Review: 2012 Toyota Yaris

The 2012 Toyota Yaris is still a good bet as an entry level urban ride.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

The 2012 Toyota Yaris is an interesting exercise in just how much an automaker puts into their bottom of the line car.

Such a vehicle is immensely important to any manufacturer. It is the model that often introduces new drivers entering the market to a brand. A baseline model can also be a cash cow – costing significantly less to make than a luxury make and still selling for a good MSRP.

Toyota starts their product ladder with the Yaris. The car used to come in both a hatchback and sedan. But, the redesigned 2012 version emerged this year in only hatch models with both a three and five door configuration.

And, while the instrument panel was once mounted in the medal of the dash, engineers wisely moved them back directly in front of the driver. There’s a reason they were there in the first place. The driver needs to keep his or her eyes on the road – flicking up or down to the readouts and mirrors quickly. The extra distraction of looking down and left takes that little extra second that could mean bad road positioning or a collision.

This little urban survival vehicles fits that mold of an introductory car. It’s made for a driver who wants reliable, compact transportation for a small monthly payment. It starts out around $14,000 and tops out at less than $20,000 – event with maxed out trim packages. Easy to park and maneuverable with a tight little turning radius, it’s a perfect little basic transportation system for tighter city living.

It’s not the most rugged car, and the build quality it not off the charts, but that brings us back to that “how much is enough” genre of questioning. For your Yaris yearning, the upholstery and accouterments are basic. There’s an AM/FM/CD stereo, USB and auxiliary ports and a standard MP3 and WMA playback compatibility.

Additional features include standard power windows with driver’s auto-down and power mirrors – with remote keyless entry system with Engine Immobilizer and cruise control on the kitted out version

All Yaris models are available with a redesigned four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission (featuring reduced weight). A smooth-shifting five-speed manual transmission is available on L and SE models only. I recommend the later for a more lively and fuel efficient driving experience. With or without that manual or automatic, all Yaris models come with highway mileage of 38 mpg.

It’s obviously an underpowered car, but you have to expect that. While Toyota’s U.S. HQ is in California, there are parts of that state where you might have a tough time in a Yaris – especially San Francisco where an underpowered vehicle can mean stop or go on Russian Hill. Still, there’s enough zippiness to move through the tight confines of most urban congestion.

While the Yaris is a basic, inexpensive option for any auto buyer, the car is obviously angled at younger drivers. Take a look at the Yaris ad campaign and you’ll see what I mean. As an entry level vehicle capable of becoming a symbol of city culture, it succeeds. While few people will long to own a Yaris, those who pick one up should be happy with their choice.