2012 Toyota Yaris SE: Goodbye kitty

2012 Toyota Yaris SE

2012 Toyota Yaris SE

Stand back. The Toyota Yaris has gone from Hello Kitty to rocket boy. The chubby and cute first generation Toyota Yaris has been replaced by a much edgier and aggressive 2012 Toyota Yaris, particularly in the form of the Yaris SE. Of course, that’s not saying much. The earlier Yaris, particularly the two-door (or three-door if you count the hatch), was a car that could be loved by schoolgirls of any age, but the 2012 Yaris SE, while hardly the stuff of full-on schoolboy fantasy, isn’t quite so embarrassing for an adult male to drive.

Toyota in fact touts the 2012 Toyota Yaris SE as “sport-tuned,” and indeed it has 16-inch alloy wheels and 50-series tires, a sportier-tuned suspension and a quicker steering ratio. Front disc brake rotors are almost an inch larger than those on the lesser Yaris L and Yaris LE, and disc brakes replace drums at the rear.

The 2012 Yaris SE stands out from its siblings with smoke-trim multi-reflector halogen headlamps, integrated fog lamps and a color-keyed grille with what Toyota calls a “sport mesh insert.”

There’s more sport stuff inside with a special instrumentation package Sport analog instrumentation with speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, LCD odometer, twin tripmeters, clock, outside temperature, fuel economy information, average speed, shift-position indicator (automatic transmission only), and an Eco-Driving Indicator. The latter basically says whether or not the driver is pushing on the accelerator and it’s standard on all Yaris models, but the tachometer is a definite plus.

The 2012 Toyota Yaris SE also gets front sport seats, the driver’s six-way adjustable, as well as a cushy contoured leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with audio controls. Cruise control is standard on the SE as well.

2012 Toyota Yaris SE dash

The only trim level to get a tachometer with an automatic transmission is the 2012 Toyota Yaris SE.

The Yaris SE adds an audio system that will break your arm just trying to read it: AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability and MP3 sound enhancement, six speakers, HD Radio, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, SiriusXM satellite radio compatible, auto sound leveling, hands-free phone capability, phonebook access, and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and iPod interface. The same audio system is standard equipment on the 2012 Yaris LE, which is the upgrade trim level over the base Yaris L.

All 2012 Yaris trim levels, however, get the same engine and the same choice in transmission. It’s a sophisticated little engine with double overhead cams and variable valve timing, a 1.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 105 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual while the optional automatic is a four-speed. Perhaps the best that can be said about the latter is, as Toyota claims, it’s not heavy…

The base Yaris L, priced at 14,115 (plus $760 destination) is not as spare as one might expect. Standard equipment includes air conditioning with filter, power locks and a rear cargo cover among other features, though power mirror and windows are not included. It’s not absent audio, however, with standard AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, four speakers, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity. Toyota knows the market for this car. The Yaris L is also available only as a three-door hatchback with the manual transmission. The stick isn’t available in the five-door L.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.