If you want to look hip and urban – but you just don’t have the scratch to pull it off with full gravitas – the 2012 Toyota Yaris might be a solid option for you.
To make just that argument, Toyota invited journalists out to Los Angeles for a road test of the latest Yaris through the pushy traffic of America’s most traffic-choked city.
The little hatchback with the weird name is Toyota’s entry-level model, offering reliability, adequate quickness and manageable size for less than $18,000, fully equipped – a comparable price to the Fiat 500, and less than the Volkswagen Golf.
Not satisfied with just being an alternative to other similar class vehicles, Toyota will position the Yaris this year as the preferred vehicle of the young, the hip and the connected. It’s a similar concept Toyota sold when it first introduced the Matrix in 2003. That was the car of black leather-clad Neo and the rebellious computer generation.
Now, the Yaris is intended as the vehicle for the city-bound, recent college graduate with that first job. It’s small, efficient urban transportation for the PS3, True Blood, Android crowd. To that end, every Yaris rolls off the line with audio connectivity via USB and auxiliary ports and a standard AM/FM/CD player with MP3 and WMA playback compatibility.
In the big picture, the first major 2012 change for the Yaris is the end of the four-door sedan version. The Yaris is now solely three-door or five-door lift back. The entry-level L and LE come in both formations. The sportier SE is available only as a five-door. All three variations claim highway mileage of 38 mpg.
On all models, the wheelbase has been lengthened to 98.8 inches, with the overall length extending to 153.5 inches. With the engine mounted vertically over the front wheels, the Yaris has always had an upright feel. The intention of extending the frame is to make the vehicle more stable while maneuvering in and out of urban traffic.
That engine is a 1.5-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder unit in all Yaris models engine equipped with variable valve timing, producing 106 hp at 6,000 rpm and 103 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm.
All Yaris L, LE and SE 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.
The resulting ride is similar to the experience of reviewing the 2011 Yaris. It’s not a fast car, but it’s not asked to be. It needs to be zippy enough to move through the tight confines of urban congestion. After driving every Yaris configuration through multiple street courses, it’s clear that the 2012 version manages that.
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 LE version.
If I was to recommend one particular Yaris configuration to that Toyota-targeted audience of comparatively cash-strapped hipsters, it’d be an easy call for the SE version, equipped with the five-speed manual transmission. That configuration wrings every possible bit of fun out of the Yaris’ deliberately limited powertrain. The sportier version also puts its tight steering ration to work with front MacPherson-struts and rear torsion-beam suspension.
Toyota hopes its new 2012 Yaris becomes the young everyman’s car – an entry level vehicle capable of becoming a symbol of modern city culture. When the little car arrives in showrooms this October, we’ll find out if they pulled it off at the pay window.