QUEBEC CITY, QC – Canadians have a love affair with small cars. But until recently the much larger American market did not share that passion. But now, troubled by a struggling economy and rising gas prices, our neighbors to the south are starting to see the wisdom of spending less initially and during the ownership period. Manufacturers are responding. Never have so many sub-compact cars been introduced in a single model year.
Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia and Mazda have all unveiled new sub-compact cars in the last few months. Toyota, the industry’s largest producer of small cars has added two for 2012 - the Scion iQ and Toyota Yaris.
Toyota chose this location to introduce the new Yaris for one simple reason. Small cars are more popular in Quebec than in any other North American market. Some car companies sell more small cars here than in all of the United States. Toyota introduced the Canadian-only Echo hatchback in 2003, followed by the first generation Yaris five-door in 2005. It was an immediate hit and to date more than 84,000 have been sold, 50% of them in the province of Quebec.
The Yaris is also popular in other major urban areas like Toronto and Vancouver, but nothing like Quebec where it is a primary car. It was imperative for the company to get a new Yaris into this market amidst the flood of fresh competition so the Yaris hatchback gets a major makeover and reduced pricing for 2012.
It is all window dressing though. Beneath the fresh skin and revised interior lies the same platform and drivetrain as the 2011 model. The sedan version carries over with no major changes inside, out or beneath. Prices have been chopped across the board as an extra incentive.
SIZE AND APPEARANCE
The 2012 Yaris five-door hatchback gets an entirely new exterior, revised interior and additional standard equipment. It is 75-mm longer, 15-mm lower and there is 55-mm more distance between the front and rear wheels. It has more cargo capacity, front seat legroom and more easily-accessible space in the rear seat. Cargo space is up 25% and the hatch door 20-mm wider. At the other end you’ll find a single large wiper blade instead of the more common pair. Toyota says it reduces weight and cost. The new windshield washer system sprays fluid along the length of the blade instead of on the glass.
While the exterior of the hatchback is clearly redesigned the interior update is more impressive. First of all, they moved the instruments to where they should be - in front of the driver instead of an imaginary occupant in the middle. I always thought the old layout looked like a cheap way to build cars that were going to both left and right-drive markets. The new layout is much more suitable to North American roads. It is also safer since the driver does not have to take his/her eyes so far from the job at hand.
The new instrument panel is a gently curving contemporary design with soft touch surfaces and the usual Toyota attention to detail. The instrument cluster is viewed through the steering wheel while the audio controls are contained in the left portion of an oval space that starts at the passenger door. The HVAC controls consist of three large, easily-deciphered and operated controls in the center.
New features include a combination meter and ECO drive monitor on models equipped with an automatic transmission. A multi-information display includes outside temperature, and a new audio system with USB and aux inputs has wireless connectivity. Power locks are standard and the passenger seat now folds and slide forward for easier rear seat access. Our base CE tester had wind-up windows which had to be used to reach out and/or across to set the mirrors. It also had no tachometer and very strange for a car that is so popular in Quebec – heated seats are not available at any trim level!
The 2012 Yaris hatchback is available in five-door SE and LE trim and 3-door CE. Most of our seat time was spent behind the wheel of base CE and SE models with no additional features or options. The $14,400 base price of the SE includes $860 in additional equipment compared to last year. The most popular model in the lineup is expected to be the LE trim with a "Convenience package" at $16,490 - $1,400 less than last year. Standard equipment includes tachometer, heated mirrors, air conditioning, power windows, cruise control and keyless entry.
The Yaris bulges with safety features including nine airbags – two front, two side, two side curtain, two in the seat bottom cushions and one for the driver’s knees. Standard safety equipment also includes ABS and electronic stability control.
ON THE ROAD
The ride/handling compromise is nicely done allowing this very light car on a short wheelbase to feel much bigger. The electric power steering has been revised; the suspension towers strengthened and track widened 15-mm. The brakes - disc front/drum rear on base and mid-level models and all-disc on the SE have been enlarged and the feel improved. Careful attention to the aerodynamics and insulation of the new body resulted in low wind and road noise levels.
The 2012 Yaris hatchback is a major improvement over the outgoing model. But, is it enough to stay in contention with competitors that offer more?
The 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine does a decent job around town. On the highway you notice the dated transmissions. In a class where six-speeds are the norm, the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic offered in the Yaris come up at least one gear short. The four-speed automatic would greatly benefit from an additional low gear for off-the-line punch and another at the other end for reduced revs and resultant fuel savings on the highway.