We needed a very small 5 door, automatic car, as we live on an old Victorian street in London where parking is tight, and as the road is narrow, you have to park with 2 wheels on the pavement.
A six month old Yaris 1.3 MMT (Auto) came up at a local car supermarket. On paper the Yaris seemed a good fit; at about 3.7 meters, it had really good cabin space and a half decent boot. This proved not to be the case however!
On the positives, the car itself had a nice peppy engine, and the general build quality seemed top notch. Obviously materials are cheap feeling, but they'd definitely screwed the panels in for the long term...
The only issue with the car (and this made us off load it within two months) was the Semi Auto gear box. I accept that it was my error, as I bought the car from a supermarket where you don't get a proper test drive (I should have known better). They had advertised the car as an auto, and when we viewed, sure enough, there was no clutch and you don't have to change gear, so in my naivety, an auto is what I thought I was buying.
In fact these cars (and a vast number have been joining the ranks due to emissions and the cheapness of production) are really are robotised manuals. What this means on the road is unexpected and jerky gear changing. This provides an odd sensation to the driver, as normally in a manual you expect the gear change and the accompanying momentum swing, but in the robotised manual, you are as much a passenger as the person in the left hand seat.
The main issue with these gearboxes is not the jerky changes, but their inability to allow you to do tight manoeuvres. Essentially they render the car as GO or STOP and no in between. They start from neutral, and you lower the hand brake and then simply hit the accelerator, and the car moves forward. In a normal auto, you engage drive, with a foot on the brake, and by releasing the brake, the car will start to move forward before you hit the accelerator. In a normal manual, you use the clutch to engage power progressively.
So in common situations like parallel parking in a tight space, where you may want to move the car forward just 6 inches, it's very difficult. In a manual you'd use clutch control, and in a standard auto you'd just ease the pressure you apply to the brake to allow the car to edge in. In the automated manual, you lightly touch the accelerator, but by so doing the car engages 1st gear and will then, relatively (based on the movement you wanted - 6 inches) bolt forward. Take this scenario to a more demanding situation like reverse parallel parking on an incline where you also need to mount the kerb, and it's an absolute disaster! You can try and use the hand brake, but without a clutch it's very hard to modulate the power, and inevitably you over do it, which leads to a very jerky affair. In the end I took to left foot braking (as recommended by a Toyota dealer, for awkward parking scenarios).
I know with time we'd have improved our technique, but to me the idea of a small auto is stress free, easy driving, for those who don't wish to hone the skills required to maximise cornering entry and exit speed by left foot braking, and applying the hand brake at the same time as pushing the accelerator!!