Toyota GR Yaris 2020 review - a true homologation superstar
Toyota’s new road-going rally special is a great drivers’ car of the type we worried we’d never see again. It’s a little gem.
It’s here. Yes, it’s the return of the homologation special. A – relatively – affordable performance car not created solely on the basis of a marketing plan, or to lower an meaningless lap record around a given circuit, but to create the ideal base from which to mount a top-flight motorsport campaign. The Toyota GR Yaris is a true homologation special in the most literal sense.
Such an approach has given us some of the most revered ‘evo’ cars of all time, from the Sierra RS Cosworth to the Porsche 993 GT2, and so many more. Can the GR Yaris add its name to that hallowed list?
Engine, transmission and 0-100 time
The purpose-designed G16E-GTS three-cylinder engine displaces 1.6 litres and produces 257bhp and 347Nm of torque with the aid of a turbocharger. Drive is taken through a six-speed manual transmission to the GR-Four chassis, which is Toyota’s name for a full-time four-wheel drive setup based around an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch.
Torque in theory can be split 0-100 per cent, front to rear, but in reality there are three modes the driver can choose from. Normal equates to a 70:30 torque split with a front bias. Sport reverses that with a 30:70 split, and Track is 50:50. The GR Yaris will reach 100kmph from rest in just 5.5 seconds and go on to an electronically limited top speed of 230kmph.
We’re already spoken at length about the technical makeup of the GR Yaris, but in short the body shares only the front and rear lamps and its wing mirrors with the regular Yaris; yes, it may be a small, three-door (hurrah!) hatchback, but the GR Yaris is a very special piece of kit designed specifically for the intended job. There’s a CFRP roof, aluminium bonnet and doors, and numerous engineering solutions designed to make the car the ideal basis for a rally car, whether in the top category of the sport or the WRC2 class.
What’s it like to drive?
For a driving enthusiast, the sense of anticipation when handed the keys to the GR Yaris is almost off the scale. It may seem a humble little Toyota hatch, but after all the hype and mouth-watering specification talk it could be something low, wide, Italian and with 800 horsepower and I don’t think there’d be any more excitement.
What strikes you initially is how squat, simple and purposeful the car looks on the road. There’s a small spoiler on the rear hatch, but otherwise the shape is largely devoid of frippery, instead dominating the road when followed thanks to those wide rear wheel arches. At the front, the gaping holes in the bodywork for cooling are almost militaristic in their single-minded design.
When viewed purely in isolation, the three pot’s vital stats don’t look that spectacular, even if the GR Yaris is admirably light (1,280-1,310kg) given the amount of technical content crammed into its small body. And if your only experience of a three-cylinder engine is a one-litre Ford Ecoboost, you may be wondering if a triple can really cut it at this level.
Any such concerns are banished the moment you start to drive. The Toyota’s engine is gutsy low down, but then really enjoys revving, and the subsequent surge of power throws the little car along at an amusingly rapid pace. In reality, it feels much stronger than the figures suggest, and with the benefit of complete traction not a single one of those turbocharged horses is wasted, further boosted by some nicely stacked gear ratios that aren’t too long.
Unlike a great front-wheel drive hot hatch like the current Fiesta ST, the Toyota’s cornering repertoire is much more three dimensional. A corner isn’t about simply getting the front to turn in and then managing traction on the way out; rather, the Yaris will rotate and then power through, the primary objective to see just how early the driver can get on the power.
The answer, often, is even earlier than you thought. Perhaps the Yaris could be more aggressive still at the front end, for as it stands it’s much closer to an old Subaru Impreza than a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo in character – the steering lacking just that last degree of clarity on turn in and the car favouring outright traction over hyper-agility. For some, that will be the perfect solution, but for those looking for something wilder still perhaps there’s room for a more aggressively setup model in the pipeline...
Even so, the GR Yaris is the kind of hot hatch where you’ll struggle not to drive flat out everywhere, usually with a massive grin on your face. It’s also effortless everyday transport, and deeply cool if you know what you’re looking at. Job done Mr Toyoda.
Price and rivals
Rivals are something the GR Yaris struggles to find. The current king of the small hot hatchback is the Ford Fiesta ST, which is cheaper but down on power and front-wheel-drive only, although it’s soon to meet a tough competitor in the Hyundai i20N. At the other end of the spectrum is the newly revised Honda Civic Type R, which is comparable to the Toyota on price but a very different - if equally impressive - car in character.