Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Yaris CE three door toyota car test drives reviews
2012 Toyota Yaris CE three-door. Click image to enlarge

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Toyota Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2012 Toyota Yaris

All the cars I’ve owned have been basic ones, all used, with few extras. One of them had air conditioning, but it didn’t work. They all had crank windows; one car saved me some trouble with a mechanism that got so messed up it was nearly impossible to roll back up, so I avoided rolling it down in the first place.

But as an auto writer, it’s easy to get used to cars that do things for you. Never mind power windows and climate control — electric tailgates, soft-close doors and seats that massage your backside. Some of these things don’t come along too often, but they exist.

Another rare sight in this line of work is a base model vehicle, the one that’s actually worth the starting MSRP advertised by the manufacturer. In six years in the business, this 2012 Toyota Yaris is the first true base-model car I’ve tested. It’s customary for manufacturers to fill their press fleets with well-equipped vehicles, including (mostly, in my experience) top-of-the-line models that make up a small proportion of sales.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Yaris CE three door toyota car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Yaris CE three door toyota car test drives reviews
2012 Toyota Yaris CE three-door. Click image to enlarge

It’s not as if no one buys cars like this, if the popularity of this article from last summer is any indication. Entry-level cars with few extras are common on Canadian roads, but the 2012 Yaris possesses a few quirks that stood out to me almost immediately.

First, there’s the lack of a tachometer. This engine-speed indicator was often left off the standard kit list in economy cars of the past, but that trend had ended nearly a decade ago. At least in this case, you’re reminded (instead, and for better or worse) of what car you’re driving with every glance at the gauge cluster.

Then, there are the side mirrors that cannot be adjusted from inside the car. You have to roll the window down and physically move the mirror to where you want it, a process that involves plenty of annoying trial and error in a time when power mirrors are becoming common even in subcompacts. At this point, the little joystick-like manual mirror adjusters in a few of the cars I’ve owned started looking like a luxury feature. (My brother-in-law jokingly dubbed this car the “third-world export” model, a statement he’s sufficiently well-travelled to make, having lived in a few developing countries.)

Had the weather been warmer the week I had this car, I’d have left the windows down, because my test car lacked air conditioning, too.

The Yaris’ 1.6L, 106-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, and five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are carried over from the previous generation car. The numbers suggest the obvious — that Toyota is avoiding putting much of its resources into developing modern drivetrain pieces for its least expensive car. That said, while the Yaris’ engine is less potent than those in many of its competitors, it benefits from having just 1,020 kg (2,249 lb) to haul around. The result is a car that, at least with the manual transmission, is fun to race around town in and can just about get out of its own way at highway speeds.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Yaris CE three door toyota car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Yaris CE three door toyota car test drives reviews
2012 Toyota Yaris CE three-door. Click image to enlarge

The manual shifter is an easy and accurate one, and the light clutch makes the car a cinch to drive in stop-and-go traffic. A sensitive throttle took some getting used to, and made it tough to make a smooth getaway from a stop. For drivers inclined toward heel-and-toe downshifting, this isn’t the car for you — the gas and brake pedals are too far apart; a reaction to the “sticky throttle” media frenzy, perhaps?

I can’t tell you that oft-quoted figure of engine speed at 100 km/h in fifth gear, but what I can say is that this is not a quiet car on the highway. You can certainly hear the engine, and the tires; the only thing that isn’t noisy is the wind, as it attempts to blow the lightweight Yaris off the road. Not surprisingly, the tiny Yaris gets tossed around in the lightest of crosswinds at highway speeds. The problem is amplified by numb steering that has a very small on-centre dead spot, which makes it difficult to make small directional changes without the car darting back and forth. James Bergeron blamed the Yaris’ new electric power steering (his 2008 Yaris has a traditional hydraulic setup that he says is not as annoying on the highway), and I’m inclined to suggest that my tester’s winter tires were to blame, especially given the spring temperatures I drove the car in.

Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption estimates for the Yaris are 6.6/5.2 L/100 km (city/highway) with the manual transmission. On a road trip from Ottawa to Vermont, I saw 5.1 L/100 km one on hour-long stretch on a secondary highway at speeds between 70 and 90 km/h. At freeway speeds, the figure rose to 6.1, and city driving yielded an average of 7 L/100 km. A 2012 Hyundai Accent, with its 138-hp direct-injected engine, six-speed manual transmission, and in heaiver GLS hatchback trim (1,174 kg), averaged 7.8 L/100 km in city driving. A 2012 Kia Rio, identical mechanically to the Accent, but with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, averaged 9.3 L/100 km in city driving.

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