► Our comprehensive verdict on the Yaris
► AWD, 257bhp and 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds
► Priced at £29,995
It’s hard to know where to start with the Toyota GR Yaris because, by rights, it really shouldn’t exist. Built as a homologation special for Toyota’s 2021 World Rally Championship entry, it differs significantly from the Yaris road car with which it shares a name. To find out just how different it is, and whether it’s a track day weapon, practical sports car or something in between – we drove one for 7000 miles over several months. Here you’ll find our full verdict on the new Toyota GR Yaris, from the first few miles to the last 1000.
What makes it a GR?
For starters, the GR is a three-door rather than five (a request from Toyota WRC team principal Tommi Mäkinen), while the platform it’s built on is unique – consisting of part Yaris, part C-HR/Corolla architecture that results in a roofline 95mm lower than the regular hatch.
Then there’s the engine – the world’s most powerful three-cylinder unit no less, and one that Toyota had to lobby the WRC to allow. Throughout our 7000 miles it really sounded bigger than it was, courtesy of rumbly (if silly) augmented engine noise through the speakers. Turns out that can’t be turned off.
As hot-hatchbacks go, the Yaris GR has had one of the most colourful and resource intensive conceptions in history which, on its own, makes it rather a delicious prospect for enthusiasts on the hunt for a genuinely unique performance car at the ‘cheaper’ end of the scale. At £29,995, it’s hardly Fiesta ST money, but a quick glance over the spec sheet alone makes you question how Toyota will ever manage to break even with it.
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 was Circuit Pack spec at £33,495.
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.
What are the headline figures?
If you thought three-cylinder engines were only good for dull city cars, think again. The Yaris GR produces 257bhp and 266lb ft of torque, giving a 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds and a limited top speed of 143mph. Power is fed to the road via a six-speed manual transmission and GR-Four all-wheel drive system.
Weight saving measures – such as carbon roof (with a specially designed compound) and aluminium bonnet, doors and tailgate – mean the Yaris GR comes in at 1280kg, giving a power to weight ratio of 201bhp per tonne. For comparison, a 316bhp Honda Civic Type R delivers 229bhp per tonne.
What’s the engine like?
There’s an appealing rawness to it, and it’s an element of the drive that stays with you as you begin to stretch it out. Maximum torque is available from 3000 rpm, yet it pulls with enthusiasm from lower down, revealing an encouraging crispness to the throttle response. The dials in front of you are notably plain, yet like the engine note on start-up it’s a pleasant change to the sporty fripperies of most current performance cars. Even throughout our time with the car, it’s something none of us got bored of.
Granted, it’s doesn’t offer the buzzy crescendo of a naturally aspirated four pot, but there’s a pleasing degree of manic excitement to be had. Plus, the real-world pull feels scarcely less than a Civic Type R and on the money with a Hyundai i30N. It’s an addictive power unit and one that you suspect we won’t see the last of in the Yaris GR.
As for the six-speed manual, it feels like an evolution of what came in the GT86. A similarly connected feel exudes mechanical interaction, yet there’s a more precise and refined action to the stick – even if the throw is too long.
What’s the GR-Four all-wheel drive like?
Effective. It’s Toyota’s first original all-wheel drive system in 20 years yet you wouldn’t know it. Although 100% of engine power can theoretically be sent to either axle, the Yaris GR features three drive modes where the user can choose the primary split. Normal sees a 60:40 ratio, Sport 30:70 and Track splitting it down the middle at 50:50. Although, the gear ratios in the all-wheel drive system means greater torque defaults to the rear wheels even when there’s no slip at the front.
The difference between each mode is slight but noticeable – and no doubt more so on track with greater space on offer. Regardless, the way it carries the GR Yaris down wet, leaf-strewn countries roads is nothing short of remarkable. Its diminutive dimensions play a role in its outright point-to-point competence, yet the dynamic limits you see in most cars don’t apply in the Yaris – a sentence that, until now, this tester never thought he’d be writing.
Steering feel from the slightly too high driving position isn’t remarkable, but by the current standards of electric power steering it does a decent job of transmitting the road through the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. The brakes, too, are predictably giant killing in their stopping power. Four-pot at the front and two at the back, the former’s disc size is – believe it or not – is larger than the GR Supra’s.
Overall chassis compliance is suited nicely to British roads, and although the short wheelbase and high body rigidity means you’ll occasionally get prominent longitudinal movement over sustained undulations, the damping is judged excellently.
A few. Many of this car’s rivals have a veracious appetite for bringing the rear end into play under even the most subtle provocation, yet the GR Yaris is far more planted. And while it would be foolish to declare this a bad thing, it did leave us wishing for a little more interaction on the road.
What’s more, 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.
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.
It’s also important to note that the car we drove had the optional Circuit Pack. This is one of two available packs which can only be had exclusively of one another (the other being the Convenience Pack) and includes 18-inch forged alloy wheels with red calipers, GR Circuit Suspension and Torsen Differentials both front and rear. Take these additions away, and we’d be curious to see the results.
A car that really shouldn’t exist; GR Yaris feels something that slipped the corporate net. And we’re not complaining.
As a concept on the drawing board, most manufacturers would have laughed it out of the room, but the decision to go through with it is one that makes the hot-hatch market a far richer place.
One of our readers, Matthew Brooke, 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 can feel you’re using a fraction of its potential on the road. But what potential, and what a brand-builder for Toyota.