Toyota GR Yaris First Drive
SURELY it can't be as good as everyone says, right?
I'll be honest, I simply cannot remember the last time a car had this much hype around it. The Mk3 Focus RS and the FK8 Civic Type R had a lot of buzz, but the GR Yaris seems to have taken the car world way beyond fever pitch. All this has made all that harder for me to sit by and watch fellow car reviewers/YouTubers wax lyrical about this little wonder whilst I'm sat on the wrong side of the laptop screen.
They say good things come to those who wait, and that rang very true when I FINALLY got the chance to slip myself in to the driver's seat of this 261hp pocket rocket at a recent press event. There are lot of juicy things I can tell you about this car, but there is a good chance you've heard it all before by now.
However, in case you have been living under a rock, the GR Yaris is a perfect example of what happens when a car manufacturer is allowed to let its hair down and go a bit crazy. This car is what's called a homologation special, meaning that a number of road-going versions need to be made to allow entry in to motorsport. This is where things get a bit heartbreaking for the Japanese brand as the rally car in which the GR Yaris was based on never got to compete due to Covid.
Just look how aggressive it looks.
A Happy Accident
Toyota's loss is the automotive world's gain, though, as it's allowed one of the most anticipated cars I can think of to be created. This car then, is a bit of a happy accident, and one that already looks to be a future classic. The Yaris name, may conjure up a OAP differing around town, but there is nothing differing about this Yaris, The 'GR' stands for Gazoo Racing - Toyota's in-house performance team.
The GR Yaris may share the Yaris name with the standard car, but that's about it, apart from the exterior lights, roof fin antenna, wing mirrors and wheelbase. Other than that, this car is bespoke from the ground up, a real halo car. Under the bonnet is one of the world's most powerful three cylinder engine; a 1.'6 litre unit offering 261hp and 360Nm of torque. This power is fed to all four wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox, and is able to propel this stubby Japanese icon to 62mph in just 5.5 seconds, and the top speed is limited to 142mph.
Choose your poison
There's three ways in which you can drive the car; Normal sees a power split of 60:40 in favour of the front wheels, Sport makes it 30:70 in favour of the rear wheels whereas Track gives a calculated 50:50 balance. As much as this car can be bought as a 'standard' GR Yaris, the one you're going to want is the 'Circuit Pack'.
You know it's a circuit pack if it's wearing these sexy shoes
Starting from £33,520 (standard car is £30,020 and the Convenience Pack is £32,200), the Circuit Pack offers two limited slip differentials, circuit tuned suspension, red brake calipers and 18" forged BBS Alloys, which are sexy as they are light. Speaking of weight, the GR Yaris is surprisingly light given the fact it's got four wheel drive. It weighs 1,280kg and that's thanks to materials such as carbon fibre which has been used for the roof (like a BMW M3) and aluminium, which has been used for the bonnet, doors and tailgate.
A driving experience that moves you
Car manufacturers often sell you a car with the notion that it will 'move' you and that it will change your life as well as other wonderful marketing spin. The GR Yaris DOES move you, and even a short, 20 minute drive was enough to leave a lasting impression on me. The interior feels pretty plain, and when you first step inside, you'd almost wonder what all the fuss is about. That wonder is backed up when you press the start button and you're met with almost no fanfare at all. Blimey, maybe it is just a Yaris after all.
Once I'm on the hill route at the Millbrook Proving Gound and start to stretch the car's leg's it all becomes apparent why so many people have raved about the GR Yaris. The gear lever has been raised by 50mm to aid quicker gear changes and the change itself is up there with the best. The pedal weight is very good, although I'd argue the placement isn't the best suited for heel and toe changes. Yes, there is a rev matching function, but I personally found it a bit jerky in operation.
It looks very rally car from the back, but sadly the noise doesn't match the look.
Like many, the seat is set too high for my liking and when I watched back my footage it looks as my head is almost touching the rooflining. Then you've got the issue with visibility as the touchscreen and rear view mirror give a letterbox of vision in the middle of windscreen. Your ears don't get much pleasure either as the GR Yaris sounds rather tame from the outside, although it sounds better inside.
Sadly, the seat makes you feel like you're sat on the car, as opposed to in it.
Wait, what? I thought this car was the best thing since sliced bread?
Yes, the GR Yaris, doe have some niggles, but to be honest once you get on the right road those annoyances will fall by the roadside. The engine feels strong and responsive in its power delivery, feeling like it has more than what the spec sheet says. The gear change is fantastic, the way in which the GR Yaris tackles corners is nothing short of inspirational.
There are plenty of good hot hatches out there, but the Yaris feels 'special', it feels like an occasion. There's almost a magic in the way how the GR Yaris dances its way around the corners. If you want sideways actions you got the Sport mode, of if you want a more calculated, precise approach, you've got Track mode. The grip in the corners is superb, as are the brakes and the steering. The circuit pack also gives sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres instead of the Dunlops you get on the standard car.
My time with the car may have been short, but I was completely in awe of what this little tearaway could do. Here we have a hot hatch that has been engineered so well, and sadly, we will probably never see a car of its ilk again, what with the push towards electric and hybrid cars. As much as the tech in the GR Yaris is cutting edge, it does have a slight old school flavour about it thanks to its 6-speed manual and analogue dials.
Lots of things in life are overhyped - the GR Yaris is not one of them. I've only had one car move me to tears of joy (my Mk1 Mazda MX-5), and this little Toyota almost joined that exclusive club. As you will see in the video, I had to pull it back a bit as I was in danger of getting a bit TOO lost in the moment. The drive was bittersweet, though, as I have no idea when or if I will drive the car again, and it's not as if I can afford one.
Even if I could, Toyota has opened up an official waiting list and have stated you'll be waiting at least 18 months for one. I would argue it's a car that's definitely worth the wait.