It’s not very often that a small car sends petrol heads buzzing, but that’s exactly what the Toyota GR Yaris has done.
Since the unveiling last year, the GR Yaris has generated the kind of hype that few other hatches in recent memory have, with the possible exception of the third generation Ford Focus RS in 2015. It carries serious motorsport information and is a proper homologation especially for the street. We recently had the opportunity to test it in a week.
See also: Can A Stock GR Yaris beat a GT-R Nismo on a short track on a very rainy day?
There are two variants of the GR Yaris available in Australia, the standard model and the Rallye. Toyota Australia decided to launch the car locally in its entry form first, which means you will not get Torsen limit differentials, track-adjusted suspension, 1
Both the GR Yaris base and Rallye are powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder. Australian delivered cars land in the same specification as those in Japan, which means that this engine has a capacity of 200 kW (268 hp) at 6500 rpm and 370 Nm (273 lb-ft) of torque between 3000 and 4600 rpm , slightly more than 192 kW (257 HP) and 360 Nm (266 lb-ft) available in other markets such as Europe. Paired with the engine is a six-speed manual transmission that transmits power through four-wheel drive and Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires. More about the tires later …
The car is small. It actually measures only 3,995 mm long, 1805 mm wide and 1,455 mm high with a wheelbase of 2,560 mm. At first glance, the wheelbase may seem small, but it is only 10 mm shorter than a Hyundai i30 N. The nice thing that Toyota’s designers and engineers have done is push the wheels all the way to the edge of the car, resulting in a small front and rear overhang.
Impressive performance, great gearbox
Most three-cylinder engines on the market are about as boring to use as watching paint dry. Not the case with the GR Yaris.
Not only is the compact 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder almost as powerful as the four pots that run most other hot hatches, but it has a character that few rivals can match. It makes a surprisingly meaty sound throughout the reef series, and even if some of this sound is pumped into the cabin, it instantly puts a smile on your face. It’s the same story with the exhaust note. But it is not the sound that is the best thing about this engine; rather it is its will to reef.
Toyota says that peak power comes in at 6500 rpm, but you can continue to empty the GR Yaris to 7000 rpm, and it absolutely loves it. The engine is also quite fuel efficient as we averaged 11.2 l / 100 km (21 US mpg) during the week, not bad considering how we drove. A comparable four-cylinder hot hatch operated in the same way will average between 13 l / 100 km (18 US mpg) and 14 l / 100 (16.8 US mpg).
Then we come to the gearbox. Not only has the gearshift been placed perfectly, but the gearing is among the best in the segment, behind only the Honda Civic Type R. The gearing is also quite short, so you can enjoy the gears and swing out the engine at the same time. Off the line, Toyota says the car needs 5.2 seconds to hit 100 km / h (62 mph), but it feels faster than that when others give peaks just before this mark, forcing you to shift to third to cross past 100 clicks.
A car that thrives when pushed
Much has been said about the car’s four-wheel drive, especially since most of GR’s rivals are front-wheel drive. The four-wheel drive not only provides acceleration, but it provides phenomenal grip. Three driving modes are available for the car; Normal with 60:40 power-split front, Track with 50:50 power split and Sport with 30:70 power-split split-rear.
I spent most of the week driving in Sport mode, and while that doesn’t make the GR Yaris feel like it’s rear-wheel drive, you can feel the rear end starting to rotate through both sustained turns and sharper, more abrupt turns. It is exceptionally easy to drive the rally-bred hatch on the limits of grip, and even if you go beyond them, it is easy to make the right corrections.
Control is ace. Braking is ace. The driving experience as a whole is ace. However, not everything is perfect with the entry model.
During my first ride with the GR Yaris through a mountain pass with long, sweeping corners, I was very impressed with the grip of the Dunlop tires. As the week progressed and I started testing the car through tighter turns, the limits of these tires and the lack of LSD became clear.
If you turn quickly into a sharp turn, the tires scream in pain, and you can push the car to understeer more easily than with such as the i30 N and Civic Type R. Similarly, if you use too much gas through a turn, the shortcoming is of diffusions with limited slip can send you wide. This is a car that requires smooth and precise driving. A set of stickier tires will do wonders, and we’ll try to test out the GR Yaris Rallye soon to see how much difference LSDs and Michelin rubber make.
Then there are the seats …
However, it was not the tires or the open differentials that were my biggest grip on the car. That was the sitting position. Many performance cars have the seat rails bolted to the floor, but for some reason Toyota has mounted the seats of the GR Yaris on steel towers that are more than three inches above the floor. This will probably not be a concern for many buyers, but for those over 6 feet, it results in a cramped and high driving position. It is even worse if you ferry around a tall passenger, as the passenger seat cannot be lowered. The seats are mounted so high that the brackets actually sit above the lines of the side frames.
With the exception of the placement of the seats, the rest of the car’s cabin is nice and on par with rivals. The simple meter cluster is an important highlight, as is the very nice steering wheel. The seats are also very supportive and prevent you from sliding from side to side while burning. There’s also a JBL eight-speaker stereo system (though not very good) and a 7.0-inch infotainment system that offers support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
By default, all basic GR Yaris models in Australia include a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, road sign assist and autonomous emergency braking with cycling detection, features only available on the ‘Convenience Pack’ offered in other markets.
Worth the hype?
The first 1,000 examples of the GR Yaris were sold in Australia for $ 39,950 ($ 30,981), and while Toyota thought it could take up to 18 months to sell them, it only took five days. A little strange as it was an absolutely good bargain. Since then, the price has been cut up to AU $ 49,950 (US $ 38,736) for the cost of the road, bringing the total figure closer to AU $ 53,500 (US $ 41,489), or about AU $ 5000 (US $ 3,877) less than 2021 Honda Civic Type R. The flagship GR Yaris Rallye will set back Australian AU $ 54,500 (US $ 42,265) before the cost of the road.
There is no doubt that the Toyota GR Yaris is a fantastic hot hatch. It is a joy to drive, whether you are strolling around the city or cutting your way through a ravine. The world is a better place with this potent little rally car in, but to fully understand how good it is, we have to test out the Rallye version. Watch.
Photo credits: Brad Anderson / CarScoops