Rarely has a new car received as much praise and and as many honours as the Toyota GR Yaris. Amongst the accolades, was the title of UK Car of the Year 2021 and I was honoured to be once again on the judging panel. I summed the GR up; “the best affordable, rally-bred performance car currently available”. There was high praise from one of the world’s top rally drivers; Elfyn Evans, he took the wheel of the high-performance hatch at Goodwood SpeedWeek. “It’s great, it’s a whole load of fun and really does feel like a rally car in miniature,” said the Welsh ace.
The GR Yaris has been developed drawing directly on the championship-winning experience and know-how of Toyota Gazoo Racing and its WRC partner Tommi Mäkinen Racing. Its rally-born pedigree is witnessed in a specially developed platform; a new 1.6 litre, three-cylinder turbo engine producing 257bhp and 360Nm of torque; and the new GR Four permanent, adjustable all-wheel drive system. Power is harnessed through this electronically controlled all-wheel drive system. Another competition-inspired feature; provides three driving modes with different front/rear drive torque to suit the conditions – Normal, Track and Sport. Weighing just 1,280kg, it can move from rest to 100kp (62mph) in 5.5 seconds. Toyota has managed to bring in elements from the rally car and it has worked and the power is very impressive from such a small engine.
When Toyota announced its return to the World Rally Championship in 2015, the concept of building a rally-inspired sports car was part of the plan. The vision was to take technical knowledge and experience from the highest level of international competition and apply them to a new road car that would also suitable for competition driving, and an affordable proposition for customers. For Toyota President Akio Toyoda, the creation of a sports car made purely by Toyota, the first in 20 years, was a personal ambition. Following on from winning the WRC manufacturers’ championship in 2018, he saw a winning car as being key to achieving global recognition. GR Yaris is that car, built from scratch and designed to win at the highest levels. It is Toyota’s second global GR model, following the successful launch of GR Supra in 2018. The hot Yaris is built on a unique platform, combining Toyota’s new GA-B platform, which debuted on the new generation Yaris hatchback and a rear section adapted from the GA-C platform used for the Corolla and C-HR models. The rally team emphasised the importance of light weight and this is reflected in the use of aluminium body panels and a forged carbon composite roof in the body structure, and scrutiny of how weight could be reduced in parts throughout the car.
For the best possible aerodynamic performance, the body itself is another unique element: although based on the new Yaris hatchback, it is a three rather than five-door model, with a lower, tapering roof line. This has been designed specifically to direct wind flow onto the large rear rally-type spoiler to generate extra down force. As with a competition car, the shaping of the lower body efficiently channels airflow. The interior design reflects the car’s performance, particularly around the driver’s cockpit. The binnacle has the same binocular arrangement as the standard Yaris but with additional functions related to the car’s specific performance qualities. The 4.2-inch TFT colour multiinformation display adds an all-wheel drive indicator showing the torque distribution and mode selected for the GR-Four system and a turbo pressure monitor. The analogue meters have white figures with red pointers for high, at-a-glance visibility and the gear lever has a high position on the centre console, raised by 50mm and set close to the steering wheel, helping the driver make quick changes. The action is light with short shift strokes, adding to the performance quality and there is a mechanical hand-operated parking brake, which the driver can use for cornering in rally stage driving. This is made possible by a specific function of the GR-Four coupling system which fully opens the coupling when the handbrake is used.
The interior is finished in black with Smoke Silver trim details around the door handles, centre console, steering wheel and side air vents and the luggage compartment has a 174-litre capacity, just enough for a weekend away and with this set of wheels the offers will pour in. With the rear seatbacks folded, there is enough space to carry a set of four large tyres or a bicycle. With the accessory battery housed beneath the deck, board there is a tyre repair kit in place of a spare wheel.
This member of the Yaris family really does put the fun back into motoring.