Car reviews - Toyota - Yaris - GR
Great fun, fantastic handling, ripper engine, Toyota back-up
Room for improvement
Limited number available, small cabin, dull steering
Toyota brings WRC know-how to its Yaris hatch to create rabid GR Yaris
17 Dec 2020
By NEIL DOWLING
DECEPTION comes in all sizes and shapes and even from a source that has decades of trust built on millions of happy customers.
Toyota’s deception is, however, cunning in its execution and brilliant in its delivery.
The GR Yaris is the first production Toyota driven by its new Gazoo Racing skunkworks that has been made available as a street car for enthusiasts.
In its performance, styling and packaging, the tiny hatchback is – finally – a startling reminder of the expertise of Toyota’s competition abilities and the company’s ability to transfer track technology to the street.
The deception is that it shares only five things with its bread-and-butter Yaris model – the headlights, the tail lights, mirrors, shark antenna and the name.
It is so far removed from the disappointing show pony Supra – aka BMW Z4 – and its disassembling of the hallowed Supra name, that they shouldn’t be spoken of in the same breath.
Where the Supra is a reskinned BMW, without sports-driven pedigree and toothlessly displaying no driver-driven rawness, the GR Yaris simply bubbles with fun backed by more than a hint of intimidation.
But it’s not a Yaris. The GR hatch is a clever, purpose-built machine designed purely to homologate a car for the 2021 World Rally Championship season, repeating the 1999 exercise of the Celica GT-Four.
Toyota spent a bucketload of cash on this car including convincing (successfully) the WRC governing body FIA that it should have an exemption for its three-cylinder engine.
But for the rally endeavour at least, it was all for nothing. Toyota will campaign its current car in 2021 and perhaps introduce the GR in 2022. Perhaps.
The best news is that the GR Yaris has been made so mere motorists can buy one. Sure, it’s expensive – but think about the resale – and the first lot has been sold out.
But there is nothing like this car. Maybe the Ford Focus RS. But the GR Yaris is a 100 per cent made-for-rally car. You’d be unlikely to find a better garage filler. Period.
You’d expect that with a WRC season breathing down its neck that the GR Yaris is a fire-breather that’s as tetchy as a Beyonce fan waiting for concert tickets.
Not so. The car is very livable, partly because it’s compact and looks as benign as, well, a Beyonce fan after buying the tickets.
But you know what it looks like – what’s it like to drive?
There are times that the exhaust beat – artificially enhanced through the speakers – sounds like a WRX. That offbeat note that announces that what’s under the bonnet isn’t conventional.
Turn off the radio. Listen to the exhaust and the oddball thrum. That’s the backdrop to driving this car. Whether it’s lugging easily through traffic or pulling close to 7000rpm on a track, that edgy beat remains the GR Yaris’ theme song. A little like a WRX.
It is the perfect accompaniment to a car that will steal your heart and promptly put other cars down the line.
This is the real deal; WRC-bred but with the sharp edges knocked off by Toyota’s inherent conservatism. As such it’s an incredibly workable, docile and yet unexpected fun machine.
You reckon near $50,000 is too much? Try and match it with another new car. Moreover, thanks to the limited run and the long buyer queue, it’s probably got better resale than a classic Porsche, is faster than said Porsche and has air-con, power steering, quality infotainment and lots of safety.
There’s only one gearbox – the six-speed manual also used in other Toyota products but with unique ratios for this car – that permanently drives all wheels through a centre diff with electronic controls enabling preset torque splits.
It defaults at ‘normal’ with a 60/40 front:rear split, but twist the dash rotary dial to ‘sport’ and it switches to 30/70 and then for ‘track’, sits on the fence with a 50/50 drive. Without even thinking, ‘sport’ is the way to go to encourage all the handling fun.
Toyota is in the midst of launching the special-edition Rallye version of this car that has Torsen diffs front and back instead of the centre-diff and drive mode choice. We haven’t driven this yet so no comparison at this stage.
The beautiful handling really brings the potential of the GR Yaris to the fore. Punch it into a corner and it dives nose first, halting understeer with the excellent grip from the Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres, 225/40R18 front and back.
Back off the power a fraction then on the pedal near the tip of the arc and, with the drive mode set to sport, you can feel the power drive the rear wheels and hint at tyre slip. It really is a blast and always feels in control.
The car is far more capable than you may think. It nearly always makes you revisit the corner because you chickened out, hitting the brakes too early or being too hesitant on the accelerator.
The four-wheel grooved-disc brakes are excellent and the suspension is a near-perfect mix of compliance and firmness, so much so that the wife never mentioned ride discomfort. The ultimate car-comfort acid test.
One point – and maybe we’re being fussy or maybe because everything else is so great – is that the steering feels a tad vague, particularly just off centre and occasionally mid-corner. It’s something you get used to but the sharpness of the Honda Civic Type R, for example, comes to mind as being more communicative.
Engine power is a pleasant 200kW/370Nm but Toyota doesn’t mention at what revs these outputs are delivered. The tacho gauge is, however, red from 7200rpm onwards. Getting there, by the way, is relatively easy.
Fuel consumption, for those who care, claims 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres with 8.8 l/100km on test.
The triple is the most powerful in its class and the choice of three and not four cylinders came down to engine weight and a reduction in internal friction. That’s complemented by a single-scroll turbo with ball bearing shaft, direct and port injection, oil spray for the piston skirts and large volume water pump and big oil cooler.
Put that in the 1280kg body – still a bit portly given the aluminium loose panels and carbon roof – and that’s a 156kW/tonne ratio that’s as good as most sportscars get.
The car is claimed to sprint to 100km/h from rest in 5.5 seconds but it feels a lot quicker. The gearbox has positive shifts and though firm, makes no doubt where you are while the clutch is surprisingly light and progressive.
The GR Yaris has Toyota’s iMT that automatically blips the engine when down-shifting, but it’s more a bit of tinsel to amuse onlookers than a driving aid.
The relationship with the Yaris sisterhood is limited. The GR Yaris shares the wheelbase and floorpan stamping with the new Yaris Cross AWD, but picks up the front subframe design from the Plain Jane Yaris while the rear suspension from the Corolla.
At the back is independent wishbone suspension with coils (the ordinary Yaris has a torsion beam) from Corolla’s TNGA-C platform.
To get rally-spec rigidity, the shell gets eight per cent more welds and about 10 per cent more structural adhesive. By dropping the rear of the roof and forming a tighter turret, Toyota reduced even more flex.
It is the only badge-wearing Yaris with two doors (the Australian car is now only a four-door hatch) and together with its primary purpose to enter rallies, literally doesn’t have a lot of room for cabin space demands.
The interior is predictably Toyota with soft-touch dashtop plastics, 7.0-inch touchscreen, sensible switchgear and great attention to quality fit and finish.
There is also sat-nav, head-up display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with access through myToyota to a feast of apps, eight-speaker JBL audio with digital radio, and not a lot of personal storage space.
The GR Yaris talks the rally talk with its thick-rimmed steering wheel that’s loaded with buttons – some too small to fall easily to hand – and superb seats that are bolstered in the right spots without making them a pain to get out and into.
The gear lever is high so it is close to the steering wheel and driver’s left hand. Instruments are big and clear and glow red when the drive mode switches through “normal” to “sport” and then “track”.
Typical of two-door cars, the doors are huge and while allowing easy cabin access, often limit opening space when parked close to another car or object.
There’s room in the back for two small people but it’s not recommended. The sloping roofline – made of forged carbon-fibre – gives improved aerodynamics for the car but greatly limits rear-seat headroom.
If you want to justify this car to your partner, there’s also 141 litres of boot space compared with 270 litres for the four-door Yaris. There is, however, no spare wheel, just an oversize battery and a tyre repair kit.
Safety gear includes AEB, lane-change assist, blind-spot monitor, intersection turn control and reverse camera.
Warranty and service
How’s this for a high-performance street car: Toyota covers the GR Yaris with a five-year, unlimited distance warranty.
It also has a seven-year warranty on the engine and driveline if the car is serviced at a Toyota dealer.
Then there’s capped-price servicing for the first six services with a six-month or 10,000km interval – that is, twice a year – that Toyota said will cost $260 a visit. Cheap as chips!
There is no free roadside assistance but owners can pay an annual fee to join the Toyota Assist program.
Weigh up the ownership costs and the fun factor and this is unbeatable. Yes, you have missed the bus with the first shipment but the Rally edition is coming.
Aside from the sheer enjoyment of driving and owning this car, you can lie in bed and think about the resale.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
All car reviews
Click to share