First drive: Toyota Yaris 2012 in Dubai
Competition in the sub-compact segment is heating up, with entries such as the Hyundai Accent, the Honda Jazz and the Ford Fiesta pushing the boundaries of what is possible with small cars. And soon after we drove the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic for the first time, we were invited to the UAE launch of the all-new 2012 Toyota Yaris. Thus far, the Yaris has remained the segment leader, but we were eager to find out if it could maintain that lead.
It turns out the new Yaris is longer in length and shorter in height than before, but only by a bit. The exterior looks good, at least until it becomes too common, while the interior is better and worse, depending on how you look at it. It is better because there is now better space, with thinner front seatbacks, excellent rear roominess and a deep luggage boot that can be configured to make a flat load floor with the rear seats folded down. It is worse because the entire cabin now consists of hard plastics, with no cloth inserts on the doors like in the old model, although some padding for the elbows have been retained for front passengers.
The 2012 Yaris, only available in hatchback form for now, is powered by the carried-over 1.3-litre 4-cylinder, good for 87 hp at 6000 rpm and 121 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm, mated to a 4-speed automatic. Most of its competitors now offer bigger engines.
However, the features list is now longer. The UAE dealer has chosen to bring in only two decently-specced models for now, with no stripped-down base model any more. So all models get power windows, electric mirrors, keyless entry, two airbags, ABS and a CD stereo with USB port and even Bluetooth. The higher model adds 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, rear spoiler and a leather steering wheel.
During the launch, the first event consisted of driving the Yaris around a cone-laden course, sometimes backwards, with tennis balls in a basket on the roof, apparently to showcase its agility. What we gathered is the Yaris retains its chuckable nature, with a tight turning circle, good all-round visibility and ultra-light steering.
Later on, we hit the road in convoy for a short drive around Dubai. The short first gear makes the Yaris spritely around town, in crowded junctions and traffic jams. But once we hit the open road, the engine’s strength, or lack of it, made itself obvious. Flooring the throttle to overtake at highway speeds offers up almost no juice, so it is better to just stay in lane. And it’s better not to go too fast, because the brakes don’t do much unless pushed in most of the way.
But on a positive note, while the engine makes a lot of noise, the sound-deadening is fairly decent for a car of this class. We had the unforeseen privilege of driving just as a severe sandstorm hit Dubai, and while we expected the Yaris to fly away in the wind, it behaved itself rather well. Even in strong crosswinds, the little hatchback didn’t move around sideways as much as the old one did. And wind noise was relatively low for a “cheap” car, although our test car did have a whistling leak somewhere. The ride quality was reasonably smooth too, for the most part.
Toyota is banking on the accumulated goodwill built up by the outgoing model to continue driving sales of the new Yaris, and they’d be right. Sub-compact buyers, above all else, just want decent space, fuel economy, acceptable ride comfort, good a/c and resale value. The well-built 2012 Yaris delivers all that and more, and that makes it better than the old one. They even got rid of the centre-mounted gauge cluster. With prices starting at Dhs 51,000 however, it offers less than some Korean-built competitors, but a Toyota Yaris is a Toyota Yaris.