Toyota GR Yaris 2021 review

Prior to the Yaris, Toyota had entered a number of other models into the World Rally Championship, including the Celica GT-FOUR and Corolla WRC.  Celica GT-FOUR models including the ST165, ST185 and ST205 were incredibly successful in the WRC, collecting 30 rally victories, four drivers’ and two manufacturers’ championship titles.

After the Corolla WRC, it was well over a decade before Toyota again entered the WRC, with the introduction of the Yaris WRC in 2017.  The Yaris WRC picked up the manufacturers’ championship in 2018 and drivers’ championships in 2019 and 2020.

The GR Yaris road car was designed and engineered by Gazoo Racing and Tommi Makinen Racing, with the car intended to be a homologation special for Toyota’s new 2021 GR Yaris WRC car.  This is the first homologation model for the WRC since the end of Celica GT-FOUR production in 1999.  Toyota had to abandon their plans to enter the rally version of the GR Yaris in this year’s championship, due to financial issues and working restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, new car buyers are in for a treat, with the opportunity to purchase a road car packed full of motorsport technology and design.  Every aspect of the GR Yaris has a performance focus: an all-new platform and engine, new suspension, lightweight construction, aerodynamic styling and a new GR-Four permanent all-wheel-drive system.  There’s a new multi-link rear suspension system, a wider track and accommodation of the GR-Four all-wheel drive system.  The car was put to the test by professional race and rally drivers during the development programme and follows the GR Supra as Toyota’s second global GR model.  This Glacier White GR Yaris is $49,500 before on-road costs.

Interior

The GR Yaris features manually adjustable heated front sports seats with suede and leather accents and the ‘GR’ logo embossed on the driver and passenger seat headrests.  When sitting in the driver’s seat, the driving position feels a little bit too high and this is also the case for the front passenger seat.  There’s enough headroom and legroom for front seat occupants, but not enough in the back seats.  The steering wheel is perfectly proportioned and the ‘GR’ logo on the bottom spoke is a nice touch.  Tilt and reach is manually adjustable and the steering wheel can be heated.  Pedals are well positioned and made of aluminium, giving the interior a sporty feel.  There’s leather on the gearshift and a manually operated handbrake.  To the right of the handbrake is a small badge that reads ‘Developed for FIA World Rally Championship’, signifying that you’re sitting in something very special.  The GR Yaris has some small storage trays located within the lower level of the dash, a storage compartment between the front seats, bottle holders in the front doors and a pair of cupholders in the centre console.  Connectivity is limited, with only a single USB-A socket and 12V outlet in the front.  Boot capacity isn’t the car’s strong suit, with only 141 Litres with the 60/40 split fold rear seat up, or 737 Litres with it folded down.  There’s no spacesaver offered; instead an inflator/repair kit is included.  The battery is located in the boot to give the car improved handling, stability and responsiveness.

Exterior

There’s no denying that from any angle, the GR Yaris looks like a hot hatch.  The car has a unique three-door body and is available in Glacier White, Feverish Red or Tarmac Black.  Lightweight materials are used including carbon-fibre polymer for the roof and aluminium for the bonnet, doors and tailgate, keeping weight to just 1280kg.  A low roofline (lowered by 91mm) improves the car’s ability to cut through the air, creating a coupe silhouette.  At the front, there’s an aggressive grille and spoiler, while at the rear the wider track and muscular wings accommodate 18-inch alloy wheels.  On the rear hatch, there’s a GR-FOUR badge that’s a throwback to the GT-FOUR badges that appeared on past Celica models.  There are also twin exhausts and an aggressive diffuser.  A small ‘GR’ badge can be found on the front grille and rear tailgate.  The 18-inch Enkei forged alloy wheels are wrapped in Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 050 tyres; 225/40/18 profile front and rear.  Brakes discs are ventilated, measuring 356mm in diameter on the front axle with four-piston calipers and 294mm diameter on the rear axle with two-piston calipers.

Standard equipment

The GR Yaris has a 7.0 inch colour media touchscreen with voice recognition, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a handy 4.2 inch multi information display that sits in the middle of the main instrument display.  There’s an eight speaker JBL sound system, adaptive cruise control, satellite navigation, keyless entry and start and dual zone climate control.  Autonomous emergency braking, emergency steering assist, intersection assistance, high speed adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, lane trace assist, road sign assist, blind spot monitoring, auto high beam, a head up display and a reversing camera are also standard.  Six airbags are included as well as two top tether points and ISOFIX child restraint anchors in the rear.  Vehicle stability control and traction control are also standard features on the GR Yaris.

Drive modes

The all-wheel-drive system uses a centre coupling to distribute torque between the axles, and the driver can choose between a 60:40 (Normal), 50:50 (Track), and 30:70 (Sport) front-to-rear split.  This is adjusted by using a small switch located in the centre console.  There are six pages to toggle through on the 4.2 inch multi information display.  Page one displays a digital speedometer, distance to empty and average l/100km.  Page two shows a compass while page three shows the current radio station.  Page four displays trip distance/total time, a clever AWD distribution graphic, boost and oil pressure (x100kpa) and engine temperature.  Page five brings up driver aids like lane trace assist and blind spot monitoring and page six displays messages.

Driving impressions and performance

Power in the GR Yaris is delivered by a new compact and lightweight 200kW, 370Nm 1.6-litre three-cylinder engine that features a single-scroll ball-bearing turbo.  Motorsport technologies designed for maximum performance include multi-oil jet piston cooling, large-diameter exhaust valves and a part-machined intake port.  The DOHC 12-valve turbocharged engine is mated to an intelligent six-speed manual gearbox, engineered to accommodate high torque levels.

The engine is started by pushing a ‘GR’ labelled start/stop button to the left of the steering column.  It takes a while for the three-cylinder to settle to a constant idle.  Once underway and with a decent throttle percentage, there’s an addictive surge of power from the engine.

Due to the car’s relatively powerful engine and extensive use of aluminium, it has a power-to-weight ratio of 156kW per tonne and achieves a 0-100km/h time of 5.2 seconds.  The six speed manual is precise to use and its short ratios are well suited to the engine, although second gear does top out at about 98 km/h.  In-gear performance is particularly strong and a real highlight is how responsive the engine is, even when accelerating in a higher gear.  There’s a little bit of turbo lag in the lower part of the rev range but for a turbocharged engine the power delivery is very linear.  The three cylinder engine is quiet and there’s a faint whistle from the turbo as the revs rise, however an engine sound enhancement is pumped through the audio system.  The driver gets to hear a unique three cylinder growl, however personally I’m not a fan of these artificial engine sounds and would prefer genuine intake/exhaust sound from an engine.  The GR Yaris achieves combined fuel consumption figures of 7.6L/100km and has a 50 Litre fuel tank.

Driving the GR Yaris for roughly 1,000 kilometres meant exposing the car to a range of different road surfaces and conditions.  The Reefton Spur is 19 kilometres in length and includes a great mixture of undulations, straights, sweepers and slow corners.  It’s here where the GR Yaris really shines.  The car’s lightweight and short wheelbase makes for a very nimble car that’s capable of quick direction changes with next to no body roll.  This combined with the relentless surge from the three cylinder turbocharged engine makes for a wonderful driving experience.   Although the driver’s seat really holds you in well when cornering, a minor criticism is that it would be nice to sit a bit lower in the cockpit.

I didn’t notice much of a difference in torque split between Track and Sport, however did between Normal and Sport.  The car displays more characteristics of a front wheel drive car when driven in Normal, with mild understeer and a hint of torque steer under hard throttle.  In Sport mode, you can feel the torque being sent to the rear wheels and the rear diff doing its work.  It’s not an intimidating car to drive and feels like its constantly working with the driver.  It feels like the car’s so composed that reaching its limits would require it to be on a track.

The ride quality of this car is fantastic.  The GR Yaris has a new, dedicated platform that combines the front end of Toyota’s GA-B platform with the rear of the GA-C platform, contributing to the car’s excellent stability and handling.  Where the standard new Yaris uses a torsion beam rear suspension, the GR Yaris has a double wishbone set-up, with every element optimised for performance.

The electrically assisted steering offers good road feel but isn’t quite as direct as what’s offered in the Toyota 86.  Performance brakes are a highlight with 356mm x 28mm ventilated front discs with four-piston calipers and 297mm x 18mm ventilated rear discs with two-piston calipers.  The system has been engineered to cope with the rigorous demands of high-speed track driving.  Interestingly, the front brakes are 8mm larger in diameter than on the Supra GT and the Supra is roughly 200 kilograms heavier than the GR Yaris.

Final thoughts

The GR Yaris’ main competitors are the front wheel drive Renault Megane R.S Cup Trophy ($53,490) and all-wheel drive VW Golf R ($55,990).  The GR Yaris is covered by Toyota’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.  The ‘Toyota Warranty Advantage’ program also covers the engine and driveline for seven years.  Capped-price servicing is available with scheduled maintenance intervals set at 12-months/15,000km, and $205 (each) for the first five services.

The GR Yaris is a very special car with a direct link to competition motorsport.  It’s lightweight, powerful, fast, well balanced and safe.  It’s one of the most composed cars that I’ve ever tested and being able to adjust the car’s torque distribution between front and rear axles is a real highlight.  Although it’s faster than a Hyundai i30N, I feel like the i30N offers a similar driving experience and betters the GR Yaris in some areas, including engine noise, looks, practicality and seating position.  The i30N is also roughly $10,000 cheaper than the GR Yaris.

It’s a shame that we’ll never get to see the GR Yaris WRC car ever compete in the World Rally Championship.  The upside is that driving enthusiasts are able to purchase an affordable homologation car that’s been designed and engineered by a team of people that know what it takes to achieve success in the highest level of rallying.

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