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Yaris better than before, but is that enough?

Overall Rating
The hatchback is a significantly better-looking car, but competition is tough and constantly getting tougher in this class. Several of the newcomers offer more for less. You’ll like this car if you’re looking for a small Toyota with lots of interior space and a decent price tag.
Looks Rating
The design team did a great job of giving the Yaris hatch a fresh, contemporary look.
Interior Rating
The instrument panel is where it should be and the fit/finish are typically Toyota excellent, but base trim is really, truly base.
Ride Rating
Light weight and a short wheelbase present a challenge in this department. Still, while it won’t rival a Lexus LS for composure over rough surfaces, it bests most in the class.
Safety Rating
With all the electronic basis covered and nine airbags. the Yaris has you covered.
Green Rating
Good, but not class-leading fuel economy. Old transmission a hindrance here.

The Yaris hatchback gets a major makeover for 2012 – resulting in a very attractive little car, inside and out.

Beneath those attractive new duds rests the same old ultra-reliable Yaris. The sedan version carries over with no major changes inside, out or beneath. All models benefit from reduced prices.

Toyota chose Quebec City to introduce the new Yaris hatchback because Quebecers love small cars more than anyone else in North America. Toyota knows this and brought a Canadian-only Echo hatchback to these shores in 2003. That was 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 with more than 50 per cent of those in Quebec.

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It is also popular in other large urban areas like Toronto and Vancouver. But unlike those markets where it is commonly a second vehicle, the Yaris is a primary car in Quebec.

So during development of the next-generation Yaris hatchback, retaining and building upon the core qualities that made it such a success – safety, style and spaciousness – were the primary goals.

The 2012 Yaris five-door hatchback gets an entirely new exterior, a heavily revised interior, additional standard features and a lower price. It is 75 mm longer, 15 mm lower and rides on a 50-mm longer wheelbase. It has more cargo capacity, more front-seat legroom and more easily accessible space in the back seat. Cargo space behind the rear seat is up 25 per cent and the hatch door is 20 mm wider.

One of the most obvious changes is the use of a single large wiper blade for reduced weight and cost. The washer system sprays fluid along the length of the blade instead of on the glass.

The sharper lines and sleeker profile of the outside pale in comparison to the interior makeover. The instrument panel is now where it should be – in front of the driver instead of a non-existent centre occupant.

The dash itself 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 centre.

Some of the new features include a combination meter and ECO drive monitor for the driver on models equipped with an automatic transmission, there is now a multi-information display that includes outside temperature, a new audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs and wireless connectivity. Power locks are standard and the passenger seat now folds and slide forward for easier rear seat access.

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Our base CE tester had wind-up windows, which had to be lowered to reach out and/or across to set the mirrors. It also had no tachometer and – strange for a car that is so popular in Quebec – heated seats are not available at any trim level.

The hatchback is available in five-door SE and LE trim and three-door CE. We spent considerable time behind the wheel of base CE and SE models with no additional features or options. The base price of $13,990 includes $860 in additional equipment. The most popular model in the lineup is expected to be the LE with Convenience package at $15,990, a $1,900 reduction from last year. Standard equipment includes tachometer, heated mirrors, air conditioning, power windows, cruise control and keyless entry.

It may be little, but the Yaris bulges with safety features, including a whopping nine airbags – two front, two side, two side curtain, two in the seat bottom cushions and one for the driver's knees. All are standard equipment. ABS and electronic stability control are also standard.

The new 1.5-litre four performs admirably around town. It is only on the open road that you notice the dated transmissions. In a class where six-speeds are the norm, the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic come up short. This hurts acceleration off the line, results in higher engine speeds on the highway and hurts fuel economy.

The ride/handling compromise has been nicely handled. 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 feel improved. Wind and road noise are surprisingly low thanks to aerodynamic and insulation improvements.

The 2012 Yaris hatchback is a distinct improvement over the outgoing model. But will that, and reduced prices be enough to hold off a bold new set of competitors?

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Tech Specs

2012 Toyota Yaris

Type: Four-passenger subcompact

Base price: $13,990 base CE, $19,990 SE automatic

Engine: 1.5-litre, DOHC, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 106 hp/103 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.6 city/5.2 highway/6.0 combined for manual; 6.8 city/5.5 highway/6.2 combined for automatic

Alternatives: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio5, Mazda2

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