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Fun cars don’t have to be expensive – Toyota GR Yaris

Currently, the car industry experiences a reversal. Not only in terms of environmental aspects but in a view of an available product range in all classes, too. It’s recognizable that small and reasonable priced fun cars keep disappearing. Or they get immensely expensive due to unknown reasons which can’t be inflation!

Toyota (as well Hyundai) recognized the lack of great drivers-cars for a rather small budget. Toyota GR (standing for Gazoo Racing, their in-house racing department) stirred up the car market by bringing the GR-badge onto the roads.

We need to dig a bit deeper to understand the GR Yaris’s hype. Because it is real!

"The GR Yaris is like a Bolognese dog on steroids."

First impressions

The GR Yaris has some truly interesting shapes. Some unusual ones compared to other small city sub-compacts:

An aggressive front end which seems to bite you when walking by too close, a coupe-like roof line and a narrow rear end with wide wheel arches and a very tiny overhang due to a long wheelbase which provides more predictable driving characteristics. I kinda think that the GR Yaris is like a Bolognese dog on steroids. Or in other word: a wolf in sheep’s cloths.

What it’s all about

Alright, let's get into it. To understand the hype, we need to have a short throwback to times where rallying was a huge thing with loads of various participating car brands. I mean, even Ferrari tried their best with the 308GTB back in the day. And to participate car manufacturersneed to have a homologated car. That means that they need to sell a particular number of cars to get the permission for the WRC (World Rally Championship). The FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) determines the number of street legal cars that needs to be built. The current number of cars is at least 25'000 units.

And now we're getting there: Usually, car manufacturers claim their regular city hot hatch which gets sold in huge numbers and convert them to proper rally cars. Toyota did the opposite! They designed a pureblooded rally car without having a road going version of it. The goal was to create a perfect rally car and convert the racer into a street legal car which needs to be sold at least 25'000 times. A huge step in the automotive world nowadays. Actually, that was the usual way they did it a few decades back. I'll give you some examples: Lancia 037, Audi Sport Quattro, Porsche 959, Subaru Impreza WRX or Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Some big names right there!

The name Yaris is established in Toyotas model range and known as a cute little city car. Well, the GR Yaris has nothing to do with the regular Yaris apart from the dashboard, infotainment system and a very few exterior parts.

I understand Toyota’s goal with de development of the GR Yaris. They have put all the development costs into the drivetrain: 1.6-liter 3-cylinder engine with 261PS, all-wheel-drive system and three differentials... great bucket seats and a manual gearbox on top. All melted together in a small hot hatch which actually looks quite mean. It all sounds too good to be true. But it is any purist’s dream. And so, it’s mine.

Driving experience

That's what it is all about. The clutch feels harder than in usual cars, the steering is direct even though the car has a power steering. The shifting... oh god... feels amazing! Short gear ratio leeds to lot of shifting. Some very sporty characteristics. While the car hasn't a loud or very specific engine sound. There could be some improvements with aftermarket parts.

Anyway, more impressionably are the three driving modes "normal", "sport" and "track", where the three differentials have different settings. Well, everyone's talking about the sport and track modes: Sport gives you a 30% front and 70% back power ratio which leads to some very nice drifts on snowy streets. Preferably with enough space around. Track mode has a 50/50 power ratio. Ideal to kick you out of corners on dry and twisty roads. The car really wants you to push yourself to the next hairpin.

Keep it pushing, well boosting: The Turbo already kicks in at 2500rpm and properly provides a big party above 3000rpm. There's where the 1.6-liter 3 cylinder absolutely feels comfortable. It definitely doesn't like low revs, especially below 1500rpm. There's where the car feels a bit foxious.

Although the Toyota has an acceptable average fuel consumption of around 6-9 liters/100km (5.9l/100km was the lowest average during highway driving), which could be a bit better in my humble opinion.

But it delivers so much joy. The car feels light and nimble, quick but stable.

I drove up the Schwägalppass during a blizzard. The streets were fully covered in snow. There weren't any issues to get up there. Not even a blink of uncertainty. The whole combination of traction, power, gearbox and shifting, power ratio and snow made that experience to an unforgettable drive. Sport mode allowed drifts even on low revs in third gear without using the handbrake or unsafe steering maneuvers. Everything felt so great I totally fell in love with this, well actually good-looking hot hatch. It made me forget all the disadvantages like the bad back view, the lack of boot space, the huge rear-view mirror, or the bit outdated infotainment system. The car is meant as a true driver’s car, and that's exact what it delivers.

Since its launch there’re still many tuning parts incoming. I’d prefer a slightly louder exhaust system, lower suspension, and some rally-inspired wheels like fifteen52s or OZs. I already saw a few modified GR Yaris models.

To the interior

Let's have a seat. The driver's visibility isn't that good than the one compared to some contributors like an Audi A1 Quattro or Mini Cooper. That's because the very low aerodynamic roof line. When looking straight forward, there's that huge rear-view mirror which blocks the view to the pavement! I am 1.73m tall (or tiny). The rear-view mirror mounting was alright. But it gets worse when you're taller than at least 1.75m or when you're having a higher seating position than the lowest possible. Leaving the mirrors aside, the infotainment system already feels outdated. Because the Circuit Package Yaris version doesn’t have the navigation system installed, the “Map” button on the screen’s left side is useless. Or maybe good for a bad joke. But I’m sure that most of the buyers belong to the species of young men which might use the great working Apple CarPlay anyway.

In the interior is a lot of At least not that cheap looking plastic. But honestly, I was able to overlook the disadvantages depending luxurious materials because the amazing driving experience. Lotus didn’t the job better either with the Elise and Exige. My overview stopped by seeing the very sporty seats which are made of high-quality materials and enough lateral support for sporty driving. Notable depending on getting around quickly: There're three great buttons behind the gear shifter: iMT (intelligent manual transmission) which rev-

matches at downshifts, Traction control on/off and ABS on/off. Big likes on these! That's what we all dream about to have in our fun cars!

The back seats supply enough leg and head space for passengers with a height of 1.80m or less.

Underneath the rather tiny trunk there's the battery, which surprised me first. But it helps to get a better weight balance between the front and the back axle which makes totally sense.

Now what to buy

The GR Yaris hasn’t any comparable competitors to be honest. The Mini Cooper JCW only comes with front-wheel-drive, less power and costs a fortune. Although I’m not telling that the Yaris is a cheap car with a retail price of approximately 41’000CHF. And a VW Golf R isn’t that driver orientated, hasn’t any specific characteristics and isn’t a sub-compact at all. So, the GR Yaris is in a separate sphere with daily usability in any environment, weather and driving style. Therefor I highly recommend at least a test drive even if you are only slightly interested in buying one of these bad boys.

This car is one hell of an amazing ride. It deserves a big spot on my petrolhead’s heart. I truly need to get one of these somewhen in my life.

And if you’re searching a sporty compact car, Toyota just announced a GR Corolla with the same 1.6l three-cylinder turbocharged engine but blown up to 300 horsepower and 370NM od torque. There is still an uncertainty about the car being sold in Europe by Toyota itself. All we can do is keeping our fingers crossed.

To end this review, I want to thank Toyota Switzerland for the opportunity to test drive their Toyota GR Yaris with the proper and most wanted Circuit Package for a whole week. It was a huge pleasure!

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