Monday 11th January 2021
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First drive: Toyota Yaris GR. Image by Toyota GB.

First drive: Toyota Yaris GR
The Toyota GR Yaris is every bit as stunning as you hope it might be, just looking at its bullish appearance and thinking about the magical H-word.

 



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Toyota GR Yaris

5 5 5 5 5

Toyota 'does a Hyundai' and comes out of (relatively speaking, in this particular class) nowhere to produce a hot hatch that should go down in history as one of the all-time greats. As involving, thrilling and downright wonderful road-going performance cars go, you will be hard-pressed to find anything better in the modern era than the GR Yaris.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Toyota GR Yaris Circuit Pack
Pricing: GR Yaris from £29,995, Circuit Pack from £33,495, car as tested £34,375
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: GR-Four all-wheel drive with front and rear Torsen limited-slip differentials, six-speed manual with Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT)
Body style: three-door homologation hot hatchback
CO2 emissions: 186g/km (VED Band 171-190: £870 first 12 months, then £150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 34.3mpg
Top speed: 143mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
Power: 261hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 3,000-4,600rpm
Boot space: 174 litres

What's this?

'Homologation' is such a powerful, evocative word, in the car enthusiast's lexicon. It immediately conjures up images of the icons of motoring past - and, with a few notable exceptions such as the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR and BMW E30 M3, among others, it would seem that homologation goes hand-in-hand with rallying. Think of the short-wheelbase Audi Quattro Sport. Think of the Lancias Stratos, 037 and Delta HF Integrale. Think of the madcap Frenchies of the 1980s, like the Renault 5 Turbo and the Peugeot 205 T16. Think of the Ford Escort Cosworth. Think of Japanese magnificence such as the Subaru Impreza 22B and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition. Think, basically, of any vehicle for which today, if you've got a semi-decent example of one of them sequestered away in your dehumidified garage, you can legitimately demand telephone-number second-hand values in exchange for the precious V5C document. That's the magic of homologation. So are we about to add another name to this most hallowed of roll calls?

That the car in question is a Toyota Yaris isn't the most auspicious of starts, perhaps, but allow us to put things into perspective. One, look at that (far from comprehensive) collection of homologation specials we list above - the Escort Mk4 and the Renault 5 were hardly the stuff of dreams in normal formats, now were they? Two, the new fourth-generation, 'XP210' Yaris is actually a rather brilliant little supermini; vastly, vastly improved from its Mk3 predecessor and one of the first things you should be shopping around for in the runaround B-segment. Three, all current World Rally Championship (WRC) vehicles are, loosely speaking, superminis: namely the Ford Fiesta, the Hyundai i20 and, yep, the Toyota Yaris. And four, despite all appearances to the contrary and all this talk of the XP210 Yaris, this bonkers GR isn't actually that closely related to the Mk4 Toyota hatchback at all.

Because it has been built solely to homologate Toyota's entry into the WRC, the GR sits on the front bit of the GA-B platform which does underpin the current Yaris range, but to accommodate its GR-Four all-wheel-drive system the rear half of the chassis spliced up to the nose is GA-C, the baseboard used in vehicles as diverse as the Toyota Corolla and the Lexus UX. Even its shell is bespoke to the 'Gazoo Racing' model and we don't just mean its spectacularly flared wheel arches nor its socking great front air intakes; no, we mean the fact the GR Yaris is a three-door when every other XP210 has five points of entry into its cabin. What with its 18-inch alloys and brutal bully-boy stance and those twin exhaust exits poking out of a chunky rear bumper, it looks utterly terrific from any angle you choose to view it and no matter which of the four colours it comes in. Although the £880 pearlescent Scarlet Flare of GNK is a real winner, in our eyes.

The cabin is... not so much, by way of contrast, but then few car interiors could live up to the marvellous theatre of the GR Yaris' bulging bodywork. However, we ought to be clear that it is by no means bad in here. The dashboard architecture is that of the XP210 and that's one of the best cockpits you can get in the B-segment right now. Strange, then, that for the GR, Toyota has taken the decision to get rid of much of the brightwork and gloss-black detailing that lifts the ambience of the 'regular' Yaris and replace it with an almost uniformly charcoal-grey fascia. Thankfully, the ergonomics of this layout are almost totally spot-on, a slightly too-high-mounted driver's seat being the main drawback within, but there's a perfect little round wheel to hold onto, the speedo reads up to 180mph, the digital display in the middle of the cluster shows various geeky enthusiast things like boost pressure and torque splits, there's a little 'WRC' plaque mounted down near the manual handbrake (which has been fitted for 'rally-stage cornering'!), and there's the brilliantly named 'Ultrasuede' material clothing both the door cards and the excellent bucket seats in the front. Which don't just look luscious but which are supremely comfy too, we don't mind telling you. Practicality remains decent, given the hatchback theme, so while a 174-litre boot appears measly, the back bench split-folds away at a 60:40 ratio and the resulting cargo space (for which Toyota doesn't quote a litres figure) can apparently hold a decent bicycle or four spare tyres, if you so wish.

A few words, as quickly as we can, on the UK range structure and pricing. A 'basic' Gazoo Racing Yaris, which is what the 'GR' stands for and which ties it in with the fabulous Supra coupe sold under the same banner, will set you back £29,995. For that, you get the Toyota Safety Sense bundle, an eight-inch Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and go, LED adaptive headlights and foglights, a polymer roof with a carbon-fibre reinforcement and wrap, and various GR-related addenda. From there, you can go for the Convenience Pack (WRONG!), which at £32,175 adds navigation to the TT2 infotainment, as well as a JBL eight-speaker sound system, ambient lighting in the cabin, a head-up display, Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and parking sensors at both ends of the car.

Alternatively, you can try the Circuit Pack (RIGHT!) as tested here, for £33,495. This is denoted by red-painted brake callipers peeping out between lighter and uprated 18-inch forged alloys with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres (the other GRs wear less-focused Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber), while underneath the suspension is firmed up with the 'GR Circuit-Tune' specification and then two - count 'em, two - torque-sensing limited-slip differentials are fitted to the drivetrain, one on each axle. Due to wiring loom issues and other matters on right-hand-drive cars, Toyota UK cannot mix bits of the specification of the Convenience Pack with a few choices from the Circuit Pack; it's an either/or decision, folks. Good.

Bold prices? Well, yes... if you erroneously consider the GR Yaris to be a 'mere' B-segment performance hatch to take on the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST and the Volkswagen Polo GTI. But we'll repeat that magical word to you once more: ho-mol-o-ga-tion. This isn't just a hotted-up Yaris but a bespoke creation built so its parent company can go rallying, and so it is priced accordingly. Not only that, but while it might be B-segment in size, it is not B-segment in terms of power, performance and outlook - and the three C-segment titans that Toyota has ambitiously targeted are the Honda Civic Type R, the Hyundai i30 N and the Renault Megane RS. All of which the GR Yaris can out-accelerate for the 0-62mph run, comfortably so in the case of the Korean car, mainly because the Toyota is four-wheel drive when these bigger rivals are front-led, and because it only clocks in at 1,280kg. Which makes it 100kg lighter than a Civic Type R, 149kg trimmer than an i30 N and means it is carrying fully 163kg less timber than the Trophy 300 Megane.

The stage is set, then, for an enormous giant-killing act to reverberate through the epochs - if Toyota has got this thing right. Can the GR Yaris therefore justify a price tag the wrong side of £34,000, as tested? Let's find out.

How does it drive?

Under the snub bonnet of the GR Yaris is a 1.6-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It develops a mammoth 261hp at 6,500rpm and backs this up with 360Nm of torque from 3,000-4,600rpm. Power is fed to all four wheels through a close-ratio six-speed gearbox with Toyota's Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT) technology, which rounds off up- and downshifts when engaged by matching engine revs to road speed. With the Circuit Pack's twin LSDs and firm, fixed-rate, passive suspension, the GR Yaris is a serious bit of kit. It also doesn't have adjustable drive modes, that rotary dial ahead of the high-mounted gearlever instead controlling the torque split of the GR-Four AWD system; it starts at 60:40 front-to-rear in Normal, shifts to 30:70 (yes, heavily rear-biased) in Sport and then switches to a 50:50 split in Track. Mainly because the 'Track' in question is not likely to be of the circuit-type, despite the model's equipment-bundle name, but might more reasonably be a gravel track snaking through a dank and remote forest somewhere.

Some of the data that results from the Toyota's technical make-up is mind-boggling, considering we're nowhere near beyond the £40,000 marker. The GR Yaris develops 161hp-per-litre from its charismatic triple - more than a Ferrari Portofino, Nissan GT-R Nismo, Ford Focus RS or, yes, Civic Type R - while the power-to-weight ratio is 204hp-per-tonne. It'll run the 0-62mph sprint in 5.5 seconds, with Toyota limiting the car to a 143mph maximum. Presumably, to give some of the GR Yaris' rivals half a sporting chance of beating it on some measurable metric, if nothing else.

Fire up the engine and it's a loud, stirring presence in the cabin. It's clear there's some augmentation of its voice going on in the interior but Toyota GR seems to have judged it pretty well, so rather than coming across as fake and annoying, it simply sounds mean and appealing. There's that boosty hissing noise from the twin exhausts at the back, too, something the Yaris shares with the Megane RS, but you might struggle to hear that over the wild whooshing and chattering of the 1.6's turbocharger. Short of having the intensifying whine of a straight-cut gearbox and a full anti-lag system, we're not sure how much Toyota could make you aware that the GR Yaris has rallying links than it already has done. You drive it around town at slow speeds and it might as well be finished in Castrol livery on the outside, with some random Polish bloke in the passenger seat shouting pace notes at you as you go.

You'll notice the unforgiving low-speed ride, mind. Toyota made a conscious decision to fit passive dampers, rather than active or adjustable ones, and it results in a car which isn't the most graceful on badly pockmarked urban streets. However, it doesn't needlessly thump and tramline in these situations either, and you only have to get above 30mph to notice that the dampers have started to ease into a flowing groove. On extra-urban 50mph dual carriageways and then out on national limit roads, the ride quality ceases to be an issue. You don't focus upon it at all.

What you do focus on is precisely what a tremendous machine the GR Yaris is. Oh, it's sublime. And the best thing about it is that it doesn't wow you in the first few miles and then you start to become inured to its talents; rather, it starts off in quietly impressive fashion and just gets better and better and better from there. So that you're left thinking about its dynamics long after you've got out of the car and walked away from it.

The steering is magnificent, for starters. It's weighted to perfection, it boasts some genuinely usable feedback and feel, and it's hyper-rapid. It's also linked up to a front end which is positively rabid in the way it wants to get turned in. Flick the steering wheel in the GR Yaris with the merest roll of your wrists and you get an immediate, overwhelming sense of a lack of inertia in the movements of the car. It keys into corners and holds its line at even indecent pace, but crucially it feels fun and focused and fantastic at lower speeds too. The grip provided by the Pilot Sport 4s is, naturally, unbreakable in the dry and even in slimier conditions, the Yaris feels sure-footed and agile; power it out of junctions in lower gears with the car in Sport and it'll even slide the back end for you. Try doing that in any of the GR's non-AWD rivals. Oh, and the gearbox is a total gem: beautiful, slick, mechanical and precise action on the gate, reasonable gearing that hasn't been saddled with some awful eco-biased long-leggedness that means the car will do something daft like 105mph in third. It's a close-ratio diamond and, thanks to precise pedal placement and progression to go with it, heel-and-toe downshifts are impossible to mess up if you're running the GR with iMT disengaged.

But it's the traction which is the most startling. When you fully deploy the 261hp and 360Nm, you'll encounter no wayward torque-steer, no sense that the 18-inch wheels and tyres are struggling to corral such rampant power in such a small car. The GR Yaris transmits all of its grunt in such a fuss-free, assured fashion that you can open the throttle fully no matter what the car's attitude is, leading to immense confidence in the machine from the driver. If anything, it might be a bit too grippy and capable for some folk, but it is clear to see that Toyota has created a mini-marvel here; a compact, small, lightweight tearaway that's easy to place on the move and extraordinarily agile and nimble, yet which has an engine and chassis which feels like it comes from a far bigger, far more potent and far more expensive car.

Is Toyota right to charge £34,375 for the GR Yaris Circuit Pack? No, it is not. Because this supremely talented thing should cost at least twice that amount. It delivers a driving experience every bit as exhilarating and rewarding as the current apogee of hot hatchbacks, the Mercedes-AMG A 45 S, only we'd say the Toyota is the finer car dynamically of the two. And not much more than half the price. It is a blinding, brain-meltingly good vehicle; another homologation legend for the ages.

Verdict

Our mention of Hyundai in the intro for this particular car pertained to the superb i30 N, which stunned the world in 2017. It came from a manufacturer with almost no experience of making a fast hatch at all, save for the wholly forgettable i30 Turbo, and yet it immediately placed itself either right at, or at least very near, the top of the C-segment class in most critics' eyes.

What Toyota has achieved here with the glittering GR Yaris, though, is something we reckon is even more monumental. The Japanese marque has some cracking performance cars in its back catalogue but very few of them have been hatchback-shaped. Sure, there was the short-lived and frenetic Yaris GRMN, but a Corolla T-Sport, anyone? Or an Auris SR180, heaven forfend? Thought not. Yet, it's not just that the GR Yaris is so startlingly talented and exploitable that you'd have it down as one of the greatest hot hatchbacks, homologation or otherwise, of all time; it's that, as a road car, its minimal footprint and its useable performance thrills make it more fun, more desirable and more beguilingly engaging than a whole host of fast motors with more than twice its horsepower, four times its asking price and supposedly far more exotic badges on their conks.

This sensational GR is a Toyota Yaris (of sorts), and you will want it like you'll want very few other cars on Earth. How incredible a statement is that to be concluding with, eh?

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 10 Nov 2020









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2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.

2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota GR Yaris UK test. Image by Toyota GB.








 

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