It's blue. It's small. It's unassuming. It travels through time and space (technically) and I could swear that it's bigger inside than it is on the outside. And while it may not be the ride of choice for my favorite Time Lord, I kept finding myself accidentally calling the diminutive hatchback the Toyota TARDIS instead of its proper name, the 2012 Toyota Yaris LE. I'm nerdy like that.
But aside from its spaciousness, not much has changed for the new Yaris. It's not more powerful than it used to be. The new stereo system is an improvement, but it's not what I'd call perfect. The new 2012 styling is a bit less anonymous than the last generation's, but that's akin to saying that your new girlfriend looks slightly more interesting than a tea kettle. It's not really a compliment, is it?
Did any of that stop me from liking the Yaris? No, not really. Our Blazing Blue Pearl tester was a charming little ride that made up for each of its on-paper cons with an on-the-road pro.
Performance: A rather adequate runabout
On paper, the Yaris' 1.5-liter 106-horsepower engine doesn't inspire delusions of grandeur. On the road, it inspires even less so. Acceleration isn't bad, but it's not what we'd call great, either. This isn't the car for 0-60 drag races or mountain pass runs, particularly when equipped with the four-speed automatic transmission. My first car (a 1990 Toyota Camry LX) had a four-speed slushbox, and I'm frankly a bit taken aback to see that Toyota hasn't made the jump to five-speed forward gears.
That gearbox and the underwhelming engine conspire to give the Yaris LE its equally underwhelming 30 mpg city and 35 mpg highway EPA estimates--not even close to the 40mpg mark that other vehicles in this class are targeting.
Hyundai's Accent makes about 30 more horsepower with just 0.1 liter more of displacement and does so with a higher claimed fuel economy estimate. Even the less-powerful 100-horsepower Mazda2 feels more peppy and agile, so if it's small-car fun that you're after, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
Here's the odd thing about the Yaris: once you've given up your Yaris B-Spec Club Racer dreams (or if sporty driving just isn't something you care about), the tiny Toyota becomes a rather adequate run-about. The performance may be unimpressive, but it's also unobtrusive and doesn't disappoint. It hums along nicely at highway speeds, pulls away from traffic lights with enough speed to not feel underpowered, and--for the most part--stays out of its own way when getting you from point A to B in a densely packed urban environment. Even the nigh-vertical hills of San Francisco were able to be scaled with no drama. The excellent all-around visibility and small footprint make the Yaris exceptionally easy to park, and the soft-ish suspension soaked most of the small bumps and cracks of our city's most poorly maintained roads.
Cabin tech: Minor problems become major annoyances
You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Yaris' door is a wormhole leading to the driver's seat of a Scion xB--that's how spacious the tiny Toyota's cabin feels. The Yaris' upright stance gives the cabin a ton of headroom, a very spacious feeling, and--when combined with the large windows all around--fantastic 360-degree visibility. Another very "Scion" bit is the LE trim level's stock stereo, which is remarkably similar in appearance and operation to the basic receiver present in 2012 model year Scion vehicles.