First Drive: 2021 Toyota GR Yaris Review
If you think this new Toyota GR Yaris is something of a left-field newcomer to the ranks of the £30,000 hot hatchback (in which regard you would be entirely correct), that’s nothing compared to how curious was its conception. Because it looks for all the world like a homologation special for a rally car, yet despite Toyota’s ongoing presence in the World Rally Championship, no competition version will ever see a special stage.
Which is strange until you delve a little deeper. The fact is this GR Yaris was indeed intended to be the car that facilitated Toyota’s 2021 rally car until, without warning, this summer Toyota canned the programme. Instead it announced it was extending the life of the current Yaris rally car until 2022 when new ‘Rally 1’ regulations kick in requiring all cars competing at the top level in the WRC to be hybrid-powered and able to drive around the paddocks and through urbanised areas between stages on electricity alone. Why? Toyota isn’t saying though it seems likely that the coronavirus and the financial implications thereof has caused Toyota, like every other car manufacturer, to take a long hard look at its balance sheets. And developing what is near enough an entirely new car for a single season may not, in that context, have appeared like value.
But having done all that work and produced the road car from which the rally machine would have been derived, it would have been crazy not to recoup at least some of the costs by offering it for sale, which it now has. It costs £29,995 which may seem plenty for a Yaris, but only until you drive it. In fact the version we tried had the optional Circuit Pack and is priced at £33,495.
- Chassis is superb
- Not expensive for the driving experience
- Could keep up with most performance cars on the road
We don't like
- Interior is nothing special
- The chassis doesn't allow any clowning around at all
- We'll never get to see it in the WRC
It is related to the Yaris, but only in the way a Bengal tiger is related to the tabby snoozing on your sofa. In fact it sits on a hybrid platform, not in electrical terms but the fact the front end is Yaris-derived while the rear owes more to the Corolla. Perhaps most obviously you’ll notice it’s down a couple of doors on the standard car. Harder to see is the 45mm lower roofline, impossible the fact it’s made from carbon-fibre while the doors, bonnet and rear tailgate are all aluminium.
Under the bonnet lies a three cylinder, 1.6-litre petrol engine, turbocharged all the way to 261PS (192kW), making it the most powerful triple ever to be put into series road car production.
Coping with all that is, heaven be praised, a standard six-speed manual gearbox directing the torque in true WRC fashion to all corners through a bespoke all-wheel-drive system. Spec the Circuit pack and it will also come with front and rear Torsen differentials which expertly and instantly allocate torque across their respective axles according to need. The pack also includes re-rated springs, dampers, roll bars and forged 18-inch alloy wheels, which is quite a list for a £3,500 outlay. Frankly if you’re going to go down this road, it’s a box you’d be nuts not to tick.
Performance and Handling
There is no more capable hatchback on sale. Period. There is none that would be quicker than this from one place to the next on dry open roads. On wet twisting tarmac it would probably be in a league of its own. On track so long as conditions are bad, it would humiliate any number of supercars.
Because while 261PS may not sound like much in a 2020 context, it’s what it does with that really matters, combined with the fact that, at 1,280kg and despite all that hardware, it’s really not very heavy at all. Truth is, it feels far more rapid than the numbers suggest.
Foot to the floor it’ll hit 62mph from rest in 5.5 seconds which would be sub-5 seconds were there no need to manually shift gears half way through. The engine is smooth, surprisingly resistant to lag despite its output and a sight more engaging to listen to than any number of four cylinder rivals. The gearchange is good, not great. It’s there to do a job and it does it to the required standard.
Indeed fine though this powertrain is, it is cast in a supporting role to the chassis which is where the true wizardry can be found. On the open road it almost has too much grip because you get to the stage where you’re driving as fast as you think is prudent and not that anti-social towards other road users, while the car appears barely to be trying.
Traction is essentially unlimited in this environment but it is the poise of the car that leaves the strongest impression on your mind. Because I suspect it was developed more on rally stages than race tracks, it can take the worst a British B-road can chuck at it and dismiss it with almost insolent ease. The brakes are very good indeed, but the truth is you rarely need to lean on them that much, such as the reserves this car keeps in hand on the road.
All of which is impressive. But what makes it remarkable is that all of this has been achieved without killing ride comfort. In fact it’s perfectly compliant by hot hatch standards and, yes, despite the fitment of that brilliant Circuit pack. Amazingly as a result, this is not a high days and holidays recreational bit of fun, it’s a perfectly plausible daily driver.
So what happens when the grip does finally give out? Not much is the short answer. Not quite enough is the slightly longer one. On the track you discover that even once you’ve exceeded the adhesion limits of its Michelin Pilot 4S tyres, it still just wants to be as composed as possible. It will naturally understeer quite modestly which can be transitioned into equally controlled and restrained oversteer. What it will not do, even in the wet, is allow you to back it into a corner on a trailing throttle and pretty much full opposite lock and then snap it straight with a jab of throttle. It’s far too pre-occupied with the business of going fast to indulge in such childish pursuits. In this regard lies the key conceptual distinction between it and Mitsubishi Evos of yesterday whose character it otherwise most closely resembles.
Don’t get too excited. Having spent a fortune getting the GR Yaris to perform as it does, creating a lavish interior for it was so far down Toyota’s priority list it fell off the bottom of the page. And if you’re worried about that, this is not the kind of car you should be considering in any case.
Besides, there amid all the cheap plastics, everything you need from climate control to a digital radio and a fairly basic sat-nav system is present. It even has cruise control. Just don’t expect it to be a viable family wagon: remember there are only three doors, room in the back is very tight but the boot is larger than you’d think for such a car and you still get a split and folding rear seat.
Technology and Features
Toyota has not just focussed on the hardware. It’s been pretty clever with the electronics too. For instance it provides three driving modes where the default ‘Normal’ directs 60 per cent of the torque to the front wheels whereas ‘Sport’ puts 70 per cent rearward. Only in ‘Race’ is there an even 50:50 split and that only until the car detects some slip in which case and in all modes it reserves the right to direct torque wherever its needed. You’ll notice too that the GR Yaris has a manual handbrake, but what really shows its rally heritage is that if you yank it on when the car is moving, the car instantly disconnects the rear drive shafts.
There aren’t many cars that have been more hyped in recent times than the GR Yaris and none that sits within the hatchback category. And yet despite it all, the car actually exceeds expectations. In fact it is the very opposite of the warmed over family hack given enough power to make it appear a contender in this class. Think of it instead as a standalone product, engineered from the ground up to be the most rapid all reason, all season weapon this kind of money could conceivably buy, which is then dressed up to look something like a small hatchback.
It really is that good, even if its curious unwillingness to indulge your inner idiot on the limit in the finest traditions of the homologation special is something of a disappointment. And we feel inclined to forgive that trait not least because for 99 per cent of people in 99 per cent of conditions, it is nothing short of a work of genius. As a result while I suspect it won’t make Toyota much or, indeed, any money itself, it will do wonders for its reputation as a company which really understands what it take to create a proper driver’s car. And rightly so.
1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder
261PS (192kW) @ 6,500rpm
360Nm (266lb ft) @ 3,000-4,600rpm
Six-speed manual, all-wheel-drive
|Price||£29,995 (£33,495 as tested)|
Reviewed by Andrew Frankel