► We drive prototype of Toyota GR Yaris, on sale 2021
► Over 260bhp, 360lb ft from 1.6-litre turbo triple
► All-wheel drive and six-speed manual gearbox
Ahead of its official unveiling in Tokyo in January 2020, we have driven a prototype version of Toyota’s new hot hatch, the GR Yaris.
It’s an all-wheel-drive three-door, powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol triple. Power outputs are said to be around 260bhp and more than 260lb ft; Toyota claims it’s the most compact and most powerful 1.6 ever made. The gearbox is a six-speed manual.
There are no direct competitors, but its combination of light weight and high power means it will be competitive with some larger hot hatches. Expect it to be priced closer to the Honda Civic Type R than the Ford Fiesta ST, both of which are front-wheel drive, when it goes on sale towards the end of 2020. It will be a full production model, not a limited edition.
What makes a Toyota GR Yaris?
It’s an entirely new car, developed over three years and sharing very few components with the recently unveiled regular 2020 Yaris. It has several roles: sexing up Toyota’s largely frumpy image; re-energising Toyota’s engineers; and homologating the 2021 Yaris WRC car. Although the GR and the WRC car will be largely different under the skin, they will share the same general look, shape and size. Hence the three-door body and sloping roofline – 95mm lower at the rear – which gives the WRC aero team more scope to create an effective rear wing.
The engine is 21mm further back to improve weight distribution, and the regular Yaris’s torsion-beam rear suspension is replaced by a double-wishbone set-up. The doors and bonnet are aluminium, and the roof is carbonfibre-reinforced plastic, for some serious lightweighting.
GR chief engineer Naohiko Saito told CAR magazine that although the car had been developed chiefly in Japan, it had also been tested at the Nürburgring in Europe and had benefited from input from Toyota WRC manager Tomi Mäkkinen’s TMR operation, including all three of the outgoing Toyota WRC drivers. ‘They gave us a lot of feedback and many difficult requests. Most of those requests were for a lightweight body and good aerodynamics. Also we changed the underbody based on their requests – it’s reshaped and reinforced.
‘Ninety per cent of what TMR asked for has gone in. The 10 per cent is mostly about a more extreme shape at the back, for directional airflow. But it’s a road car, so there needs to be some room in the back and a window you can see out of.’
More news and photos of the Toyota GR Yaris
A supermini pocket rocket with AWD
The rally team also had a lot of input into the four-wheel-drive system. It has three modes: Normal is 60 per cent front, 40 per cent rear; Sport is 30 per cent front, 70 per cent rear (for on-road fun); Track is 50:50, for gravel and snow use as well as on track.
There are no other modes for the driver to choose between: suspension, throttle and steering response are all fixed.
There will be the option of limited-slip Torsen differentials to move drive between left and right. That will be offered as part of a track pack, also featuring different tyres, tweaked suspension and different wheels. A privateer’s rally version is also being investigated, with factory-installed rollcage.
There’s no choice of transmission – it’s a six-speed manual. The brakes are new: 18in discs, four-piston up front, two at the rear.
Although the wheelbase is the same as the normal 2020 Yaris, the rear track is wider. The cabin will be largely the same.
New Toyota GR Yaris review: we drive the prototype
The version we drove on road and on track at Estoril in Portugal was camouflaged outside and in, but was clearly close to being a production-ready car.
It’s perfectly happy in town and on motorway, but perhaps most in its element on twisty roads and the racetrack, where it’s unintimidating and easy to enjoy.
Because part of its job is paving the way for the 2021 rally car, it doesn’t sit low like a sports car – there’s a decent amount of ground clearance. But the suspension is firm, so there’s not excessive bodyroll in corners. In fact it could prove to be too firm for some tastes, especially if you’re carrying passengers.
There are echoes of both the Fiesta ST and the Civic Type R, in that it’s agile and responsive, with direct steering and a healthy amount of low-down torque. The engine and chassis felt well matched, and the four-wheel-drive system dealt effortlessly with a wet track, getting the power down quickly and securely. The gearshift isn’t as slick as the Honda’s, but then few are.
GR Yaris: a pretty serious hot hatch
Saito says all-wheel-drive cars as varied as the Audi S1, Ford Focus RS, Subaru Impreza and even the classic Lancia Delta Integrale were examined as the GR engineers worked on the Yaris. More prosaically, some of the hardware is shared with the RAV4.
The Yaris is the second GR model in the current Toyota line-up, joining the Supra. But unlike the Supra – co-developed with the BMW Z4 – the Yaris is all Toyota’s own work: ‘A very big chance for Toyota engineers,’ says Saito. It will be built at a Japanese factory.
There will also be a Yaris GR Sport, but that’s a largely cosmetic upgrade, not a hot GR model.
The GRMN badge that caused widespread bewilderment when it was used on the limited-edition hot version of the outgoing Yaris is being dropped in Europe, where we’ll just get GR, for Gazoo Racing – the pet project of Toyota boss Akio Toyoda.
On the evidence of our early GR Yaris prototype drive, this new Toyota hot hatch suggests that the Japanese manufacturing giant is on a roll; it’s a unique surprise in the small-car sector and looks to provide a high-tech, rally-bred burst of fun in the pocket rocket marketplace.
What’s next from GR? It’s not been confirmed, but Toyota is not denying that some of the GR departmental magic will be applied to the GT86 before it dies of old age. It’s great to see Toyota back on the front foot.
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