2013 Toyota Yaris Expert Review:Autoblog
Satisfactory Subway Substitution
Our enthusiast's Spidey Sense started tingling when we heard about the newest bit of technology employed on the enhanced 2012 Toyota Yaris. It was not a more advanced variable valve timing system; the Yaris' 1.5-liter engine is carried over and already has an intake cam with adjustable phasing. It was not more cogs gracing a more advanced transmission; the Yaris makes do with a four-speed automatic and a five-speed manual. The suspension is also traditional with struts up front and torsion beam in the rear.
So what was the next great thing?
A mono-arm windshield wiper with washer jets aimed to either side of the big blade. Ah, our Spidie Sense was trying to warn us of an exceptionally dull car. In this world where small, inexpensive cars are becoming more fun – Mazda2 and Fiat 500 anyone – the new Yaris is a yawner.
For normal consumers, however, the 2012 Yaris – available as the L, LE and SE – is a much improved, affordable and economical transportation appliance. It's the kind of car you'd feel comfortable recommending to a friend's sister or anyone who thinks of cars as nothing more than subway substitutes.
With this buyer in mind, the $14,115 Yaris is spot on. (See the complete story on pricing here.) Compared to the 2011 Yaris, the 2012 model is a heavy refresh that includes a wheelbase stretch, new exterior sheetmetal and a totally new interior.
The extra length is what required the exterior redesign. This gave Toyota designers the opportunity to toughen up the Yaris's styling. More sculpted fenders help give the subcompact a bolder stance, as does the heavily angled rearmost pillar (C on the three-door, D on the five). The Yaris still won't attract longing glances from Ferrari enthusiasts, but at least it's not a totally milquetoast design like the outgoing three-door and five-door editions.
Available only as a hatchback, the Yaris is now large enough to be considered a trunkless alternative to the Corolla (available only with a traditional boot). Riding on a 98.8-inch wheelbase that's 2.9-inches longer than 2011, nearly all of the stretch was added to make the trunk more useful. Cargo volume now stands at 15.3 cubic feet for the three-door and 15.5 cu-ft for the five-door. These numbers conveniently expand by folding the split rear seatbacks, adding useful versatility.
Room for passengers felt generous enough for four. Filling all five seatbelts causes hip-to-hip seating across the rear bench for all but the skinniest passengers. Regarding rear legroom, someone five-foot, ten-inch easily fits behind themselves. As the height of front-seat occupants crests six feet, rear legroom drops to child-like proportions. Such is the physical reality of sub-100-inch wheelbase vehicles.
Those who shopped the previous generation Yaris could have been easily put off by that car's central-mounted gauge cluster, but it helped facilitate cost-effective production for right- and left-hand-drive markets. That ergonomically horrific paradigm has been mercifully replaced with a conventional instrument cluster and dash configuration. Drivers now find an easy-to-read gauge cluster where it should be, directly behind the steering wheel.
The instrument binnacle blends into a horizontally stretched dash that breaks away from the trendy design convention of vertically stacking all controls and vents at the dash's center point. The latter motif tends to compartmentalize the front seats, while the former seems to visually expand the interior's spaciousness.
A double-DIN-sized radio rides high on the dash in easy reach of the driver and front passenger. Unique to the North American market, these radios – there are two – have knobs! Big ones! These ingeniously useful Human Machine Interface devices work so much better than the tiny, fitful and frustrating volume and tuning buttons found on so many of today's automotive audio systems.
The base Yaris L's radio is a step above conventional low-end units because it includes wired iPod connectivity plus Aux and USB inputs. The uplevel LE and SE's unit includes Bluetooth connectivity for phones and music streaming. Highlighting the North American roots of the radio, telephone operation buttons are on the radio, not on the steering wheel (where they'd likely be if this system were offered in all markets).
For those with a penchant for getting lost, there's no optional navigation system from the factory. Paper maps fit easily in the glovebox for those without smart phones and robust data packages. Meanwhile, the climate control system uses a trio of knob-like dials that keeps heating and cooling tasks blissfully simple and straightforward.
This straightforward attitude carries through to the Yaris' powertrain. North America gets the 106-horsepower (at 6,000 rpm) 1.5-liter four-cylinder. Torque is a modest 103 pound-feet at a moderately high 4,200 rpm. The engine can be considered so 2006 with its traditional port fuel injection (as opposed to direct injection) and variable valve timing on just the intake cam (as opposed to both intake and exhaust).
The transmissions are just as 2006, or perhaps even 2000. The automatic has just four gears and the manual is a five-speed. Toyota explained the reasons for its choices as cost and performance. Adding technology adds cost to a car they want to keep affordable. The incremental performance, Toyota believes, wouldn't be worth the bump in MSRP. EPA figures are currently 30 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg combined for the five-speed manual, and 30/35/32 mpg for the automatic.
More fuel-efficient versions of the Yaris are sold in other markets, but Toyota's U.S. operation felt that the lack of torque from its smaller 1.3-liter four-cylinder (available with a CVT and 6-speed manual elsewhere) wouldn't have played well here, despite its potential to be another member of the 40-mpg club.
Given how leisurely the 1.5-liter accelerates, Toyota's gut was probably right. We didn't put a clock to any of the Yaris models we drove because of the crowded driving environs of Los Angeles where we were offered our initial wheel time. If asked to guess about 0-60 mph, longer than ten seconds wouldn't surprise us. Weighing around 2,300 pounds, the little Toyota isn't quick. It's not frightfully slow either, as it possesses enough oomph to keep up with traffic if peddled vigorously.
Sometimes cars are slow but dynamically interesting and or intrinsically engaging. The Yaris isn't.
Given its target buyer, the lack of driving character shouldn't be considered worthy of countless demerits. Toyota isn't Mazda. The expectations are different and in keeping with Toyota's brand character.
We spent most of our drive time behind the wheel of a $15,625 Yaris LE, the mid-line model that's expected to be the most popular. Base L equipment levels fit basic needs for safety and comfort: seven airbags, electronic stability control, air conditioning, power door locks, rear-window defroster and P175/65HR15 tires. The LE adds features such as a height adjuster for the driver's seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs, steering wheel audio controls, remote keyless entry and tasteful two-tone interior accents.
To the Yaris' credit, LE's handling and steering feel are predictable and relatively direct. Communicative they're not. Understeer is modest and it actually takes some work to make the front tires beg for mercy.
The engine willingly revs to its redline, but there isn't much point. Spinning the mill creates an unwelcome and uninspiring soundtrack. Thankfully, the engine at least remains smooth even at higher rpms. Regardless of speed, the motor doesn't feel cheap or fragile.
Both gearboxes do their respective jobs as they should. The manual offers pleasant throws and positive engagement; we've rowed many shifters with worse action. The automatic operates with a predictable shift schedule that often relies on the engine's modest torque rather than a quick downshift (this helps prevent gear hunting Toyota says). The result is generally a smooth drive, but when the downshift does happen, it creates an immediate sense of urgency with its sudden jump in engine revs, noise and forward push. Such are the characteristics of a car intended to serve the transportation needs of those who value Bluetooth connectivity over maximum lateral acceleration.
We also took a spin in the $16,400 SE, the be-spoiled aluminum-wheeled Yaris. The electric power steering has a faster ratio and spins lock-to-lock in just 2.3 turns (compared to the L and LE's three turns), the suspension is approximately 20-percent stiffer and the tires are larger (P195/50VR16). The car's ride is markedly more firm, but it's not as if the lesser models weren't responsive. Given the SE's lack of additional power, we're not sure why somebody would choose the SE and lose the better everyday ride.
"Yaris. It's a Car," is the line being used by Toyota in promotions for this car. The audience values new phones and tablets over this form of conveyance, so they need to be told what the Yaris is like defining a smart phone to an octogenarian: "Droid. It's a phone." The line encapsulates the inherent dullness of this subcompact. Simultaneously, it pitch-perfectly positions the Yaris for its intended prospects.
Sadly, many who hold licenses no longer view "the drive" as one of life's everyday adventures. A car is simply a substitute for a subway ride – or a shuttle from a parent – and an interminable duration when they lose the ability to text. The 2012 Toyota Yaris won't change this.
New Car Test Drive
Versatile, reliable subcompact hatch.
The Toyota Yaris is a five-seat, subcompact car available as either a three-door or five-door hatchback. Yaris touts utility, able handling and a simple design.
Yaris was completely redesigned for the 2012 model year. For 2013, Yaris gets only minor changes to the lineup of standard features. The 2013 Yaris comes standard with the previously optional Tech Audio sound system, which includes a CD player, auxiliary jack, USB port, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio capability and iPod connector.
Though it has seat belts for five, it's really a four-passenger vehicle.
Yaris comes in three trims: L, LE, and SE (five-door only). The base Yaris L and the top-line, sport-tuned Yaris SE come standard with a 5-speed manual gearbox. The optional 4-speed automatic transmission seems dated compared to the 6-speed automatics that come on other cars in this class.
Under the hood is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 106 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 103 pound-feet of torque in a broad curve peaking at 4200 rpm. A 0.29 coefficient of drag helps Yaris slip through the air.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 30/37 mpg City/Highway with the 5-speed manual transmission, 30/36 mpg with the 4-speed automatic. These numbers are average for the subcompact class.
Electric power steering on the Yaris results in good road feel without losing easy low-speed maneuvering for parking in tight spaces. The suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and torsion beam in back, for a decent ride and tighter corning. Standard wheel size on the L and LE models is 15 inches, while the SE gets 16-inch wheels and tires.
The Yaris SE is the hot rod of the lineup, with quicker steering, more expressive styling and a sportier interior. Its front disc brakes are larger, and it's fitted with alloy wheels and wider profile P195/50/R16 tires.
Yaris has nine airbags, including four curtain airbags. The front seats are as sporty and comfortable as any we've found in the class. The front seats feature Toyota's Advanced Whiplash Injury-Lessening (WIL) design, supporting the upper body from head to lower back. Like all new cars nowadays, the Yaris uses an impact-absorbing structure with high-strength steel to better distribute collision forces.
As a result, the Yaris is rated four out of a possible five stars in government crash testing for both overall crash protection and total frontal-impact protection, and five stars for total side-impact protection. Yaris is gets a top rating of Good in frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is supported by the insurance industry.
Yaris competes against many attractive and efficient subcompact hatchbacks, including the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa.
The Toyota Yaris is available as a three-door or five-door hatchback. Base L and mid-level LE trims are offered in both body styles, while the sportier SE is available only as a five-door. All models are powered by a 106-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine.
Yaris L comes as a 3-door Liftback ($14,370) with a standard 5-speed manual transmission, or an optional 4-speed automatic ($15,095). Yaris L 5-door models are available only with the automatic ($15,395). Yaris L comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, four-way manually adjustable front seats, power door locks, a tilt steering wheel, a trip computer, a fold-down rear bench seat, a cargo cover, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and a USB port, rear windshield wiper and 15-inch steel wheels.
Yaris LE 3-door ($15,955) and 5-door ($16,430) come standard with the automatic transmission and get upgraded interior trim, a six-way adjustable driver's seat, steering-wheel audio controls, power windows, cruise control, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, and remote keyless entry.
Yaris SE 5-door comes with the 5-speed manual ($16,480) or 4-speed automatic ($17,280) and includes a sport-tuned suspension, unique front grille, fog lamps, quicker steering ratio, bigger front disc brakes, rear disc brakes, rear spoiler and 16-inch alloy wheels. Inside there's upgraded cloth upholstery and a leather-trimmed three-spoke tilting steering wheel.
Toyota Yaris was all-new for the 2012 model year, longer, lower and wider than its predecessor.
Yaris comes as a three-door or five-door liftback. A sedan version is not available. After decades, it seems the eminently practical hatchback/liftback body style is starting to prevail over the smoother looking but less functional compact sedan.
Though small, the Yaris presents an aggressive stance. Yaris features a bold nose and head-on view, with wide headlamps and integrated turn signals. The side profile shows a steep beltline and curving shoulders that flow to the rear. Yaris's lines are cool enough that in black or gray metallic, it actually looks powerful, in a subcompact sort of way.
The Yaris SE looks sportier with its wider tires, alloy wheels, spoilers and diffusers, and body-colored touches.
We love the sport seats in the Yaris SE. The high-quality fabric is rugged and the fit is all-around excellent. The bolstering is always there for you, without grabbing you. The seats are wide enough, but you don't slide around in them. They're designed to reduce fatigue, and although we didn't take any long trips in our Yaris, we can't imagine backaches being a problem. The Yaris chassis and ride feel solid, and we think the seats have a lot to do with this. There's good legroom in front, 40.6 inches.
Rear-seat roominess is decent for a subcompact, with 33.3 inches of legroom. The rear bench seat in the Yaris L model folds flat with one knob, while the Yaris LE and SE models have a 60/40 split folding rear seat. You can fit a lot of stuff in the Yaris, thanks to a cargo capacity of 15.3 cubic feet on the 3-door and 15.6 cubic feet on the 5-door, with the rear seats in place.
The interior offers a high level of detail, with a pleasing dashboard, and the speedometer in front of the driver.
There's a nice, small tachometer to the left of the speedo, which has good clear numbers with a digital window showing time, temp, odo, twin trip meters, clock, fuel mileage, and average speed. The instrument lighting glows red at night. The flat-bottom steering wheel stays out of the way of a driver's knees when climbing in and out.
Cabin conveniences are especially important in a subcompact, and the Yaris has good ones. Climate control knobs are as simple and easy as they come. It's got a roomy glovebox, six cup and bottle holders, door pockets, and cubbies near the shift lever, although no center console between the seats, where the emergency brake lever is located.
The audio system uses small buttons and icons, and we found the interface confusing. We also found the reception on the AM/FM radio was lousy. On the plus side, the Yaris L comes standard with an auxiliary jack and USB port, as well as Bluetooth audio streaming, so you can skip the old-timey broadcast stations and play your own tunes.
One of the best things about the Yaris is that it's quiet inside. The engine isn't buzzy, and there's tons of new sound insulation.
We got a chance to drive the Yaris in the snow, and it performed well. Traction was better than we expected up a steep slippery street, and anti-lock brakes delivered security on the way back down.
Secure and solid would be good ways to describe the Toyota Yaris. It's not big on the outside, It's not as quick and sporty feeling as the lightweight Mazda2 or the Ford Fiesta, and it doesn't have the exciting jackrabbit throttle response of the Mazda; but the Yaris handling is lively enough, while feeling a bit more substantial.
The ride is solid, too: comfortably firm, not comfortably soft. Yaris is wonderfully smooth on the freeway at 75 miles per hour, but begins to feel its size when the bumps and patches come along. This might be a challenge on city streets with a lot of potholes, though with the small nimble Yaris you can more easily dodge them.
The 1.5-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder DOHC engine with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) produces 106 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 103 pound-feet of torque in a broad curve peaking at 4200 rpm.
Fuel economy is good but not spectacular with an EPA-estimated 30/37 mpg City/Highway with the 5-speed manual transmission and 30/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.
As for power, the Toyota 1.5-liter engine has come a long way. We found ourselves pushing 80 on an uphill freeway, foot on the floor and the engine loving it. Its 106 hp is enough for everyday driving, and the 103 pound-feet of torque is available over a broad range peaking at 4200 rpm. Torque is that force that propels you up hills and away from intersections. A broad torque curve means responsiveness when driving around town.
Uphill at 80 it was hungry for more, not straining. Eighty miles per hour equals 3400 rpm, and at that speed you can't hear the motor. You hear the tires, but hardly even any wind noise. Toyota has done an excellent job with the Yaris's aerodynamics and sound insulation.
We loved the 5-speed manual gearbox. It shifted quick and tight. Unfortunately, we have to wonder if the 4-speed automatic is outdated nowadays, considering most automakers are using at least 6 speeds for improved power management and fuel efficiency.
A quiet ride, lively and secure cornering, great seats and attractive interior help make the Yaris a competitive subcompact hatch.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Yaris in the Columbia River Gorge; Laura Burstein reported from Los Angeles.
2013 Toyota Yaris 3-Door Liftback L ($14,370); Yaris 5-Door Liftback L ($15,395); Yaris 3-Door Liftback LE ($15,955); Yaris 5-Door Liftback LE ($16,430); Yaris 5-Door Liftback SE ($16,480).
Options As Tested
Toyota Yaris 5-Door Liftback SE ($16,480).
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