Toyota goes "old school" with its new subcompact
Quebec City, Que. — If you've been shopping for a new subcompact, chances are, you've likely discovered small cars aren't so small anymore.

What use to be considered bottom-feeder econoboxes are now available with "big car" features with luxuries like heated leather seats, navigation systems with reverse cameras, and fuel-efficient-yet-powerful direct-injected engines matched to dual-clutch gearboxes formerly reserved for larger and more expensive cars.

Let's make it clear from the outset: The new 2012 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is not this sort of "new-age" small car. Instead, the Japanese automaker has gone decidedly "old school," putting emphasis on proven reliability for this redesign.

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Hatchback-only lineup sees the departure of the Yaris sedan

2012 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback(Photo: John LeBlanc)

2012 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback

The outgoing Yaris was introduced to Canadians in 2006 in three and five-door hatchback forms, with a four-door sedan added the following spring. Six years on, we'll see the hatchbacks return, but not the sedan, which is being phased out.

Unlike other brands, Toyota has kept the Yaris lineup as simple as possible with just three models: the base three-door CE, the base five-door LE, and the upscale, sporty five-door SE.

Pricing hasn't changed much from 2011 models, starting at $13,990, $14,890, and $18,990, respectively. And, as before, a five-speed manual gearbox is standard, while a four-speed automatic is a $1,000 option.

Bye-bye Teddy Bear styling and centralized dash design
While the basic mechanical components remain for 2012, Toyota has given the Yaris edgier styling on the outside. It's not as clean or modern as the new 2012 Kia Rio5, but at least the Yaris now has some character compared to its anonymous-looking predecessor. Arguably, the looker of the family is the SE, which replaces the outgoing RS. It features darkened headlamps, a more chiseled front bumper with fog lights, an aggressive rear fascia, charcoal-painted aluminum wheels, and interior upgrades.

If not as roomy on the inside as some of its rivals, the sliding, 60/40-split rear bench adds some flexibility. For 2012, Toyota claims slightly more cargo, driver leg- and rear seat legroom — but the differences aren't noticeable.

2012 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback(Photo: John LeBlanc)

2012 Toyota Yaris SE Hatchback

What will catch your eye is the redesign of the dashboard. After two generations, Toyota has finally ditched the centre-mounted instrument cluster, a feature that smacked of cost control (it worked in both left- and right-hand drive markets). There's now a dead-conventional setup in front of the driver, with audio and HAVC controls clustered in the middle of the dash. A large information screen can be found there as well. But instead of a nav system or rear back-up camera (which are available in other markets), it houses a massive radio that looks like it came from 1984.

Although leather seating can't be found on the options list, at least the quality of the interior plastics in the 2012 Yaris have improved. Contrasting the metres of grey petroleum finishes are light-grey patches made of soft-touch materials on the LE and SE trims.