The Toyota Yaris is one of Ireland’s best-selling cars and is best known for being practical, well-rounded and a sensible everyday car, but what happens when you turn it into a pure-bred performance car? This is the Yaris as you have never known it before. Born from the World Rally Championship, the GR Yaris was developed with experts at the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally team, and it is a homologation special that shares little in common with the regular Yaris, other than its name. With the world’s most powerful production three cylinder engine, a rally-focused four wheel drive system and a starting price tag of €54,000, it is a hot hatch like no other, but is it thrilling to drive? We spent a week with it on Irish roads recently to find out.
The GR Yaris has the same lights, mirrors and roof fin as the regular Yaris, but that’s where the similarities end. Everything else has been changed and developed with performance in mind. It’s lower, longer and wider than the normal Yaris, it has a full carbon fibre roof and two doors instead of the regular Yaris’ five door layout. Other details like the large front air intake, lightweight 18-inch alloys, flared arches and dual exhausts tell you that it means business. It uses the Yaris chassis up front and the rear end is taken and tweaked from the Toyota C-HR crossover. According to Toyota it takes 10 times longer to build the GR than a regular Yaris in the same factory given all of these changes.
The GR Yaris was originally developed as a homologation special with the Gazoo Racing Team to compete in the 2021 World Rally Championship, however as the COVID-19 pandemic restricted the team’s testing programme in advance of the racing season, it used the car from the previous season instead. In 2022 WRC rules have changed meaning teams now have to use hybrid-powered cars, so the GR Yaris is the WRC car that never was. This has done little to its popularity however, in fact demand for the roadgoing GR Yaris is booming, so much so that there is a long waiting list if you want to order one.
Stepping into the GR Yaris you sit quite high for extra visibility. Although this takes a bit of getting used to, the driving position is great, and the standard sports seats hug you into position. There isn’t anything overly fancy going on inside, it has the usual infotainment system, a sports steering wheel with red stitching and metal pedals, but it feels like a regular Yaris for the most part. There is a dial for choosing different driving modes and lest you forget, a small badge beside the handbrake that says developed for the FIA World Rally Championship. As you might expect space there isn’t much space in the rear seats, it’s quite dark back in the rear seats and headroom isn’t great because the roof is 195mm lower than the regular Yaris, but this is the compromise for extra performance. It’s a similar story in the boot with just 174 litres of room. Of course the GR prioritises performance over practicality and this shows from the second you take it out on the road.
The GR Yaris is the type of car that makes you take the long way home any time you go for a drive, take a quick drive to the shops and more often than not you’ll end up on the scenic route just for fun. Underneath the lightweight aluminium bonnet is a 1.6-litre three cylinder engine with 257 brake horsepower and 360 neuton metres of torque. It also gets a short-shifting six speed manual gearbox and a lightweight four wheel drive system; the end result is a Yaris that pulls like no other. Does it live up to the hype the first time you get in and drive? Absolutely! 0-100km/h flashes by in 5.2 seconds but it’s the way it stops, turns and rides that makes it feel so unique.
The manual gearbox shifts beautifully with short throws and there’s a rev match feature when you press this i-mt button which increases the revs automatically for smoother downshifts, something you’ll rarely use on the road to be honest. With the default normal mode it sends 60 percent of torque to the front wheels and 40 percent to the rear wheels. Twisting the dial to sport mode sends 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels and 30 percent to the front, while the track mode gives you an even 50/50 distribution of torque between the front and rear wheels. It sounds good too, with a low growling sound from the three cylinder engine and turbocharger wine between gear changes. Yes some of the sound comes artificially into the cabin through the speakers but it’s sounds good nonetheless. As an everday car, the GR Yaris is comfortable enough too, the suspension although performance focused is forgiving on bumpy roads and it’s easy to park.
As you would expect, the GR Yaris isn’t cheap with prices starting from around €54,000 for the model, by comparison the Ford Fiesta ST starts at around €37,000 and the Volkswagen Golf R starts at €71k. The one we are tested is the Luxury pack model which is closer to €59,000, adding navigation, a JBL sound system, heads up display and lots of other features. There is even a range-topping circuit pack trim, which adds a Torsen limited slip differential, front and rear parking sensors and various other upgrades, with a starting price tag of over €62,000!
So, does the GR Yaris live up to all of the hype and is it a hot hatch classic. It’s a resounding yes for us! It could be described as a rally car for the road and as such it is brilliant to drive, whether you find yourself on road or track. You don’t have to drive fast to have fun in this car though. It can be hard to look past the starting price tag of €54,000 however, and due to the popularity of the GR its likely that you’ll be a long time waiting to get your hands on one. That said the GR Yaris deservedly sits alongside rally-icons like the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and as such it is already becoming a collectors classic.