2012 TOYOTA YARIS REVIEW
Yaris YR 3-door 5MT - $14,990
Yaris YR 5-door 5MT - $15,690
Yaris YRS 3-door 5MT - $16,890
Yaris YRS 5-door 5MT - $17,390
Yaris ZR 3-door 5MT - $18,990
Yaris YRX 5-door 4AT - $21,390
Automatic transmission - +$1600 (YR and YRS only)
Cruise control - +$650 (YR only)
1.3 5MT - 5.7
1.3 4AT - 6.3
1.5 5MT - 5.8
1.5 4AT - 6.3
Since the first-generation Yaris went on sale in Australia in 1999 (badged as the Echo), Toyota’s compact car has consistently been a best-seller here - dookin' it out with the Mazda2 and the discontinued Getz for top spot in the light car segment.
Now in its third generation, the Yaris has been comprehensively updated.
It's the Mazda2 however that, despite its age, continues to dominate the light car segment.
After spending a day at the wheel of the 2012 Yaris, we’ve no doubt that this car is going to reignite Toyota’s fortunes and take the battle to the evergreen Mazda2.
Quality, design and space have all been improved, and that crucial light-car quality - value for money - has been significantly boosted in the new Yaris range.
The cabin of the previous Yaris was a polarising environment.
Some loved the quirkiness of its centrally-mounted instrument cluster and appreciated the many cubby holes built into the dashboard.
Others hated the low-rent appearance of the grey cabin plastics and its overwhelmingly spartan styling.
Things have changed for 2012. Radically.
That central-mounted digital speedometer is gone, and the instrument cluster - repositioned right in front of the driver - employs large, clearly-marked analogue dials.
The heating and ventilation controls have been relocated higher up the dashboard to improve visibility and bring them closer to the driver’s reach, and the dash and door plastics now feature an attractive, heavily-grained texture.
The front seat frames are redesigned to give more upper body support, and a 50mm stretch in wheelbase increases rear occupant knee room by 35mm.
The new Yaris’ roof height has been dropped some 20mm, but it has compromised neither front nor rear headroom.
A 100mm increase in overall length also gives the new Yaris a 20mm longer boot area, expanding cargo capacity to 286 litres.
Dimensionally, the new Yaris is a much more accommodating vehicle than its predecessor. Our only complaint is that the base YR misses out on a telescoping steering column, and that the steering columns on the YRS, YRX and ZR don’t telescope out far enough.
On The Road
We drove the top-grade YRX, sporty ZR and entry-level YR three-door manual (in a fetching shade of pink, no less) at the launch. Each impressed bar a few niggling complaints.
The YRX’s strong standard equipment list made it stand out the instant we sat in it. It felt quite unusual to be sitting in a light hatchback staring at a fully-integrated touchscreen sat-nav system.
Another thing we immediately appreciated was the repositioned instrument cluster. Visibility of each instrument is now much better, and the large speedometer is easy to read at a glance.
Forward visibility isn’t quite so good at shallow intersections however, due to the raked A-pillars.
On the road the YRX’s 80kW 1.5 litre engine spins freely and easily, and produces plenty of power for the daily grind. It’s noisy when worked hard though, which was somewhat surprising given the extra sound deadening that’s been applied to the new Yaris.
We are a little surprised that Toyota has persisted with the four-speed automatic. It's a bit behind the times when most competitors are moving to six-speed autos, twin-clutch autos or CVTs.
A more efficient CVT is available on foreign market versions of the Yaris, however according to Toyota Project Manager Takao Matsuki, Australian drivers tend to prefer conventional autos than the “rubber-band feeling” of a CVT.
Still, that long-lived four-speed automatic works fine in the Yaris, although its kick-down performance could use some sharpening up. And, having an extra gear would certainly help in the hills.
Next up was the ZR. Its sportiness is limited to its styling; it shares its engine, drivetrain and suspension with the YRS three-door manual. That said, it’s still good fun to punt along a mountain road.
The electric power steering system was calibrated specifically for the Australian market, and features a faster rack-rate than the old model.
The steering feels direct and the Yaris exhibits very keen turn-in response. Its Macpherson strut and torsion beam suspension layout mirrors that of most other light hatchbacks currently on sale, but the Yaris’ roadholding is among the best.
Power delivery in the 1.5 litre manual ZR suffered from a distinct torque ‘hole’ in the midrange. You've got to rev the engine hard if you're looking for a quick turn of speed.
fortunately, the 1.5 litre 1NZ-FE four-pot loves to rev.
Clutch feel could be improved as well. The clutch pedal in the manual-equipped Yaris felt very spongy and had a vague friction point - something you don’t get in a Swift or Mazda2.
Lastly, the Yaris YR showed that its smaller 63kW/121Nm 1.3 litre 2NZ-FE engine isn’t much of a handicap on regular roads, with its power deficiency only becoming a real issue at (or while in a hurry to reach) highway speeds.
Handling for the YR felt almost indistinguishable from the ZR or YRX - all Yaris variants in fact share the same suspension hardware.
TMR First Impressions Verdict | Overall
Considering the new car shares much of its floorplan and mechanicals with outgoing model, the 2012 Yaris could be cynically labelled as merely a very extensive facelift of last-years model.
It’s more than that though.
Yes, Toyota hasn’t exactly been adventurous when speccing the new Yaris’ mechancial package, but the improvements in interior layout, quality and size make it a much better car.
Coupled with the impressive spec lists of the YRS, YRX and ZR, the new Yaris will be a tough act to beat - especially considering the minimal price movements across the range.
We like the sporty ZR the most, in part due to its fun dynamics, but mainly because it packs so much equipment at a reasonable price.
Sat nav, climate control and seven airbags for under $19k? Like we said, it’ll be hard to beat.