The Yaris used to have little to recommend it beyond the fact that it was the most affordable way to own a new Toyota. This year it gets a shot in the arm that, at the very least, makes it worthy of consideration on other points. Styling, for instance. Its new sheetmetal has evolved from a too-cute jellybean into a more upscale hatchback. (Toyota has dropped the sedan, except as a fleet special.) The interior also leaves behind awkward attempts at cheap chic–no one ever liked that center speedometer–and instead adopts a traditional look and more standard features, including power windows and iPod connectivity. Although the only powertrain is the same 106-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder, a new SE trim complements it with a beefier suspension, quicker-ratio steering, and four-wheel disc brakes (rear drums are standard). Despite these changes, the Yaris remains behind the subcompact curve in some areas. It retains a four-speed automatic transmission at a time when many of its competitors offer six-speeds, and it fails to achieve the now almost obligatory 40 mpg on the highway. Even in SE guise, the Yaris suffers from disconnected, overboosted electric power steering (although that’s hardly a unique offense in this segment). It’s also no bargain. The two-door Yaris starts at about the same price as a four-door Mazda 2 or Ford Fiesta sedan. That said, the Yaris is worthy of consideration and, at the end of the day, is still the least expensive offering from an automaker that built its reputation on dependable small cars.

Drive: Front-wheel

Trim levels: L, LE, SE

Body style: Hatchback, 5-passenger

Engine: 1.5L I-4, 106 hp, 103 lb-ft

Transmissions: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic

Passenger volume: 84.4-85.1 cu ft

CARGO SPACE: 15.3-15.6 cu ft

The Yaris gets a much-needed makeover for 2012. Beyond the new sheetmetal and a redone interior, the Yaris receives more standard air bags and a sporty SE trim level. There’s also more technology, from standard power door locks to USB inputs and optional Bluetooth. The new Yaris will only be available as a two- or four-door hatchback–Toyota says there was not enough demand for the sedan.

Front, side, side curtain, and driver’s knee air bags; ABS; traction and stability control; and a tire-pressure monitoring system are standard.

All: 30 mpg city/35-38 mpg highway

  • Much improved, nicely equipped interior
  • Nine standard air bags
  • Fuel economy trails segment leaders
  • Relatively anemic engine

No longer a bottom feeder.

  • Chevrolet Sonic
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Honda Fit
  • Mazda 2

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