There's a styling revolution happening in the subcompact-car segment, led by the swoopy Ford Fiesta and championed by the freshly redesigned Hyundai Accent, the snappy Kia Rio, and the funky Chevrolet Sonic. Toyota's price-leading Yaris undergoes a ground-up redesign for 2012, but, judging by the looks of this prototype-not to mention the Japanese-market Vitz from which it is cloned-Toyota's entry-level hatch won't be advancing the state of tiny-car design.
To be fair, the prototype's bright-white hue washes out certain aspects of the shape. But, as the renderings of the Vitz (that's the Yaris's home-market name) shared by Toyota of Japan prove, the car's design seems somewhat awkward regardless of color. It is rife with random lumps and dips that add character at the expense of cohesion. With its mesh grille and triangular fog-light housings, this particular prototype appears to be, um, the sportiest of all Vitz variants previewed back in March. In other words, this is about as sexy as the 2012 Yaris is going to get. And hey, what's this? A rear "diffuser"? Toyota's so funny.
Unfortunately, our spies couldn't catch any shots of the Yaris's interior, nor do we know for sure how much power the car will pack under its short hood. But the Vitz info suggests that the American version will adopt the refreshingly normal dash design previewed in the Vitz-albeit with left-hand drive-complete with gauges located in front of the driver where they belong. (The last Yaris's instrument panel was in the middle of the dash.) We also stand by our prediction that a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine will be the primary powerplant, aided by either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission and with fuel-economy ratings in the neighborhood of 40 mpg on the highway.
Still hazy is the prospect of a Yaris hybrid, which Toyota showed in concept form at the Geneva auto show in March and pledged to add to its European lineup in the latter part of 2012. A hybrid may be redundant in the U.S., however, since the Yaris shares its basic underpinnings with the even uglier, hybrid-only 2012 Prius C, which became another unwitting target for spy shooters earlier this month. Expect the 2012 Yaris to appear in Toyota showrooms this fall in both five-door hatchback and four-door sedan forms; the future of the bargain-basement three-door model is uncertain. Regardless, pricing for the Yaris should still start below $15K.