There was a time when consumers could count on redesigned cars to be better than the previous model. Well, not any more, as exemplified by Honda's string of models that performed worse than their predecessors. Now it seems Toyota has followed suit, with its all-new Yaris being less competitive than before.
The 2012 Yaris is the lowest-rated Toyota-branded car. But there is a lower-rated Toyota, the FJ Cruiser. While this off-road-focused SUV has more than its share of compromises, at least it isn't the lowest-rated current model in its class.
Despite being redesigned for 2012, the Toyota Yaris ($17,290 MSRP as tested) is still bare-bones transportation. It's noisy; the ride is choppy; and the austere interior uses mostly cheap, hard plastics. Instrument layout and driving position were improved, moving the speedometer from the center dash to right in front of the driver--how novel! But pedal and steering wheel placement remain awkward. Front seats are basic, with lackluster support and hard, flat cushions. The rear seat provides adequate leg and head room for two adults, but it is too narrow for three.
The Yaris is powered by a 106-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that provides just adequate performance, with acceleration times on the slow side for this class. Making matters worse, shifts from the dated four-speed automatic transmission can be rough.
The handling lacks agility and the car has fairly low cornering limits. And despite a commendable speed through our avoidance maneuver, our Yaris LE didn't instill a whole lot of confidence. While the ride is compliant at low speeds, it is choppy and noise levels are constantly high.
Where the Yaris does shine is with fuel economy, returning an excellent 32 mpg overall and 41 mpg on the highway.
The combined performance in our more than 50 tests leave the Yaris with just 41 out of 100 points, well below a passing grade required to be recommended. And it scores notably 11 points fewer than the previous Yaris, itself a disappointing car. The highest-rated subcompact with an automatic transmission, the Honda Fit, currently nets 68 points.
We have found many good entry-level subcompact and small cars in our recent tests, leaving the Yaris as an also-ran that shouldn't make many shopping lists.