► Testing Toyota’s mini hot-hatch
► Prototype driven at the Nurburgring
► On sale early 2018 from £26,295
The Toyota Yaris GRMN plays on the company’s return to the World Rally Championship, and will go head-to-head with B-segment hot hatches like the Ford Fiesta ST200 and Renault Sport Clio RS when it goes on sale early in 2018, priced from £26,295.
Just 400 are coming to Europe in left- and right-hand drive, with the UK likely to account for 90-100 of the volume.
The name compresses ‘Gazoo Racing tuned by Meisters of the Nürburgring’ (don’t think they customer clinic’d that one), in line with other models previously sold in Japan. But while this model isn’t confirmed for Japan, it marks the GRMN sub-brand’s entry to Europe.
The project’s been pulled together in just over a year, and we’re getting an early drive of a prototype at the Nürburgring.
So, it’s a 1.6-litre turbo with four-wheel drive and paddleshift transmission?
Very funny. Tangible links between road and rally cars disappeared years ago, but the ingredients do sound pretty promising: a Toyota 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine is supercharged to achieve around 205bhp and 184lb ft. It puts all that lot through the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox and a Torsen limited-slip differential, and Toyota claims best-in-class times for the 0-62mph time (around 6.3-6.5sec) and 50-75mph time in fourth gear. It weighs just 1135kg.
The chassis features springs uprated by ‘over’ 61% and lowered by 24mm, uprated Sachs dampers, a larger diameter front anti-roll bar, 17-inch BBS alloys and – very promising, this – four-piston front brakes; something rarely featured on one-size-up hot hatches, let alone a car this small. The chassis has additional bracing, including a strut brace between the front suspension towers, and under-body bracing front and rear. As ever, there’s a torsion beam at the rear
The GRMN comes only with a three-door body, gets some flashes of red, white and black to reference Latvala’s WRC car, a rear spoiler, central exhaust outlet and rear diffuser. Inside, there’s a leather steering wheel pinched from the GT86 sports car, a pair of bucket seats and aluminium pedals.
Toyota Europe has been responsible for the exterior and interior design, with Japan taking care of the chassis and brakes. The GRMN will be manufactured at the Valenciennes plant in France.
Where does this engine come from?
Interesting story. It’s made at Toyota’s Deeside plant (neatly also used as the WRC service park for Rally GB), then gets injectors from a Toyota V6 (but four, obvs), 40% larger throttle body and a modified calibration.
From there it’s sent to Lotus to add the Magnusson Eaton rotor-type supercharger (Lotus does the same with the Elise, which also uses a Toyota engine, remember), and then onto France for assembly. To reduce back pressure, the exhaust pipe diameter is up from 42mm to 60mm, and runs through a single catalyst from a V6 model.
If this all sounds like a lot of expensive messing, it’s clear that insiders doubt the GRMN will make any money, though they don’t explicitly say as much. There’s something pretty refreshing about that.
What’s the Yaris GRMN like to drive on the road?
It’s a feisty little thing. The ride is stiff, the exhaust note pretty brash (its hollow bwwwaaarrrr sound is reminiscent of a WRC car, but sounds more the result of sticking a big-bore pipe on rather than any specific tuning), and the handling quite edgy.
But there’s an exciting rawness and charm too. At speed, the ride settles, so while it’s still firm, there’s enough compliance to ensure you won’t get bounced off the road, even on some badly rutted bits of road in the Eifel region. The GRMN was also tested on UK B roads to ensure the diff didn’t tug about on the crown of the road, Mk1 Focus RS-style.
The limited-slip diff wasn’t in the plan from the beginning due to the steering corruption that can be caused by such a component, but it works well. The front end isn’t as keen to bite as, say, the Peugeot Sport 208 GTi, but it does allow you to power on early through a bend, and while there is some understeer if you push hard, it’s progressive and helps telegraph the limits. It also helps contain wheelspin without tugging all over the road surface – apparently adding the front strut brace calmed this tendency considerably, as did a spec that allows for some slip at one wheel on low-grip surfaces and when high amounts of steering lock are applied.
With such a short-wheelbase and stiff suspension, the Yaris feels very keen to jig its torsion-beam rear end around; it helps agility and adds quite a dramatic edge to the drive, but your grandma would be off at the first roundabout.
The GRMN is not a particularly quick car, and there’s no real kick to the power delivery, it just builds progressively, but even removing a passenger makes it feel considerably fleeter – testament to the bigger impact removing weight from an already light car has. Either way, you have to work it hard to access its peak torque of 184lb ft at a high 5000rpm – none of the low-down juice of turbo power here.
The four-piston brakes are pretty fantastic, with keen feel and stopping power so strong there’s no way you’d mistake them for carryovers from a lesser model –they really define the drive.
There is one driving mode, accessed by starting the engine. Hurrah for that.
Yep. The steering is nice and light and quick enough too, but it is unnecessarily aggressive in its self-centring motions.
The driving position isn’t great – the seats hold you well and are comfortable, but they perch you up high, and the steering wheel adjustment is limited; that there’s been no attempt to match the front and rear seat trim also betrays a certain hastiness/lack of room to push the price up even further.
The pedals could be better aligned for heel-and-toe, and the gearshift shorter and tighter.
Considering there’s a proper mechanical limited-slip diff up front, the traction control is a little too eager to electronically snuff out wheelspin. In tighter corners, I also wanted a little more roll support from the front end – perhaps ambitious given the already very firm springs, but there you go.
So, quite a few niggles, but ultimately this is a fun, raw kind of hot hatch. I enjoyed driving it, and the lap of the Nordscheife was fun too.
Go on then, how was it on track?
Again that raw energy defines the Yaris GRMN, and it feels much more serious than, say, the last – and very excellent – Fiesta ST.
Like on the road, you can lean right on the edge of understeer to feel your way through the corner while still clawing traction out of the surface without frustrating wheelspin, the brakes again give you confidence, and the performance doesn’t actually feel out of its depth at a place as fast as the Nürburgring.
The GRMN’s lightness, short wheelbase and highly adjustable balance – where lifting the throttle and/or braking hard readily makes the rear end slide – keeps you on your toes as the consequences really rack up with speed, but the stability control does a good job of keeping it all in check without getting over zealous. It makes it feel like an enjoyable, rewarding challenge at a place like this, not a slow car to be thrashed around joylessly.
The Yaris GRMN is raw, very expensive compared with rivals and – at this late prototype stage – has a few flaws it’d be nice to see ironed out, the latter no doubt evidence of its tightly compressed development programme.
If you’ve just stepped from a Fiesta ST, all that might be a bit of a shock. But the Yaris GRMN is also a more focussed, edgier hot hatch than the Ford or the Renaultsport Clio, and packs some pretty impressive content, including four-piston brakes and a Torsen diff. All that makes it a bit of an event to drive.
Factor in exclusivity, the surprise factor and the fact that, really, financially for Toyota it doesn’t make any sense and you’ve got to admire it. Flawed, yes, but exciting too, we’re certainly glad the Yaris GRMN exists.