Toyota GR Yaris road test review: A modern classic which does it by the numbers and boasts the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine – DAVID HOOPER drives Toyota’s fantastic GR Yaris.
HOW many new cars can you think of today that are collectible, or future classics, before you even drive them out of the showroom? Well here’s one – meet Toyota’s GR Yaris.
To the uninitiated, it may look sporty, in an understated way, but under the skin lies a rally car in waiting with the world’s most powerful three-cylinder engine, because this fairly unassuming little car is Toyota’s homologation special to qualify the brand to compete in the FIA World Rally Championship where it is driven by Elfyn Evans and Sebastien Ogier. The pair finished second in the 2021 title race, but Toyota Gazoo Racing sealed the Championship for the manufacturer after a strong season’s rallying.
These little hot shots share only four panels with its run-around namesake, it has a carbon-fibre roof, is only available with three doors and lightly used examples are changing hands on the second-hand market for more than they cost new. Having spent a few days behind the wheel of one, I completely understand why. Put simply, it’s brilliant!
No wonder then that the Northern Group of Motoring Writers, of which I’m a member, voted it their Car of the Year for 2021, a certain Mr Clarkson who used to be on the telly a lot followed our lead, and numerous other motoring publications have heaped praise on this little hot shot. So why all the fuss?
Let’s talk numbers, and you’ll see. There’s only one that really matters, and that’s 261 – the number of braked horses under the bonnet – in a Yaris, for goodness sake! Then there’s 5.5 – it’s 0-62mph time – almost motorbike fast, and there’s also the number three, which is perhaps the most surprising number – its cylinder count – there are only three of them in its 1.6-litre engine, not that you’d know from behind the wheel. Vying for the most surprising number is also four – that’s the number of driven wheels this incredible little hot-shot has, so add all that lot up together, and you’ve got one very potent and capable little car.
It reminds me of the Celica GT-Fours I watched in the WRC as a youngster, and the way it drives reminds of the iconic Subaru Imprezas and Mitsubishi Evos, all equally iconic pieces of automotive engineering, and all former icons of the world’s rally stages.
With epic performance and unbelievable levels of grip, and believe me I tried to unstick the GR Yaris and it was having none of it, I have to say it blows my previous favourite, Ford’s excellent Fiesta ST, out of the water, which even with its limited slip diff on some models can’t compete with this for out and out driving enjoyment and pure grip on the tarmac.
Toyota have created a brilliant road car in the GR Yaris, and with its rallying intentions in mind, you would be forgiven for thinking that the damping set up would be on the overly hard side, but it’s not at all, it’s compliant and comfortable, yet never loses its poise when pushed to its limits and a bit beyond, so there’s some Eastern engineering magic afoot here. It helps that the driver can select from three driving modes, Normal gives a 60/40 front to rear split, Sport gives you 70% of the power to the back wheels so you can slide the rear of the car rally style, while Track gives you a more balanced 50/50 drive for the quickest lap times.
You can feel the performance potential in the GR Yaris, even through its brake pedal, which is particularly firm. Look at the brake discs and you see they are grooved to dissipate heat, and that includes the rear ones, which is unusual. The brake pedal provides a firm platform for heel and toeing, if you’re into that sort of thing, but my only, and I mean, only, criticism of the car is that the brake and throttle pedals could do with being a bit closer together to more easily facilitate the aforementioned.
Our test car is the “entry level” model, with buyers also having a choice of a more track focused car which comes with a Circuit Pack that adds stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, lightweight alloys and limited-slip diffs for both axles, and a third model which has a Convenience Pack which adds blind spot monitoring.
Despite its competitive intentions, the road car is not lacking in creature comforts and has everything you need, including adaptive cruise control and all the latest safety aids.
If you want a modern classic which is guaranteed to increase in value if you look after it, then look no further, this ticks all the boxes – and then some.
THE VITAL STATISTICS
MODEL: Toyota GR Yaris
ENGINE: 1618cc, 261bhp three-cylinder petrol engine, driving four wheels through 6-speed manual gearbox.
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 143 mph. 0-62mph in 5.5 secs.
ECONOMY: City: 30.4mpg.
Wheel World test average: 24.8mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 175g/km.
FUEL TANK: 50 litres.
INSURANCE: Group 35
WARRANTY: 10 years/100,000 miles (T&Cs apply)
• All data correct at time of publication.