The Truth About Cars » Toyota Yaris SE The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:26:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Toyota Yaris SE Hedonist vs Frugalist : 2012 Toyota Yaris SE Tue, 11 Sep 2012 13:00:32 +0000

Tercel. Echo. Yaris.

When the history of great cars is written, these models will likely not be anywhere near the short list.

After all, few cars that are plain-jane, spartan and underpowered make it to the latest and greatest coffee table books or Top 100 lists.

Yet, imagine if you asked actual owners about their best cars instead of the usual short-take reviewer?

I am willing to bet that the real world  Top 100 vehicles would have plenty of small cars that would be easy to own, reliable, and most of all….

Jacques Hedonist: Fun! It’s one of those words that can cover a whole gamut of situations. Fun in the twisties. Fun in the sun. Fun taking the family out to Wallyworld.

This Yaris SE is a fun little runabout. We’re not talking about Miata levels or fun, or even Fit levels of fun. We’re talking more in the lines of taking out your best friend’s brother or sister on a purely platonic lunch, and finding out that they are far more interesting than you imagined.

Stefan Frugalist: We’ll start with that unassuming exterior.

The Yaris SE is in many ways a first generation Matrix with 80% of the size and 90% of the interior space.

It offers that typical Toyota front fascia of our modern time.

A side profile with enough lines, ovals and ellipses to resemble a generic five door hatchback.

And a rear that pretty much finishes the nip and tuck of trying to turn a $16,000 commuter into an $18,000 commuter with a little sporting pretension.


Like that old Matrix, it is still a grocery getter of sorts. But unlike that model, the Yaris SE has one penetrating weakness that makes it almost ignored in today’s marketplace.

Hedonist: Competition.

We’ll put it to you this way. Let’s say you brought the Yaris SE, the Hyundai Accent and the Fiat 500 to an auto show for the first time.

The Fiat would be ogled. It’s arguably the most distinctive subcompact design of this generation. The Accent would be admired. The Yaris SE? Maybe a few glances. But in our weeks worth of driving it and leaving the SE trimmed Yaris in crowded parking lots throughout Atlanta, nobody made so much as a peep about this vehicle.

Frugalist: But then again some people don’t want to be noticed.

Do Camry and Corolla drivers get noticed? Maybe if the Camry has a blinker light that has been accidentally left on. Or if the Corolla scurried around town with a potted plant on top of it. Maybe then they would get noticed.

Often times non-enthusiasts don’t want to get noticed. They want to have a comfortable car with maybe a few appreciable design elements, an interior that makes for a pleasant environment, and enough utility to get the job done. These days they also want two other important things.


Hedonist: Reliability and fuel economy. Once you climb into this vehicle, drive it for a while and look around, you begin to understand where the SE’s sweet spots lies.

It’s in the interior for starters. The seats are eerily reminiscent of the ones in the Toyota Celica of the early-90′s. Very similar design. Exemplary comfort. With thick stitching and good lumbar support for what is in essence a commuter vehicle.


Frugalist: The interior is also bereft of any of the ‘easy to see’ cost cutting of other models. The door panels and dashboard are made of the same quality materials you would expect to see in a modern day $20,000 top of the line compact car.

The radio and speaker system would be right at home in a similarly priced Scion.

Even the instrument cluster has a similar design as the one in the Scion FR-S.

Hedonist: Start the vehicle. Drive around town or in the ‘burbs, and you’re never wanting for more power in any real life situation. The Yaris SE may only have 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm’s. But the acceleration is there. 0 to 60 is around 9′ish and there was no wait or hunting of gears.

This vehicle is like most Toyotas. The automatic has a tendency to lock in at top gear right around 35 to 37 mph if you’re not going on the interstate. When you do go on the highway, everything is… predictable and non-eventful.

The SE model is a little bit noisy on the highway in that typical small car, small engine way. But the folks considering a car like this are a bit more concerned about other things.


Frugalist: Like fuel economy. This thing is an absolute marvel given the fact that the powertrain has no hybrid, turbo or CVT. A 4-speed automatic coupled with a 1.5 Liter easy to maintain engine and only about 2300 pounds of heft returned us a real-world combined 37 mpg around winding roads and the highway.

No that’s not a typo. Now I should mention that our town driving has a lot of long one lane roads with stop signs every mile or two. Folks drive 30 to 50 in our neck of the woods. Not 25 to 35. As a matter of context the Sonic reviewed here a year ago got 32 mpg and the Versa returned 33.5 mpg.

The Yaris offers class leading fuel economy with an interior that isn’t quite as large as these two competitors. But it offers plenty of usable space for a family of four and an excellent level of safety with 5 star NHTSA and Euro NCAP rating. We should mention that there is some debate on the later safety rating which can be found here.

Hedonist: The other edge the Yaris SE has in the subcompact hatch segment is durability.

A normally aspirated Toyota that averages about 500,000 units a year on a global basis will usually offer outstanding durability and reliability that makes long-term owners truly happy. The reviews here, here and here reflect Toyota’s penchant for building outstanding small cars.

In fact, this type of vehicle represents the optimal car for a dealership (like Steve Lang’s) that specializes in owner financing and cars that can ‘make the note’. Small Toyotas take abuse better than nearly anything out there and the Yaris SE will likely follow that trend.

The NZ-based engine in the Yaris has been built for over a decade with over 20 Toyotas using it in various forms; including a modified version for the Toyota Prius.  The 4-Speed automatic has also been around for forever and a day.

Long story short, this Yaris will endure the ages and then some. If it’s driven reasonably and maintained to the specs.

Frugalist: Owning the Yaris SE for the long, long run would not be an overwhelming or underwhelming experience. It would simply be ‘whelming’. With that said, who should test drive one?

  • Anyone who is in the market for a Honda Fit. Yes, the Fit is a more dynamic vehicle with plenty of versatility. But the Yaris doesn’t have the same annoying level of highway buzziness. Though the MSRP difference is only between $300 to $700 between the two, the real life difference may end up in the $1500 range.
  • Folks who are ‘Toyota-centric’ and want to avoid a hybrid powertrain.
  • Non-enthusiasts who are planning on keeping their vehicles for 12 to 15 years, prefer hatchbacks,  and want the most bulletproof powertrain possible.

Frugalists may be better served by a Prius C. As for enthusiasts and everything in between? The number of vehicles to consider in this market is absolutely staggering. Sonic, Accent, Rio, 500, Fit, the upcoming Versa hatchback, Fiesta, the SX4, Impreza… and that’s just 9 of 20+ potential fits if the buyer is willing to consider a sedan or a coupe.

The Yaris SE isn’t as good as a Fit. In fact, other than the Versa, this model is simply unable to match most competitors when it comes to thrilling driving dynamics.

Hedonist: But cars are kinda like music when it comes to fun. Some of us are true hardcore music aficionados who seek brilliance in that fifth dimension. While others turn the radio to the easy listening station, and enjoy overplayed Billy Joel songs.

The Yaris SE is a ‘light rock’ hatchback. Predictable. Reassuring. It’s probably the perfect car for someone whose only rebellious act in their entire lifetime has been listening to Billy Joel songs about ‘crashing parties’ and ‘riding motorcycles in the rain’.

If you have a friend who is moving out and needs a new car for the longest time, well, you may be right to recommend a Yaris SE.

Tell her about it… preferably at Mr. Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street… and bring some earplugs if that radio is tuned to the wrong station.

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2012 Toyota Yaris SE Sat, 18 Feb 2012 15:00:19 +0000

Remember the legendary Toyota Tercel? Sorry, trick question—there was no legendary Toyota Tercel. Between 1980 and 2000 five generations of tiny Toyotas came and went, leaving nary a trace in car guy lore. Toyota followed up the Tercel with the Echo. The new car was memorable…for ridiculous Gen Y marketing, an ugly exterior, a cheap interior, bobbly handling, and a harsh ride. All but admitting failure, Toyota not only let the Echo die on the vine as a “special order only” car but, taking a page from the GM playbook, euthanized the nameplate as well. A Yaris successor succeeded in that it continued the Tercel tradition of utter unmemorability. Emboldened by this success, Toyota has not only retained the Yaris nameplate for a second generation, but is pitching an SE variant at people who actually like to drive. Will we remember this one, and for the right reasons?

Drooling over this photo? Then your medication has at least one unpleasant side effect. Still, I must admit a fondness for the car’s exterior. The look is current, with the wheels pushed all the way out to aero-friendly crisp corners. Seeking swoopy insectoid styling? Look elsewhere. The SE tweaks (aggressive front facia, gunmetal gray eight-spoke 16-inch rims) work well, effectively communicating the car’s sporting ambitions. Prefer the three-door body style? Then no SE for you. It’s only available with the five-door. (The sedan was dropped with the redesign.)

Interior design high points include intriguingly patterned blue cloth and some squishy surfaces (the light gray bits). But the instrument panel suffers from the odd design details and clumsy attempts at coherence that have afflicted too many Toyota interiors over the past decade. Round vents, or rectangular ones? Why not both! Then mirror both shapes with an open storage cubby northwest of the instruments (for easy viewing by passers by) and a prominent circular surround overlapping the left side of the audio system’s thick bezel. The latter houses an unhappily cohabiting hazard button and passenger airbag indicator light—because you might have trouble finding them otherwise. Then there’s the audio system, with a tiny power button tucked away in the top right corner (and so beyond easy reach due to the system’s rightward displacement by the hazard button surround) and sound quality adjustments so buried even my kids failed to locate them.

Just drive the car at night, and everything is good. The steering wheel isn’t too thickly padded and is invitingly shaped. The seats are both comfortable and supportive. The side windows are generously sized, especially by current standards. The windshield, not so much. Like many lately, the instrument panel is tall, perhaps to lend the impression that the Yaris is larger and more substantial than it actually is. Or to avoid the minivanish driving position of the Honda Fit. It succeeds on both counts. The rear seat is roomier than the segment average. Adults of average size will fit with perhaps an entire inch to spare. Cargo volume is at best average, meaning the Honda Fit is the clear winner.

SE notwithstanding, the horsepower war hasn’t yet made it to the Yaris. A 1.5-liter four-cylinder good for a mere 106 horses at 6,000 rpm remains the only available engine. But the Yaris also hasn’t packed on pounds the way most competitors have, and still checks in south of 2,300 (about 300 fewer than a Fiesta or Sonic). Hitched to a five-speed manual, the engine feels peppy. Unlike the Mazda2, each shift doesn’t sink the engine into a torque-free zone from which it struggles to emerge. More of an issue than power: when revved the four produces a soft wheezy buzz. If it weren’t a brand new Toyota, I’d have hunted for a small exhaust leak. Shift feel is okay, neither as good as the Honda Fit’s nor as craptastic as the Hyundai Accent’s.

With a small engine and low curb weight, the Yaris SE’s fuel economy ought to be stellar. Unfortunately, it bumps against the same invisible ceiling as every other car in the segment, and so rates “only” 30 city and 38 highway from the EPA—about the same as the larger, heavier, and more powerful cars from the next class up. In suburban driving, the trip computer usually reported numbers in the low to mid 30s. Despite its higher curb weight and much more powerful engine, the Chevrolet Sonic 1.4T (29/40, reviewed last week) tends to do a little better, especially at higher speeds where its sixth gear comes into play.

Toyota’s recent efforts at sport variants of its small cars have been nothing more than appearance packages. Thankfully, it went further with the Yaris SE, tweaking the steering and suspension. Aided by the thinly-padded wheel and a modest level of power assist, the steering is more communicative than most. The SE’s chassis, far more poised than that of the misbegotten Echo, compares well to those of competitors. Add in the low curb weight and compact dimensions even by segment standards (a Hyundai Accent is 8.5 inches longer), and the Yaris SE vies with the Mazda2 for the class title of “most tossable.” Unlike the systems in the three Koreans, the stability control doesn’t kill the joy by cutting in too early. The car’s handling is so safe that it doesn’t need to cut in at all. The price for this agile handling: a slightly harsh (but still livable) ride and traditional levels of wind and road noise.

Contrary to conventional wisdom (well, at least that before the UA scare), all Toyotas are not equally reliable. In general, as with most other manufacturers, the smaller and simpler they are the fewer problems they have. And the Yaris is the smallest, simplest car in the line. It’s too soon to have any reliability stats on the 2012 car, but the first-generation Yaris has consistently been among the most reliable models in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey.

This justified reputation for reliability has long enabled Toyota to charge more. With floormats, the Yaris SE lists for $17,310. An Accent SE stickers for $16,650. In the past people would gladly pay $660 more for a smaller, less powerful, less stylish Toyota.

By conventional measures, the Toyota Yaris isn’t very competitive. It’s smaller, less powerful, and less lavishly equipped than most competitors, but doesn’t cost less or go farther on a gallon of gas. The redesigned exterior is attractive, at least in SE spec, but others are arguably more stylish. About the interior enough has been said already. Yet I think I’ll remember my time with this small Toyota, as it offers something most competitors no longer do. Imposing instrument panel aside, the Yaris is a small car that’s okay with being a small car. Though unlikely to curry favor with the typical non-SE buyer, this isn’t entirely a bad thing for car guys. There’s a directness to the controls and an agility to the chassis you won’t find in subcompact hatches with loftier aspirations.Unlike its predecessors, the Yaris is a fun car to drive, minimally competent powertrain notwithstanding. And if Toyota did manage to field a powertrain fully competitive with that in the Hyundai? I’d definitely remember that car.

Toyota provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

Yaris SE front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris Fit, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE rear quarter low, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE seats, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE controls, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE cargo, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Yaris SE engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 116