2012 Toyota Yaris Road Test

The 2012 Toyota Yaris is an Econo-box no more. It's a car, now.

What It Is/Who It's For
The 2012 Toyota Yaris caters to those looking for fuel efficiency, practicality, and a little bit of fun all rolled into one.
Best Thing
The overall size of the Yaris enables a fun drive-feel while still sipping on fuel.
Worst Thing
Engaging the clutch into first gear proved to be cumbersome for many on staff.
Snap Judgment
The 2012 Toyota Yaris is officially exonerated from the unfair stereotype earned by its predecessors.

They say the third time is a charm, and this may never be truer than when talking about the Toyota Yaris. Toyota's pint-sized subcompact burst onto the scene back in 1999 as the Toyota Echo, and for the majority of its life, the Yaris has been relegated to either rental fleet service, or being the first car to new drivers everywhere. Now in its third generation with the 2012 Toyota Yaris, Toyota has done the usual face-lift, along with an array of new features. But at long last, Toyota's combination of available and standard features is coupled with something that's been absent from the Yaris since its first generation: a car that's actually fun to drive.

For too long the subcompact segment has been filled with options inside that are often better being left out completely, wrapped in ugly sheet metal crinkles slung on the outside. The 2012 Toyota Yaris shakes that stereotype off with technological advances like Bluetooth and a USB port for an MP3 player, both of which come standard on the Yaris outfitted in the SE trim. The 2012 Toyota Yaris comes standard with features a USB port for your iPod, power door locks, and color-keyed door handles and outside mirrors. While none of these features are earth-shattering when standing alone, it's more than your $14,875 used to get you as standard equipment; remember gray plastic bumpers? Our 2012 Toyota Yaris SE upped the ante with standard Bluetooth, an upgraded audio system and more, while still coming in at less than $17,500. On the fun side, there's the SE's available five-speed manual transmission, which only helps the Yaris' credibility as a fun alternative in its segment.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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What We Drove

Our 2012 Toyota Yaris five-door SE hatchback is the highest model available on the subcompact, however, our particular vehicle was a pre-production model, meaning that some fit, finish and materials may not be quite up to production spec. Regardless, equipment levels were spot on, and the Yaris came with notable features like Bluetooth capability, a USB port for an MP3 player, power doors and windows, and sport-tuned suspension and steering. The latter two features would prove to be very important in our overall evaluation of the Yaris as both would be tested every time the small hatchback was started up. To get a 2012 Yaris SE into your driveway, it'll take at least $17,160, but the one we tested rang in a shade higher at $17,340, thanks to $180 worth of carpeted floor and cargo mats. A 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 106 horsepower powers the front wheels, either through a four-speed automatic or, as was the case with our test car, a five-speed manual transmission.

Standard safety features included on our Yaris are ABS, brake assist, Smart Stop Technology, and nine air bags. LATCH points are on the two outboard positions in the rear, making it easier to lock a child's car seat on the back seat bench. During government crash testing, the Yaris earned a score of "Good" from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety and an overall rating of four stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

The Commute

It quickly became evident to all who drove it that the 2012 Toyota Yaris was cut from a different cloth than its predecessor. In a solo commute, the Yaris was downright fun. The compared to other Yaris models, the SE has a sport-tuned suspension, sharper steering, 16-inch wheels, and sporty Bridgestone tires. Put it together and the little hatchback had no problem getting up to speed on curving freeway onramps. Bringing the small hatchback to a halt proved to be very easy too as the ventilated front and rear disc brakes bit down quickly.

Even though there are five seatbelts available for passengers, don't expect to squeeze a bunch of full-size adults in. If it means five passengers, even younger children may have trouble fitting into the Yaris. But we found an easy solution: Take one passenger out, and all of a sudden the Yaris becomes the perfect combination of space and comfort for all riding along inside. To test this, we piled in four full-size unsuspecting adult staffers and made a run to the local beach spot about four miles away for lunch. The Yaris performed admirably when loaded with more than 800 pounds worth of passengers, and surprisingly, the powertrain handled the extra weight without an issue.

The Yaris we tested was still a pre-production vehicle, which means the fit and finish inside may not be quite what arrives in showrooms. That said, the stiffly padded seats provided a supportive and upright driving position, further cementing the Yaris' new reputation as a fun vehicle to drive. The entire interior proved to be deceptively more advanced than at first thought. The audio system synced quickly to an MP3 player thanks to a media system that streams music through the Bluetooth wireless connection. At night, the instrument cluster proved to be easy on the eyes, but maybe too much so: At night it was hard to find the volume control on the steering wheel, since those controls don't illuminate in the dark.

The Grocery Run

When people hear the words "subcompact hatch," cargo space isn't the first thing that comes to mind. With the Yaris however, there's plenty. Toyota's small hatchback was stretched out another 2.9 inches when it was redesigned, giving it a bump to 15.6 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. To translate, the Yaris has enough space in the cargo area to hold around seven plastic bags stuffed with all of the necessary essentials for a week. However, the Yaris is capable of carrying more cargo then just several grocery bags if you don't need to use the rear seat. Fold it down, and you can load the Yaris up with a substantial amount of cargo and goods. The seats fold down with relative ease by a quick unlatching and gentle push downwards.

Parking the Yaris on both on the street and in a busy parking lot also proved to be elementary thanks to its overall size. The turning radius was a little wider than expected but still tight enough to do a 360 degree turn in a tight parking lot.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The Weekend Fun

It's safe to say that no one at Automotive.com's HQ suspected the Yaris would be a fun little ride. But that's exactly what it was, a small hatchback with a shifter positioned perpendicular to your right foot, making a spritely ride possible. While it won't win many races, the Yaris won't have any trouble helping you beat the light instead of getting stuck at one. The short shifter throws make the Yaris easy to control as you climb or descend through the gears. The SE model was tailor-made for those who want a zippy ride with sharp handling but don't want rely on a fuel-guzzling engine to get from point A to point B.

The Yaris' seats were stiff yet supportive, making for a comfortable surface to sit on for a longer trip. The SE model includes a six-way adjustable driver's seat and a four-way adjustable passenger's seat in order to accommodate drivers and passengers of all heights.

Like most subcompacts, over the long haul the 2012 Toyota Yaris isn't quite so pleasant. Road noise, wind noise, and engine noise combine into a drone that quickly becomes grating over a long trip. Younger drivers probably won't notice, simply turning up their music and talking louder, all while wondering why they're so tired when they arrive. Older drivers, however, will definitely hear the ruckus.


Overall, we came away from our time with the 2012 Toyota Yaris very impressed. Toyota's latest small hatchback is without question its best to date, and needs to be one of the first vehicles considered when in the market for a subcompact vehicle. The 2012 Toyota Yaris blends the automaker's new exterior styling with features like Bluetooth and a USB port that were once reserved for a vehicle with a fatter base price tag. During its week-long stay with us, the Yaris average just under 35 mpg combined, with figures surpassing Toyota's forecasted highway fuel economy figure (38 mpg) on several occasions.

But what really separated the Yaris from other vehicles in its segment was the feeling that you get while driving it, something missing when behind the wheel of most comparable vehicles. The Yaris actually has that extra little something other competing vehicles are missing, and that makes for a fun little ride, something that's unsuspecting from a vehicle that patrols a normally vanilla segment.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $17,340
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 30 mpg
EPA Highway: 38 mpg
EPA Combined: 33 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 366.3 miles
Cost of Ownership: Excellent

Notebook Quotes

“The Yaris is surprisingly charming and likeable. With a comfy, roomier than expected cabin, and good fuel economy, the Yaris is worth taking a look at.” -Associate Editor Matt Askari
"The driving position is garbage truck-like but at least it’s good looking. It's like a mechanical mouse- all it needs is a giant antenna sticking out the roof, and a set of D-cell batteries." -Associate Editor Blake Z. Rong


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