Toyota GR Yaris driven: is this the rain of the new hot-hatch king?
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Toyota GR Yaris
- Eager powertrain: it's little but it's loud
- Sensational chassis and AWD system
- Really does feel like a rally car
- Haven't driven it on the road yet
- You have to explain what a 'Gazoo' is to friends
- You can't buy one right now - all sold out
There have been two main topics of conversation in the DRIVEN office through most of 2020: Coronavirus and the Toyota GR Yaris. And most of the former was focused on the danger it posed to us getting to drive the latter.
Anyway, we got there: our first New Zealand drive in the GR Yaris, although this is very much the start of the story rather than the end. We’ve only had two laps of the Hampton Downs circuit in the middle of a downpour... but it was totally worth the trip.
We’ve been promised more time to do our own thing in the car soon, and that’s great news because Toyota New Zealand really doesn’t have to push the little GR. It’s got an initial allocation of 40 cars and 36 of those are sold already, with the last four retained by the company for marketing, promotion… and for us to play with.
So to count those another way, they’re all spoken for. Feel free to put your name down and put aside that $54,990, but you can’t actually get a GR Yaris right now.
Seldom have we gone into a first drive story having written so much about a car already. Or knowing that our readers probably know so much as well. So let’s not dwell too much on the impressive technical detail.
But here’s a quick recap. The Yaris is the second global production model from Toyota’s Gazoo Racing (GR) motorsport and performance division, after the Supra. It’s also the first Toyota production car since the Celica GT-Four (1986-99 in various guises) to be directly derived from a motorsport machine. So thank you WRC.
It’s not really a Yaris at all: the platform is a hybrid of the new Yaris (front) and current Corolla (rear), partly to allow a more sophisticated double-wishbone rear suspension setup.
On the exterior, only the lights and mirrors are carried over from the cooking Yaris. Everything else is bespoke for the three-door GR, which is 55mm lower than its distant-cousin. The roof is carbon fibre, the bonnet, doors and tailgate aluminium.
The powertrain is a jaw-dropper: just 1.6 litres and three cylinders. There are different specifications available, but TNZ has gone for the full noise 200kW. The GR Yaris is manual only, the six-speed driving all four wheels (that’s “GR-Four” to you and I).
You can choose from three AWD modes: Normal (front-biased 60/40 torque distribution), Sport (rear-biased at 30/70) or Track (50/50). There are Torsen limited-slip differentials front and rear and the car wears Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres with 18-inch BBS forged alloy wheels.
Power-to-weight is just behind the Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R. But delight over-rules the data behind the wheel, because the GR Yaris is smaller (proper supermini size, under 4m long) and lighter (just 1280kg) than its rivals. If they are truly rivals, which I would argue they aren’t really. They all very different machines.
In short, the GR Yaris is a fast, nuggety delight on track and far from stopping play, the torrential rain simply highlighted the excellence of that GR-Four AWD system.
Straight to Track mode for Hampton Downs, of course. There’s a playful growl to the three-pot engine when you put the power down, but it soon goes from cute to crazy-fast. Zero to 100km/h comes in 5.2 seconds, but that number doesn’t do the car justice: it leaps off the line and you’re just flat out surfing the power and torque, clicking between gears and grinning wildly.
Experts can heel and toe; the rest of us can simply press the “iMT” button and get automatic rev-matching on the downshifts to make us seem like experts. Brilliant.
Some track-focused cars demand a serious demeanor from the driver to be at their best: smooth inputs, careful lines. You can do that with the GR Yaris, but remember that it has rally roots. So it’s truly chuckable, with quick steering (less than 2.4 turns lock to lock), that short wheelbase and the wizardry of GR-Four.
Even if you do get clumsy on a highly lubricious track (who me?), it seems like the most natural thing in the world to correct the steering, let the thing slide and wait for the intelligent AWD to pick up the thread of the plot you just lost.
The most promising thing is that this feels like a hot hatch with all the right ingredients to be great fun on the road as well.
Despite the serious performance focus, the GR is still a Toyota road car with all the luxury and safety equipment you get in other high-end Yaris models. Special stuff inside includes a GR steering wheel, Ultrasuede sports seats and contrast stitching. Nice but not OTT.
There have been changes to Toyota’s “other” GR model, the Supra, which has gained 35kW to come into line with its BMW Z4 sister car: 285kW. However, the Toyota has also dropped $1000 in price to sit at $98,990. We’ll be back with a drive story on that soon.
But there’s also much more to come from GR. There are essentially four different tiers to Gazoo Racing road cars: GRMN (that’s where ultimate models like the forthcoming Super Sport hypercar sit), GR for standalone production cars like Yaris and Supra, GR-Sport (or GR-S if you like) that brings smaller modifications to existing models and finally a cosmetic-only division – body kits, wheels and the like.
Next up for NZ is a GR-S version of the C-HR compact SUV, which has some GR warpaint but also gets modified steering, suspension, brakes and sports seats. Expect to see that in January.
TOYOTA GR YARIS
ENGINE: 1.6-litre turbo-petrol three cylinder
GEARBOX: 6-speed manual, AWD