Whenever someone asks me what type of car to buy, subcompact vehicles aren't the first to come to mind. Maybe they're not high on anyone's list because they're typically not fun to drive and they don't have the best amenities. However, I do like compact cars, mainly because they're simple. So when my editors threw me the keys to a new Toyota Yaris, I was more than happy to take it for a spin.

For a week I drove around in a 2012 Yaris SE four-door hatchback with the optional automatic transmission. The Yaris has been completely redesigned for 2012, and the styling is greatly improved. For example, the Wave Line Pearl blue paint and stylish 16-inch graphite alloy wheels look really sharp. And those upgraded wheels are standard on the SE.

As for the interior, Toyota has taken great strides to rise above the competition. The new Yaris has sport bucket seats with a noticeably nicer interior. It's both comfortable and attractive. Yes, it's compact, but it still feels spacious.

When it comes to technology, the Yaris SE comes standard with Bluetooth connectivity. Our Yaris had the optional stereo system, including a USB port with iPod connection and audio controls on the steering wheel. For a premium model the sound system should provide improved sound quality.

The sound system isn't overly complicated, but there's still room for improvement. For example, I never did figure out how to adjust the balance for the speakers, and the Bluetooth was not very user friendly. Also, it would be great to control a connected iPod through the stereo system or the steering wheel mounted controls.

All 2012 Yaris models come with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It felt slightly underpowered, but it performed well enough for city driving. This engine, according to EPA fuel economy estimates, rates 30 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. City driving provided me around 25 mpg.

The 2012 Yaris comes with a four-speed automatic transmission. Most vehicles in its class are now using six-speed automatics that provide a better driving experience and slightly better fuel economy. The SE comes standard with Sport Tuned Suspension, which makes this version of the Yaris fun to drive without a harsh ride.

Overall, the new 2012 Toyota Yaris is a competent vehicle for under $20,000. The styling has been updated to broaden its appeal. The interior is a big step up compared to the previous Yaris, and it's now just as good inside as other similarly priced compacts. It handles great for city driving, and it gets very good fuel economy. Besides the earlier concerns I had with our 2012 Yaris, Toyota has taken this subcompact in the right direction and made it worth a closer look.

 

Here's what you think:

"...fun styling, very economical and efficient for one of the best prices among new cars, great value?." By Yaris via Autotrader.com

"This has got to be the best car ever. Fine, Fast, and Comfortable. I was really surprised moving from a full size passenger vehicle." By Mastermax in Louisiana via KBB.com

"...plenty of room, easy in and out. With two adults occupying front seats we are able to put two large bicycles in the rear hatch." By tjn314 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin via KBB.com

author photo

Dwight Cunningham is a car data analyst with the AutoTrader content team with a background in automotive retail. When he's not following his favorite German rides, Dwight can be found traveling, biking, and attending outdoor festivals around Atlanta.

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