Join Date: Nov 2004
First Drive: 2012 Toyota Yaris U.S. Spec
When the Yaris took over for the Echo as Toyota's smallest car in the U.S. in the middle of the last decade, the subcompact realm was barely inhabited. Gas prices were low, SUVs ruled the roads, and GM and Chrysler seemed healthy enough. Back then, the B-segment was just a gleam in most automakers' eyes.
But despite Toyota's long presence in the segment, the Yaris hasn't gotten much love. According to reports, the No. 1 Japanese automaker didn't have the budget for a comprehensive redesign, so the 2012 Toyota Yaris -- the company's third-best-selling vehicle in the world behind Corolla and Camry -- would have to settle for a refresh.
Gone is the bulbous, tadpole-like face that never failed to get the Internet's alpha male autophiles riled up. In its place is a discriminately carved and mature front end that should garner more "oohs" than "ughs." We hear the drive for physical transformation stemmed from the desire to attract more male buyers. Toyota's current corporate beak, which appears to be formed by flattening a capital Y, establishes a respectable roost on the Yaris. Reshaped headlights and taillights anchor the grown-up edges and the base steel wheel moves up an inch to 15 inches. The top-of-the-line SE trim (obtainable only as a five-door) favors even more pronounced front and rear fascias, a mesh grille, and a bright exhaust tip -- all in the name of sportiness, so we're told.
Similar to our waistlines, the 2012 Yaris' wheelbase has stretched with age. The three- and five-door hatchbacks grow from 96.9 to 98.8 inches in hope of boosting stability on the highway and producing additional interior volume. The reality is it's still cushy at 55 mph and above, and according to the manufacturer spec sheet, there is extra shoulder room (+1.1/+1.4 inches front/rear), hip room (+3.1 inches rear; no change to the front), and leg room (+0.3/-0.5 inch front/rear). Overall height drops 0.6 inch to 59.4, ever so slightly diminishing headroom (-0.1/-0.3 inch front/rear). The EPA passenger volume differences are likewise quite small: -0.2 cubic feet for the three-door, +0.5 for the five-door.
Lengthened bodies -- from 150.6 to 153.5 inches and reaching 154.7 on the SE -- create larger cargo holds. The three-door hatch has 64-percent more cargo space when the rear seats are up (15.3 cubic feet), and the five-door enjoys 15.6 cubic feet in the same conditions, a 68-percent gain. Where's the sedan in all this action? After becoming a fairly common sight on rental lots, the four-door has been relegated to fleet-only service for the immediate future. And this should be heartening to the enthusiast contingent: Toyota says 70 percent of Yaris sales are hatchbacks, up from a 50/50 split between hatch and sedan during its first year on the market.
The outgoing interior is often derided for its centrally located instrument cluster, but that getup is gone. For 2012, the tachometer (only present with the five-speed manual), speedometer, fuel gauge, and information display can be found directly in front of the driver, rather than on a slab in the middle of the dash. That meant the center stack needed to be refashioned, and the end result is akin to a Scion tC. There's solid girth on the new three-spoke steering wheel; an auxiliary input and USB port come standard; and some soft-touch trimmings on the LE and SE complement the customary plastics with surprisingly nice graining. The front seats are a little more supportive than the old pieces, with various sections and edges tweaked and fine-tuned. There are further interesting tidbits, like the wet-arm front wiper system that integrates the washer fluid nozzle into the base of the single blade, and what Toyota calls its Advanced Whiplash Injury-Lessening headrest design
Little has changed from the driving perspective. The established 1.5-liter inline-four carries on with 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque making a beeline for the front wheels. In what must be an effective cost-saving maneuver, the long-throw five-speed stick and four-speed automatic are back too, although Toyota says the automatic is lighter and more compact. Both stay tolerable for the simplest transportation duties, but at the rate of development its competitors are moving, Toyota needs to loosen up the purse strings soon. Fuel economy is estimated at 30/38 (+1/+2 over 2011) and 30/35 (+1/no change) mpg city/highway with the manual and auto, respectively.
In the city, the Yaris proves to be an agreeable companion, darting around construction and obstacles with little protest. The low-effort electric steering cuts fuel consumption by 2 percent over a conventional hydraulic setup, but the steering you want is on the SE. The tuning profile is firmer and there's more feedback. Be forewarned: The quicker action compromises the turning circle (36.7 feet on the SE vs. 30.8 on base L and volume-seller LE). In addition to the more direct steering, the SE receives 16-inch alloy wheels with lower-profile rubber, 20-percent stiffer front springs, upsized front rotors, and rear disc brakes to replace the factory drums.
The biggest knock against the new Yaris could be the price. It'll start from $14,875 nicely equipped, which is several thousand dollars more than the amount it commanded when it first debuted. But now that it's about $1000 more expensive, it loses some of its cheap car appeal. Some will argue there hasn't been enough change to justify the price increase. We're under the impression the name of the game is damage limitation at this point. Toyota is looking for more Yaris customers through its first all-digital marketing campaign, chasing the ever-elusive youthful target demographic that frequents Web sites such as Funny or Die, Gizmodo, and I Can Has Cheezburger.
Production of the "new" Yaris begins August 31, with sales expected to begin in early October. The monthly sales target is a modest 2000 units, paling in comparison to a Camry, Corolla, or even a Nissan Versa, but close to where the present Yaris has been trending this year. It remains to be seen if the masculine changes are what the boys looking for a new small car have in mind.
Read more: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/...#ixzz1VJsMyyT8