Living with a Toyota GR Yaris: the 7000-mile verdict

Published: 02 December 2021

► We live with Toyota’s hero hatch
► Fresh off a group test win…
► …can it handle daily life?

‘What I’d really like to do,’ said Ford engineering/driving genius David Put as he oversteered my old Fiesta ST long-term test car around the Lommel proving ground, ‘is a four-wheel-drive, WRC-style Fiesta road car. But it would cost more than £30k, and they tell me that’s too much for a small car. So what I want you to do is write about how great it would be if such a car existed!’

Toyota’s done the job for him. The world’s gone mad for the GR Yaris. In Australia, cars have changed hands for $10k more than the asking price. Over here, there’s a year-long waiting list.

Half a year’s exposure to the GR Yaris hasn’t dulled its appeal. Most of its nits can be picked in one paragraph: the front seats feel about a foot too high, and if you’re tall the GR’s roofline means you need to tilt your head in the back; no wiper for the tiny rear screen means you can’t see anything behind you in the winter (and ineffectual climate control means you’re permanently chilly); road noise is rowdy; and it has the same ergonomically atrocious dashboard as the regular Yaris. Service intervals every 6000 miles are one extra thing to worry about, and our car needed an oil and filter change at Farmer and Carlisle in Loughborough at a cost of £138.

None of this dulls the appeal of the most special hot hatch on sale today. You’ve heard us wax lyrical about the Yaris while it’s aced group tests – but what about readers who’ve considered parting with their own hard-earned cash? Adam Broer ordered his GR early doors: ‘When it was announced I thought: “Oh my, that’s exactly the kind of car I want.” It put me in mind of a modern-day Delta Integrale. I had a Mk3 Focus RS previously and the Yaris is comfier, even with the Circuit Pack suspension. At a Silverstone trackday it was the cheapest car there but I’ve never known so many people come up to ask about it.’

Fellow reader Barry Gartner ordered his in Convenience Pack spec, which adds sat-nav and does without the Circuit Pack’s pricier tyres, stiffer suspension and locking diffs. ‘The Circuit Pack is, for me, overkill. I no longer go to trackdays and there are few roads in my area where I could exploit its full potential.’ He’s still waiting for his car to arrive at the time of writing, however, demand having pushed delivery back two months.

Matt Brooke, on the other hand, back-to-back test-drove a GR Yaris with its GR Supra stablemate and opted for the sports car rather than the hot hatch: ‘They’re both very different, and although the Yaris handled brilliantly – especially in the wet, cold, nasty December weather I drove it in – I felt the interior let it down. The Supra felt more special, and I found its handling more exciting.’

I know what he means; so composed is the GR, you feel you’re using a fraction of its potential on the road. But what potential, and what a brand-builder for Toyota. Perhaps Put was right all along: maybe every mainstream company could benefit from a baby rally hatch on its books.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Toyota GR Yaris

Price £33,495 (£34,375 as tested)
Performance 1618cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 257bhp, 5.5sec 0-62mph, 143mph
Efficiency 34.3mpg (official), 34.6mpg (tested), 186g/km CO2
Energy cost 18.6p per mile
Miles this month 1922
Total miles 8801

Month 6 living with a Toyota GR Yaris

Too Good To Resist
A chance to do a few laps around an empty Brands Hatch at the end of a day’s shooting was all the excuse I needed to borrow the GR Yaris off James Taylor. The weather was very… how can I put it… ‘all-wheel drive’?

gr yaris motorway

Droning Along
The GR’s seats and steering wheel are really comfortable on a long journey. The windscreen wipers are good, too. It is noisy, though – the engine isn’t bad, but the road noise means you drone along to the sound of tyre hiss and tarmac rumble.

Cheap skate
The road noise issue is made worse by the tinny radio. And it took me several minutes to absorb the fact that the Yaris has NO SAT-NAV!!!! I understand why they might omit it on a £9.99 entry model, but on the £34k super hatch? Outrageous.

gr yaris coffee

Car and coffee
This kind of sums up the Yaris GR – sure, it has a regular cupholder for your Starbucks takeaway, but there’s an irregular little plaque next to it that says ‘WRC – Developed for the FIA World Rally Championship’.

Star appeal
It’s only a year old but it already has a cult following – I was quite shocked at how much attention the GR got. At every coffee stop and petrol station, someone ended up looking at it, someone who clearly recognised it was more than just a humble Yaris.

gr yaris track

On Track
I only got three laps but it was worth it. Our £3.5k optional Circuit Pack and Track Mode came into their own in the greasy conditions – lots of sideways mid-corner, but accurate steering ensures you just point, squirt and drive it out of the apex. Awesome fun. Now I just have to drive home again….

By Mark Walton

Logbook: Toyota GR Yaris

Price £33,495 (£34,375 as tested)
Performance 1618cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 257bhp, 5.5sec 0-62mph, 143mph
Efficiency 34.3mpg (official), 31.1mpg (tested), 186g/km CO2
Energy cost 21.2p per mile
Miles this month 1869
Total miles 6649

Month 5 living with a GR Yaris: push that dial

Like every good performance car, sound is a big part of the GR Yaris experience.

Three cylinders rarely make for a sonorous-sounding engine, and the GR’s snargly, gargly engine note sounds better on the outside than in the cabin (where it’s amplified through the speakers). Much more appealing is the sound of the little engine’s big-lunged turbo, which you can hear huffing and puffing between gearchanges. There’s some kind of funky metallurgy going on with the brake discs that makes them particularly noisy if you leave the car standing for more than a couple of days. A gritty sound accompanies each touch of the brake pedal for the first few miles. You can also hear gravel clatter in the arches like a rally car when you pull away, which gives a frisson of excitement that fades to annoyance on the motorway.

Road noise is BIG in this car, partly because the weight stripped out includes some sound deadening, and partly because the suspension, arches and chassis stiffening weren’t set up to iron out noise, vibration and harshness. I’ve taken to wearing earplugs on the motorway as I did in the Caterham, and turn the stereo up – it sounds punchy when parked but struggles to compete with road noise.

Still, a bit of a headache after a long drive is more than worth it for a car that drives this well.

On the subject of dials, I’d been leaving the one that toggles the driving modes largely alone. But recently I’ve been switching to Sport mode more and more frequently, and coming round to the idea that a moment not spent in Sport mode is a moment wasted. In Normal mode the GR’s torque is split 60:40 front to rear (and 50:50 in no-nonsense Track mode). But in Sport, it’s a rear-biased 70:30, which subtly changes the car’s whole feel. It sits in a gentle oversteer state most of the time, and feels a few degrees more positive and characterful as a result. Not that it’s a quiet character anyway.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Toyota GR Yaris

Price £33,495 (£34,375 as tested)
Performance 1618cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 257bhp, 5.5sec 0-62mph, 143mph
Efficiency 34.3mpg (official), 28.4mpg (tested), 186g/km CO2
Energy cost 21.5p per mile
Miles this month 721
Total miles 4751

Month 4 living with a Toyota GR Yaris: DNA test required

gr yaris vs regular

For an illustration of just how much of a mutant the GR Yaris is, look no further than the regular Yaris Hybrid. There’s a bit more going on than wheelarch extensions: the GR has its own three-door body (the normal Yaris is five-door only) with a roofline so much lower that its rear screen looks like RoboCop’s visor. You need to tilt your head if you’re a tall passenger in the back of a GR, and the boot is almost exactly half the volume (blame the rear suspension and all-wheel-drive gear).

In fact, other than the lights and the mirrors, every one of the GR’s body panels is bespoke and made from aluminium or carbonfibre. Not to mention the structural, suspension and powertrain engineering the 60mm-broader bodywork covers.

Some serious investment has gone into engineering and manufacturing the GR; all the more remarkable given that it’s likely to account for around four per cent of Yaris sales in the UK. More than £30k for a supermini is steep, but you suspect Toyota might be losing money on every GR it makes. Given the buzz around this car, however, from a brand-building point of view it’s doubtless money well spent.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Toyota GR Yaris

Price £33,495 (£34,375 as tested)
Performance 1618cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 257bhp, 5.5sec 0-62mph, 143mph
Efficiency 34.3mpg (official), 30.3mpg (tested), 186g/km CO2
Energy cost 20.9 per mile
Miles this month 947
Total miles 4030

Month 3 living with a Toyota GR Yaris: if you know, you know

gr yaris jag

Turns out an M&S petrol station in Rutland on a sunny Saturday is a mecca for interesting vehicles: a pack of open-piped choppers making noise, a Ferrari 488 Pista drinking its fill at one pump and this beautiful Proteus Jaguar C-Type replica at another. To my surprise, its owner was just as interested in the Yaris as I was in his double-the-cylinders C-Type: ‘What a fantastic car to be driving on a day like today! That would leave me for dead on a twisty road.’

The GR Yaris feels like an in-the-know car – most passers-by don’t give it more than a second glance but to enthusiasts it’s as big a talking point as a rare-species sports car.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Toyota GR Yaris

Price £33,495 (£34,375 as tested)
Performance 1618cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 257bhp, 5.5sec 0-62mph, 143mph
Efficiency 34.3mpg (official), 40.1mpg (tested), 186g/km CO2
Energy cost 15.5p per mile
Miles this month 965
Total miles 3083

Month 2 living with a Toyota GR Yaris: sibling rivalry

For the second month of our GR Yaris long-term test, Ben Barry compared it with his outgoing GR Supra. You can read that report here.

Month 1 living with a Toyota GR Yaris: hello and welcome

gr yaris drift

I know we’re living in strange times, but I never anticipated reality becoming so skewed that my colleagues would be green-eyed with jealousy over the opportunity to drive a Toyota Yaris. Were it not for social distancing I’m pretty sure I’d have been wrestled to the ground for the keys to CAR’s new GR Yaris by now.

Can’t say I blame them: this is no ordinary Yaris. The GR (for Gazoo Racing, the catchy but weird, no-direct-translation name for Toyota’s motorsport and performance-car division) was launched at the back end of last year and instantly became one of the world’s most desirable new cars. It also won our 2020 Hot Hatch of the Year test against rivals from all corners of the performance hatchback kingdom.

I couldn’t be at that test, so I’m coming to the Yaris cold. The first time I see the GR in the metal comes when it’s delivered, and there’s no doubt it’s something a bit special, arches bulging from its bespoke bodyshell like a werewolf part-way through metamorphosis. It’s as if a Supra GT racing car is trying to escape from your gran’s shopping car.

Styling that could have been directed by John Landis isn’t the only reason to get excited about the GR Yaris. As the centre console’s ‘Developed for the FIA World Rally Championship’ plaque (made from plastic that feels like it’s still curing) suggests, this is a car that purportedly takes a big dollop of its DNA from the thing that looks a bit like a Yaris Toyota’s works team fields in the WRC. Not only that, the GR Yaris was also designed to be a homologation platform itself for Toyota’s next-generation Yaris WRC car.

Like a rally car, the GR Yaris is four-wheel drive and as much as 70 per cent of torque can be sent to the rear wheels. Gazoo’s rally engineers have had a hand in its unique chassis structure and the tuning its suspension (MacPherson-strut front, double-wishbone rear).

In the engine bay is the most powerful three-cylinder currently fitted to a production car, at 257bhp. It’s a 1.6, but so brawny is its performance you’d swear it was a 2.0-litre four. Sounds bigger than it really is too, courtesy of rumbly (if silly) augmented engine noise through the speakers.

You use hands and feet to change gear, via a short-throw H-pattern six-speed. In fact, it’s such a hooligan’s dream that not only does it have a proper handbrake (the regular Yaris has an electric switch), the rear driveshafts decouple if you pull it on the move, so Toyota actively expects it to be used for handbrake turns.

There are three levels of GR Yaris: the base car at a fiver under £30k; the Convenience Pack (£32,175), which adds a head-up display, parking sensors, voice recognition and nicer audio; and our car’s Circuit Pack spec (£33,495 – see below for details).

If that sounds like a decent chunk of cash, it is, but it’s a lot of car for the money. Not that it feels it on the inside, where it’s afflicted with the same well-built-but-dull dash as the regular Yaris (with bulges in odd places, no storage compartments in the bits where you’d expect to find them and random shelves and nooks elsewhere that don’t seem to hold anything at all).

Even that can be interpreted as an endorsement of the Yaris’s credentials, if you’re feeling well disposed to the idea. The GR’s dull cabin is reminiscent of Subaru Impreza WRX STis and Mitsubishi Lancer Evos which had ditchwater-grey interiors but driving experiences that were anything but. Great seats in the GR, though you can’t help but feel you’re sitting a bit too high, as is often the case in today’s hot hatches.

First impressions from the driver’s seat are of a really engaging driving machine. Snapshots glimpsed on wigglier sections of journeys are of a grippy yet adjustable balance, nicely judged suspension, particularly over dips and crests, and searing pace (I’m convinced there’s an extra cylinder hidden somewhere). That and the potential for power oversteer out of wet roundabouts.

I can’t wait to get to know the GR Yaris better over the next few weeks and months, to find if it lives up to the hype on long exposure.

If, that is, my colleagues don’t find a way to borrow it first.

Forging a path
An easy way to tell at a glance if a GR Yaris is fitted with the optional Circuit Pack: it includes forged 10-spoke BBS wheels in place of the heavier cast 15-spokers, with more track-focused Michelins instead of the standard Dunlops. The tyres are wide, and don’t particularly enjoy standing water.

Nav? Nope
Press the Map button next to the touchscreen and nothing happens unless you have your Apple or Android phone connected by cable; no Yaris, GR or otherwise, has built-in sat-nav. My perennial new year’s resolution of looking at a map before a journey rather than blithely following sat-nav might actually play out this year.

Circuit Pack
For an extra £3500, the Circuit Pack fits stiffer springs, dampers and roll bars, lighter wheels with racier tyres, and Torsen mechanical limited-slip differentials at both ends. Non-Pack GRs are still four-wheel-drive, but with open diffs.

By James Taylor

Logbook: Toyota GR Yaris

Price £33,495 (£34,375 as tested)
Performance 1618cc turbocharged three-cylinder, 257bhp, 5.5sec 0-62mph, 143mph
Efficiency 34.3mpg (official), 26.6mpg (tested), 186g/km CO2
Energy cost 22.9p per mile
Miles this month 203
Total miles 1532

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer