Yaris rises to join elite in small-car arena
It used to be that picking a small car was pretty easy: There just weren’t that many candidates, plain and simple.
Now it’s like trying to pick a puppy from the pound. There are plenty of cute choices with all kinds of bark and sass — and more keep arriving every day.
In that respect, the Yaris was more of an Old Dog than a Young Pup, but the upgrades for the 2012 model year at least keep it fresh enough to belong with newcomers such as the Mazda2, Hyundai Accent, Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta.
The first-generation Yaris that lasted for five model years wasn’t the liveliest runner on the track, but a roomy interior and low price kept it on the front burner.
As well, the tiny Toyota could be had in two or four-door hatchback body styles, as well as a four-door sedan.
There’s no word if a trunk-equipped Yaris will again be built, but both hatches return slightly enlarged formats.
Overall length has been increased by about 7.5 centimetres, with much of that stretch occurring between the front and rear wheels, where it aids passenger and cargo volume, the latter increased by up to 68 per cent, according to Toyota.
Despite the size adjustment, the car’s 1,045-kilogram weight remains about the same.
The sheetmetal looks familiar, but otherwise displays a style that is less egg-shaped and with added attention to detail.
The more prominent nose features a larger air intake and angular headlight pods, while the door panels are stamped with sharp creases extending to the taillights.
More obvious physical changes include the installation of a single windshield wiper arm (containing a built-in washer nozzle) replacing the traditional dual-wiper system.
The Yaris retains its familiar suspension, but a bigger stabilizer bar has been installed at the front.
Out back, the non-independent torsion beam has been revised to provide an improved ride. The platform now rests on larger-diameter 15- and optional 16-inch wheels, compared with the previous 14- and 15-inchers.
Many of the Yaris’s detractors will be pleased to hear that Toyota’s stylists have finally abandoned the center-mounted instrument cluster, which is feature that dates back to the 2000 Echo sub-compact.
The Yaris is updated with gauges more naturally positioned directly in front of the driver, behind the steering wheel. The new dashboard goes from worst to first as far as style is concerned and erases what had been a deal-breaker for some buyers.
Other cabin improvements include wider and reshaped front seats with improved coverings throughout, increased sound insulation and nine standard airbags, including front and rear side airbags, side-curtain airbags and driver’s-side knee protection.
Toyota is sticking with the familiar 106-horsepower 1.5-litre four-cylinder and five-speed manual transmission.
The optional four-speed-automatic is lighter than before and features reduced friction, but offers negligible improvement in fuel economy.
The Yaris’s current 7.0 l/100 km city and 5.7 highway rating with the four-speed automatic and 6.9/5.5 with the manual gearbox are nowhere near category leading, but a gasoline-electric hybrid that’s apparently being readied for a 2012-calendar-year introduction could elevate the Yaris to the head of the pack.
Toyota has yet to release final content specs, but base models are traditonally only available as two-door hatchbacks and stick to the basics.
This model also features a one-piece folding rear bench while a 60:40 split-folding seat is standard in other trims.
Air conditioning is normally included as part of an upgrade package, along with power door locks, remote keyless entry and a four-speaker audio system.
You can also expect a sport package in the lineup.
Yaris pricing is expected to start at about $15,000 and top out in the $18,000 range, including destination charges.
The upgraded, crisper-looking Yaris will remain among the more popular small-car picks, even as the entire category adds variety at a steady clip.
Indeed the pound is getting bigger and the new pups are getting everyone’s attention, but at least the Yaris now has enough bark to be noticed.
— Wheelbase Communications