A small hot hatch, getting hyped all over the internet. Somehow surreal. Why can a small Toyota hot hatch lead all petrolhead's conversations, blogposts and Instagram-stories? To be fair the whole concept sounds like something we've been waiting for a long time. An extremely powerful, small car with a manual gearbox, four-wheel-drive and three differentials. What can actually go wrong? Let's find out!
First I wanted to mention that the GR Yaris was kindly given to me by the Emil Frey Winterthur dealership for a few days to properly test-drive the car. Big thank you!
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 manufacturers need to have a homologated car. That means that they need to sell a particular number of cars to actually 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 amount 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 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 (GR stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyotas Racing Department) has nothing to do with the regular Yaris apart from the dashboard and infotainment system.
You definitely understand Toyotas 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 on top a manual gearbox. All melted together in a small hot hatch which actually looks quite mean. It all sounds too good to be true. But it actually is any purists dream. And so it is mine.
This car is anything than 100% perfect. The boot space is small, very small. Underneath the trunk there's the battery, which actually surprised me. Helps to get a better weight balance between the front and the back wheels. 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 1.72m tall. The rear view mirror mounting was alright. But it gets worse when you're taller than at least 1.75m or a when you're having a higher seating position than the lowest possible. Alright, let's leave the mirror aside. My seating hight was the lowest possible (still felt high). But I couldn't see and read all the information of the head up display...
Sticking at displays: The infotainment system already feels outdated. At least the navigation system. Apple Car Play works flawlessly. When using the bluetooth connection you really need to turn up the volume. Don't forget to turn it down otherwise your ears get exploded when disconnecting your phone.
Oh and there was the annoying lane assist which always beeps when driving close to lines. Sometimes the car even steers by itself. Couldn't find how to turn it 100% off. Believe me, it is annoying while driving in snowy conditions.
Overlooking the interior there's a lot of hard plastic, but great looks. Notable: There're three great buttons behind the gear shifter: iMT (intelligent manual transmission) which is rev-match at downshifts, Traction control on/off and ABS on/off. Big likes on that! That's what we all want to have in our fun cars!
Back to driving
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 actually a loud or very specific engine sound, it tunes in some fake noises via the speakers. The fake sound reminds me to some OG Subaru Impreza Boxer engine sounds. Am I the only one?
Anyway, more impressionably are the three driving modes "normal", "sport" and "track", where the three differentials have different settings. Well, everyone's talking about 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. No worries, nothing happened! 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 a very high average fuel consumption of around 6-9 liters/100km (5.9l/100km was the lowest average during highway driving), which is too high in my humble opinion.
But it delivers so much joy. The car feel 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 unsafely steering maneuvers. Everything felt so great I totally fell in love with this, well actually really 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 drivers car, and that's exact what it delivers. I'm already excited about the upcoming tuning modifications for optics, power and engine sound.
To sum it all up, the GR Yaris is a true petrolhead's car made for fun driving in probably any imaginable environment. It isn't perfect at all. But in a way most of us will bear with. Because the driving experience is phenomenally great and fun. Something a lot of us have been waiting for to buy in a rather low price range. Well, the Toyota GR Yaris isn't cheap. But definitely more affordable compared to sports cars. I can absolutely recommend a test drive if you're interested in buying a GR Yaris. No time wasted!
I'll keep an eye on the prices to maybe get one in a couple of years when the first used ones appear on the car market.