Road Test Gadgetry overwhelms the driving experience in the 2012 Toyota Yaris.
Toyota's new Yaris is more of a smartphone than a driving machine
Personality and character. Traits you appreciate in your peers and your pets perhaps, but your car? It's a conundrum those of us who write about cars wrestle with daily, the idea that, for all the faults or not, there's some intangible, underlying personality and charm that makes us desire them.
The Toyota Yaris has neither. That may sound damning but, for all its packaging cleverness and equipment level generosity, nobody will ever ache with desire to own this car. It's transport, not at its most basic, admittedly, but a means of getting from A to B as efficiently as possible with no regard to anything else.
And really, there's nothing actually wrong with that. If you want a no-hassle vehicle you could do a lot worse than the Yaris. It ticks every other check-box in your small car buyer's list of wants and needs. It's likely to be more reliable than any rival, the dealers will treat you with utmost respect and servicing will be effortless and inexpensive. Rationally looked at, it's everything you could ever want.
The new Yaris is also more spacious inside than its predecessor for passengers front and rear. More efficient, too, with the 1.0 and 1.3L petrol engines eking out even more kilometres per litre of fuel - and the forthcoming hybrid version will improve that even further.
It also offers more equipment, the Yaris rivalling all comers on the button count inside. Actually, that's not entirely true, as key among the equipment Toyota is making noises about is the Touch and Go system, which features a touch screen, rather than buttons. It's something of a first in this category, bringing luxury-car spec to the small-car market. Touch and Go includes a rear-view parking camera, sat/nav, telephone and iPod connectivity. It gives access to Google Maps and will even allow you to Facebook and text.
All the while the new Yaris is looking better, too, at least a bit better. The styling is a little bolder, but sticks to Toyota's inoffensive norm. It feels solidly built inside and out, though the plastic and finish on the top of the dash is so hard and rough you could file your nails on it. Toyota would be well advised to borrow a VW Polo, or even one of its Korean rivals, and take a look at how interior trim materials can, and should, be done.
That scratchy dashboard is perhaps the biggest and most obvious failing with the Yaris, as it's impossible to really pick holes in it elsewhere. Admittedly, the steering is not loaded with feel, but then its weighting is pretty decent and its response is crisp enough. Likewise, the suspension does an admirable job of combining control and comfort, while the brakes stop you convincingly enough. The upright driving position, with its well-placed pedals and good all-round visibility is commendable, too.
The 1.3L VVT-i four-cylinder engine is smooth and responsive, refinement is good and the six-speed manual gearbox is slick enough. Even the optional CVT automatic manages to avoid the rev-holding, refinement-wrecking norm and provide a fairly quiet drive - even if it's not going to provide entertainment behind the wheel. If you want a supermini that you'll have fun in buy a Mazda2 or Ford Fiesta, as the Yaris really isn't about fun.
And that's a huge problem, as both the Ford and Mazda, as well as other rivals, do everything the Yaris does but with more flair. Few are quite as spacious and, so far, it's not possible to Facebook in anything else in its class, but in most rivals you'll be having too much fun to worry about status updates.
Cars are for driving, and Toyota seems to have forgotten that. With Touch and Go it's created a smartphone on wheels, rather than a car with added connectivity. That might suit the congested streets of Tokyo but, elsewhere in the world, cars need to be more than a room in which to while away time in traffic while surfing the internet.
Buy one and it's likely you'll never regret it but, likewise, you'll not know what you're missing. The supermini marketplace is one of the last areas of the car industry where you can buy lots of fun for not much money. The Yaris just isn't that kind of car; it's motoring as a necessity and, looked at as such, Toyota has done a magnificent job. Personality goes a long way though, and the Yaris has a long way to go.
Engine 1.3L four-cylinder petrol
Gearbox Six-speed manual/automatic
Power 100hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque 125Nm @ 3,600rpm
Fuel economy, combined 5.2L/100km