estimated fuel economy for the 2012 Yaris automatic: 30/35 MPG (7.8/6.7 L/100 km). What these numbers mean is you won’t benefit much driving the Yaris on the highway, even some larger cars have better highway fuel economy. For example, Honda Civic automatic is rated at 39 highway MPG; the 2012 Ford Focus SFE is rated even better at 40 highway MPG. However, very few cars are ranked higher than Yaris in city MPG. The EPA estimates annual fuel cost for the 2012 Yaris automatic at $1,750. The Yaris with auto can drive roughly 320 miles (514 km) on one 11-gallon tank of gas.
What others say: Consumer Reports praises fuel economy and rear seat room, but criticizes driving position, ride and fit and finish among other things. Motor Trend recommends considering a stick-shift model. The 2012 Yaris received Top Rated Sub Compact Car in 2012 Initial Quality award from J.D. Power and Associates; the 2012 Yaris hatchback is rated by J.D. Power and Associates with 5 stars for Overall Quality.
Our verdict: With a long list of standard safety equipment and one of the best city fuel economy in its class, the 2012 Yaris hatchback is a practical, economical city car that won’t cost a lot to maintain. Being closely familiar with a mechanical part, we also checked the Yaris’s technical side: judging by the way it is built, it should be reliable in the long run. Toyota Yaris is priced comparable to other sub-compacts. Competitors include Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent and Nissan Versa.
2012 Yaris hatchback Specifications:
Length: 154.7 in (3930 mm)
Width: 66.7 in (1695 mm)
Height: 59.6 in (1515 mm)
Wheelbase: 98.8 in (2510 mm)
Cargo Capacity: 3-door / 5-door: 15.3 cu. ft / 15.6 cu. ft – behind front seat
Engine: 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 16-valve DOHC with VVT-i; model 1NZ-FE
106 hp @ 6000 rpm, 103 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
EPA Fuel Economy:
2012 Yaris 1.5L manual: 30/38 MPG (7.8/6.2 L /100 km) city/highway
2012 Yaris 1.5L automatic: 30/35 MPG (7.8/6.7 L/100km) city/highway
Recommended Fuel: 87 unleaded
Fuel Tank Capacity: 11.1 US gallons (42.0 liters)
Engine oil capacity: 3.9 US qt (3.7L) – for the 1.5L Engine; oil with filter