Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
It's blue. It's small. It's unassuming. It travels through time and space (technically) and I could swear that it's bigger inside than it is on the outside. And while it may not be the ride of choice for my favorite Time Lord, I kept finding myself accidentally calling the diminutive hatchback the Toyota TARDIS instead of its proper name, the 2012 Toyota Yaris LE. I'm nerdy like that.
But aside from its spaciousness, not much has changed for the new Yaris. It's not more powerful than it used to be. The new stereo system is an improvement, but it's not what I'd call perfect. The new 2012 styling is a bit less anonymous than the last generation's, but that's akin to saying that your new girlfriend looks slightly more interesting than a tea kettle. It's not really a compliment, is it?
Did any of that stop me from liking the Yaris? No, not really. Our Blazing Blue Pearl tester was a charming little ride that made up for each of its on-paper cons with an on-the-road pro.
With the rear seats folded flat, the Yaris' rear compartment opens up into a large storage space.
Performance: A rather adequate runabout
On paper, the Yaris' 1.5-liter 106-horsepower engine doesn't inspire delusions of grandeur. On the road, it inspires even less so. Acceleration isn't bad, but it's not what we'd call great, either. This isn't the car for 0-60 drag races or mountain pass runs, particularly when equipped with the four-speed automatic transmission. My first car (a 1990 Toyota Camry LX) had a four-speed slushbox, and I'm frankly a bit taken aback to see that Toyota hasn't made the jump to five-speed forward gears.
The 1.5-liter engine doesn't make an impressive amount of power, but it is a perfectly adequate mill.
That gearbox and the underwhelming engine conspire to give the Yaris LE its equally underwhelming 30 mpg city and 35 mpg highway EPA estimates--not even close to the 40mpg mark that other vehicles in this class are targeting.
Hyundai's Accent makes about 30 more horsepower with just 0.1 liter more of displacement and does so with a higher claimed fuel economy estimate. Even the less-powerful 100-horsepower Mazda2 feels more peppy and agile, so if it's small-car fun that you're after, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
However, the four-speed automatic transmission does seem a bit antiquated.
Here's the odd thing about the Yaris: once you've given up your Yaris B-Spec Club Racer dreams (or if sporty driving just isn't something you care about), the tiny Toyota becomes a rather adequate run-about. The performance may be unimpressive, but it's also unobtrusive and doesn't disappoint. It hums along nicely at highway speeds, pulls away from traffic lights with enough speed to not feel underpowered, and--for the most part--stays out of its own way when getting you from point A to B in a densely packed urban environment. Even the nigh-vertical hills of San Francisco were able to be scaled with no drama. The excellent all-around visibility and small footprint make the Yaris exceptionally easy to park, and the soft-ish suspension soaked most of the small bumps and cracks of our city's most poorly maintained roads.
Cabin tech: Minor problems become major annoyances
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Yaris' door is a wormhole leading to the driver's seat of a Scion xB--that's how spacious the tiny Toyota's cabin feels. The Yaris' upright stance gives the cabin a ton of headroom, a very spacious feeling, and--when combined with the large windows all around--fantastic 360-degree visibility. Another very "Scion" bit is the LE trim level's stock stereo, which is remarkably similar in appearance and operation to the basic receiver present in 2012 model year Scion vehicles.
Placing the audio connections so far away from the driver somewhat limits their usefulness.
In addition to a single-disc CD player that supports MP3-encoded discs, the six-speaker stereo also features an AM/FM tuner with an HD Radio receiver. USB/iPod connectivity and an auxiliary input give users two options for bringing their digital audio into the car. Unfortunately, Toyota's engineers decided to play hide and seek with the connection points. A bit of digging reveals that the USB and 3.5mm audio input can be found tucked in the upper, passenger-side corner of the glove compartment--possibly the farthest point from the driver's seat on the entire dashboard. Average-size drivers can forget about quickly plugging in to either of these points without contorting and stretching their body. If you've got a USB key that you can leave in the glove box at all times, or you don't mind not having visual access to your iPhone, this isn't too big of a deal, but the proximity issue rendered these audio connections all but useless for me.
Fortunately, the Yaris' connection options don't end there because the stereo also integrates Bluetooth audio streaming as a standard feature. However, even this system behaved oddly during our testing. For starters, the stereo featured support for displaying metadata on its three-line monochrome display, which is great. However, if the audio app currently playing on the smartphone didn't supply the Yaris with data to display, the stereo would get confused and lock the volume at its current level, which is not great. You could still listen to the output audio, you just couldn't adjust the volume or access the play/pause or skip audio controls. So, although I was given access to third-party audio apps like Pandora, Spotify, and DoggCatcher, the only app on my Android phone that could be described as "fully functional" was the stock Music app. Switching back to a metadata-supplying app (such as the aforementioned stock Music app) fixed the lockout, returning volume and skip controls to my fingertips. Eventually, I devolved to simply setting the receiver's volume at near maximum and making on-the-fly volume adjustments using the smartphone--far from what I'd consider an "optimal" or "safe" solution.
Bluetooth hands-free calling is a far simpler affair. Although the Yaris' stereo doesn't support voice command, its monochrome display does present the driver with caller ID info for incoming calls and features memory and redial functions. Likewise, holding the Call button activates the system's microphone, giving access to the paired phone's own voice command system. For some, this will be an annoyance, but for fans of Google's Voice Search, Apple's Siri, or third-party voice command apps (like Vlingo In Car or Dragon Go) this limitation turns out to be a great feature.
The stereo uses your phone's voice command system for dialing. Depending on how much you like your phone, this could be a good thing.
The stereo has a two-band EQ with two presets--music and voice, optimized for music or spoken-word programming such as talk radio or podcasts, respectively--and that's pretty much where the Yaris' cabin tech ends. There are no driver aid technologies available at any trim level--unless you count the standard stability control system as an aid.
As car tech packages go, the Yaris keeps it simple. If you need more (perhaps navigation or a rearview camera system), the stock double DIN receiver looks like it pops out easily enough. A more functional receiver would definitely be my first nonperformance mod--the Bluetooth audio issues drove me that mad--but I think many prospective Yaris owners would be happy enough with the system as-is.
In sum: It's a car--no more, no less
Toyota's promotional materials for the 2012 Toyota Yaris proudly proclaim that "It's a car!" Not that it's the most stylish car, the fastest car, or even the most efficient, but merely that it is one. If that's the best that Toyota can think to say about the unassuming Yaris, how could I hope to say more in a full review?
As it turns out, there's not much more to say than that. The Yaris is, in many ways, a quintessential driving appliance. It's unassuming, uneventful, and generally uninteresting. But none of that stops it from being a pretty good car for those looking for basic, reliable transport. Its cabin is comfortable and airy. There's plenty of storage space with its spacious hatch and fold-flat rear seat. And although the stereo isn't nearly as good as, for example, Hyundai's base system, it's probably good enough for most economy car buyers.
Oddly, our Yaris was badged as an SE model, but the spec sheet described the vehicle as a three-door LE model. Toyota's online configurator doesn't even acknowledge a three-door SE model's existence, listing only the five-door model at the SE trim level, which further adds to the confusion. Regardless of the number of doors, you'll want to at least start at the LE trim level, because stepping down to the Yaris L loses a pair of speakers, HD Radio reception, Bluetooth connectivity, remote door unlock, and power windows. You'll also want to test drive your Yaris with the five-speed manual transmission, because none of our editors was a fan of the four-speed slushbox that our tester was equipped with.
Our three-door Yaris was oddly badged as an "SE" model, but the specs pointed to it actually being at the "LE" trim level.
The new 2012 Yaris LE three-door starts at $15,625. There aren't many options available, but our tester arrived with $180 floor mats and a $250 cruise-control system. Add a $760 destination charge, and you'll have our $16,815 as-tested price.
For about the same amount of cash, you could have a Honda Fit or a Mazda Mazda2, but neither of those vehicles offers Bluetooth without spending considerably more cash. (Getting Bluetooth on the Fit, for example, requires jumping up to the nearly $20k navigation-equipped model.) For my money, I'd find myself looking twice at the more powerful, better equipped, but less expensive Hyundai Accent SE. People with a few extra bucks to spend could, for only about $1,000 more, add the Sync-equipped Ford Fiesta hatchback to the fray--not a bad choice with its superior cabin tech package--or just get an aftermarket stereo to replace the Yaris' OEM unit.
|Model||2012 Toyota Yaris 3DR|
|Power train||1.5-liter four-cylinder, four-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||30 city, 35 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||N/A|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes|
|Disc player||Single-slot CD|
|MP3 player support||Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||HD Radio|
|Audio system||Six-speaker audio system|
|Price as tested||$16,815|