Sunday, March 4, 2012

Toyota Yaris- New Baby

With Scion designed to attract youth to the Toyota franchise, what role does the small Yaris have? Well, it does share some pieces of its platform with Scion's entry point--the XD -- but it is a popular car in Europe and is available, so why not sell it here in the U.S. as the baby Toyota? It follows in the footsteps of the Tercel and Echo as a chip off the old Camry.

The 2012 model is heavily revised. All-new styling is more aggressive and interesting, and it's all on top of a platform with a two-inch longer wheelbase and nearly three-inch-longer body. You can get it as a five-door or three-door hatchback -- no sedan.

The inside is much nicer looking and feels more upscale. There's even some padding on the dash--a place that looks like it got some real attention and wasn't just plopped in there on a budget. It feels closer in design to the new Camry--which is a compliment. And Toyota claims it put in more sound deadening material, so it is actually quiet in there.

The car is not a powerhouse--with just 106 horsepower and 103 lb.-ft. of torque from a liter and a half, but the car is not slug-like. I was fortunate to be given a Lagoon Blue Mica SE model with manual five speed--the sportiest version. You can also get the basic L or the volume LE model, which has more of the features folks want--like power windows. It's interesting to me that you can get the more fun five-speed manual (should be a six) with only the base L (for cost) or the SE (for sport) but the LE, which is surely the volume model, comes only with a four-speed automatic. Toyota knows the American market.

The price-leading L starts at just $14,875 (including shipping). My SE came to $17,340--with no extra options.

But who needs them? The SE has a leather wheel and shift knob, a decent sound system, Bluetooth connectivity for your phone (although the pairing method was a bit difficult to understand). It's also bristling with safety equipment (9 airbags) and has front and rear disc brakes, a body kit, 16-inch alloy wheels, and more.

You don't get everything in this level of car--no heated seats, the power window doesn't go up with one touch, and the center console looked and felt cheap. But it was actually fun to zip around in the car, and it delivered 33.1 miles per gallon--right what the EPA says it should (30 City, 38 Highway, 33 Average).

I had a chance to park my tester next to my friend Chris' last generation model. You can really see the difference.

With gas hitting $4.30 for regular, little cars are going to be big again, and the Yaris is a better way to go in 2012.

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